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Mates rally to help fulfil Aussie dad's last backyard wish

Russell Cranwell, a cabinet maker from Adelaide, was told he had terminal bowel cancer after five years of misdiagnoses.

The mates of an Aussie dad are rallying to finish a backyard project he poured his heart and soul into after the “loving” 36-year-old’s life was cut tragically short.

Wanting to create a “beautiful space” for his family, Russell Cranwell, a cabinet maker, spent much of his time working on his Adelaide home, and had recently overhauled the backyard to build a playground for his three daughters, Ashton, 6, Hallie, 4, and his “mini-me”, Josie, 2, to enjoy.

Left, Russell Cranwell with his wife Rachael and their three daughters. Right Russell Cranwell in his hospital bed with his three daughters after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Russell Cranwell, 36, was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in late 2022, five years after he first told doctors about his pain. Source: Supplied

Even after being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer and having a 9cm tumour removed in November 2022, the “dedicated” dad continued to chip away at the project, determined to complete his “dream”.

“He was ultra-focused on that,” his wife Rachael Cranwell, 33, told Yahoo News Australia on Thursday. “He was really hands on and could do anything he put his mind to. He just wanted to make our house the best house for the kids.”

'Gutted' dad battles bowel cancer

Despite his devastating diagnosis — which he admitted left him “gutted” and “robbed” — Russell “never made peace with it” and remained positive during chemotherapy, which helped negate several tumours also found on his liver. “He was just super, super positive that he was going to eradicate it and he was going to survive. He couldn’t fathom not surviving it,” Rachael, who met her husband as a teenager, said. “We had built a perfect live.”

The half finished backyard renovation with a trampoline.
The dad was diagnosed not long after he started to overhaul his backyard so his young daughters can play. Source: Supplied

In August last year, the 36-year-old was keeping himself distracted by working in the yard and putting in roof sheets, when he felt an intense pain in his back. A scan revealed the cancer had spread to his spine. The area was treated with radiation, but just before Christmas Russell was informed his bowel tumour had recurred and started growing again. The cancer had also returned to his spine and was spreading again, “causing significant pain”.

It was then doctors pulled Rachael aside and told her “it was not looking good” for her partner of many years. “He was able to chat to the girls while he was still around… to prepare them for the worst,” she said. “It was awful. It was not something he ever wanted to do, he never wanted to let them think that he was giving up… he never wanted to think like that.”

Children's toys in the half finished backyard.
Following his tragic death, Russell's mates have rallied to finish his final project. Source: Supplied

Tragically, despite fighting “really, really hard”, Russell died on January 4, leaving behind his heartbroken family and friends. Not wanting to let him down, Russell’s best mate is now raising money so he and other friends can pay tribute and help complete his last wish — a space for his girls to play.

“I think it will play a big part in their healing journey as well,” Rachael said of those who have rallied around her. “If we raise $5,000 or $20,000 — any money is going to go on the house to make it amazing for them.”

Wife's plea after husband misdiagnosed for five years

Speaking of her husband’s cancer battle, Rachael explained Russell was misdiagnosed for five years before he was told he had just 12 months to live. In 2017, the dad went to the GP because he was bleeding from his rectum but was told he had internal haemorrhoids, she said. Over several subsequent doctor and emergency room visits, Russell was told he had a parasite, constipation, or that he was too young to have cancer and prescribed several antibiotics.

Russell, Rachael and their daughters walking hand in hand in a field with their backs turned to the camera.
Rachael is calling on doctors to eliminate the worst case scenarios first after her husband was misdiagnosed for years. Source: Supplied

In late 2022, his pain was “so severe” Rachael rushed her husband to the ER again, refusing to leave until they found out what was going on. His diagnosis quickly followed. “People need to advocate for themselves but doctors need to start ruling out the worst-case scenarios first,” the mum of three urged.

Over the past two decades, the incidence of bowel cancer in 20 to 39-year-olds has more than doubled, according to a 2021 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report. A recent Wall Street Journal article claims more people under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with cancer, leaving doctors baffled.

For more information, visit Bowel Cancer Australia.

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