The mental toughness of Brian Ross
Oh my goodness gracious. This quite the story from Cam, who wrote it for the Oiler website. Check back later because Cam is adding pictures throughout the day.
Enjoy. I’ll make some buscuits for you as you read.
(First published January 23, 2017 – nhl.com/oilers)
It seems impossible to still feel lucky when you have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But not if you’re Brian Ross.
A member of the Edmonton Oilers Player Development Department, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer over a year ago, Brian is determined to keep living his dreams.
Let’s take New Year’s Eve for example.
After dating his fiancé Krystal for a year, the two eloped and were married News Year’s Eve at the Jasper Park Lodge.
“I started losing a lot of hair during my chemo treatments, and everything started to drastically change, but Krystal hung in there with me. We agreed when I got my hair back that we would get married,” says Brian, 53, who now has a full head of hair.
“It was just the two of us, a beautiful setting, and it only took 15 minutes. We ordered dinner back in the room and watched the Oilers game on TV.”
“It was simple, but it was the best day of my life.”
“Krystal is my strength, and she never lets me forget about the people who care about me. She reminds me how all those people need me.”
Waiting back home in Edmonton were Brian’s new step kids, seven-year-old Ethan and Emma, who is five.
“I love them to pieces and we get along great. I’m doing the fathering thing – taking them to hockey games, to ski lessons and I’m a big part of watching their activities.”
“I’m loving it.”
“It charges you up and gets you thinking of other things. The kids don’t care about anything but having fun, so I’m on board with that.”
“It’s quite a package I got – I love those kids dearly. I’m very lucky.”
Rather than looking to yesterday, Brian is focusing on tomorrow.
Throughout our 35-minute conversation, Brian repeatedly talked about his friends who are a constant foundation of encouragement.
“They make me stand up, get right back in the ring and fight this thing all over again,” he says.
“I want to be prostate cancer free. It’s deadly. They tell me it’s terminal, but I still think I’m going to win and I believe I’m going to win.”
“I don’t feel like quitting anytime soon.”
“There are days that it’s just frustrating and you don’t want to do anything, but you do it. You don’t know how tough you are until tough is all you’ve got.”
“I didn’t know what I was made of until this thing. But now I do.”
“I have the best friends in the world. I’m fighting for them… and I want to make them proud,” he says.
His positive attitude and fight is something his fellow Oilers Entertainment Group employees can’t help but admire.
“Brian is an inspiration for all of us,” says OEG Vice Chairman Wayne Gretzky. “He’s an Edmonton fan who loves his city and of course the Oilers hockey team – a man who has never used his illness as a crutch.”
“He’s hardworking, honest and above all, a real fighter.”
Brian has a great friendship with OEG CEO and Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson.
“I’ve gotten to know Brian much better over the last couple of years that I have been with OEG. He has been a huge part of the foundation and has worked in many roles within the organization,” says Bob.
“As Brian goes through his challenges, he has the whole team here supporting him and we look forward to Brian making a recovery and continuing to be a great staff member of OEG.”
Brian never forgets what Bob told him: “He said, ‘We’re going to make you fight. If you don’t like it, too bad. You’re going to fight.'”
Brian, who has been with the Oilers for 32 years, was enjoying his role in the team’s Player Development Department when his life changed a year ago.
A goalie from his minor hockey days, he was playing hockey in the summer and made a save that hurt his back.
The pain wouldn’t go away. He shed 40 pounds.
Brian called the team doctor, Dr. David Reid, and went for an MRI.
“I was told I have prostate cancer.”
“It has seeped into my bone and now it’s terminal,” Brian says.
He pauses for a thought.
“It takes up too much energy. I get frustrated.”
It wasn’t long after that the Oilers family showed their support. Jill Metz, who works with the players’ families, organized a fundraising event for Brian.
“It’s an emotional battle and I shed a lot of tears. When I’m feeling that way, I just hang around the OEG office with my friends and they make me forget about things for a while.”
“I use coming into the office as my therapy.”
He drives himself to the OEG office within Rogers Place twice a week in the morning for an hour or so.
“It’s a great way to start my day,” he says.
And, he has many friends within the organization.
Brian started with the Oilers in 1985 when former President, General Manager and Head Coach Glen Sather asked him to open the team’s retail stores.
“I lived with Glen and (wife) Ann when I first started with the Oilers, or else I would have been living in a basement apartment,” says Brian. “They call me every few days to see how I am.”
“Glen said make your job a part of your life, and then you won’t ever feel like you’re working,” he says. “And, I haven’t. It’s been great fun.”
Several years later he moved into the Hockey Operations Department and has held various positions with the team – including assisting as a goalie in practice, which was suggested by Craig MacTavish who was the Oilers Head Coach at the time.
Brian relished the role and was between the pipes for several years.
“A big thrill was when I got to take warm-up before a game when the Oilers were in Chicago,” he says with pride.
Brian was video coach for the team and was part of the magical run in the spring of 2006 where they went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Barrie Stafford, who now runs the Oilers Alumni Association, was the equipment manager at the time and worked alongside Brian.
“A video coach spends long hours before and after the team arrives and rarely gets a day off,” says Barrie.
“He lives the NHL Trainers creed of “how can we help” and has always cared immensely about his responsibilities, colleagues and teammates. His personal theme of ‘be the first in’ represents his willingness to help, whoever and whenever, to do whatever it takes to win.”
OEG Vice Chairman Kevin Lowe has worked with Brian as a player, coach and general manager.
“Brian has been as loyal as any Oilers player that has played throughout the team’s history,” says Kevin.
Seven years ago he took a position in player development where he once again excelled.
“Brian is a great teammate and I have been fortunate to be able to work alongside him over the past five years,” says Rick Carriere, Senior Director of Player Development.
“His skillful work on video is a tremendous asset to our team and adds so much value to our prospects and their development.”
“The Player Development Department runs a lot smoother with Brian’s involvement.”
“Planning the development camps each year is a huge endeavor and Brian does an excellent job helping with getting everything set up.”
“Above all, Brian is a very caring and sharing individual. He is always the first one to help out and give his time to whatever the challenge may be.”
Rick and Manager of Hockey Analysis, Justin Mahé were there for Brian, spending time with him while he underwent chemotherapy.
“I can’t thank them enough for that,” Brian says.
He has had a few recent memories that he’ll never forget: he was at centre ice to drop the puck for the Oilers last game at Rexall Place last April.
“That was really big for me,” Brian says.
This past October he was on the bench coaching the Oilers Alumni in the Heritage Classic Alumni Game in Winnipeg alongside Glen Sather.
“That was great,” he says.
Brian pauses, once again – and reinforces his steadfast philosophy about life.
“I am unlucky because I have cancer, but I feel like I’m the luckiest man on earth,” he says. “I get to be around the Oilers office, I married an unbelievable person and I’ve made all of these great friends because of hockey.”