Nfld. & Labrador

'The new normal' isn't easy for family of Sarah Turpin

Conception Bay dad Peter Russell says it has been hard adjusting to life without his partner, who died of a highly aggressive cancer just days after it was discovered, leaving behind three children under age three.

'We thought Sarah was pregnant,' says husband; cancer was changing hormone levels

A family in Bay Roberts struggles to adjust to life without a wife and mother, reports Amy Stoodley 6:32

The husband of a Newfoundland and Labrador woman who died earlier this fall just a week after being diagnosed with cancer says it has been a challenge adjusting to the "new normal" of life without his partner, the mother of their three young children.

Peter Russell and his wife, Sarah Turpin, were busy working parents in Bay Roberts in Conception Bay.

Daughter Rowan will turn three on New Year's Eve. Twins Ellis and Grant will turn two next month. 

After his wife's sudden death, Russell is busier than ever.

"I'm calling it the new normal. It's a whole new way of parenting," he said.

Sarah Turpin, 32, the mother of three children, died on Oct. 3. (Submitted photo)

"We were a team, and it was hard as a team, and to take this on on your own, it's a lot."

Sarah Turpin was diagnosed with cancer on a Friday after a visit to a doctor. By the following Friday, the 32-year-old was dead.

Russell said he has been receiving plenty of help from Sarah's family, including caring for the three children, but things just aren't the same.

"I haven't seen another mother like Sarah. Sarah was in tune with the babies and paid so much attention, not just at play time, but to their diet and activities and crafts. Nobody loves kids like Sarah loved those kids," said Russell.

"She loved being pregnant, actually. To be quite honest, she didn't want to stop at three."

Positive pregnancy tests

When Sarah was diagnosed, it was the furthest thing from what they expected, Russell said.

Pregnancy tests had turned up positive.

She died right in front of me actually. I don't know — I relive it every now and then. Usually around 4:30 in the afternoon when I'm driving home in the car I re-live it.- Peter Russell

"We thought Sarah was pregnant. As far as we can tell, where it was a maternal death, there's quite an investigation that gets performed to find out what happened exactly. From what I gathered, I believe the cancer cells were raising her hormone levels and creating a false pregnancy."

Sarah's cancer was rare, and developed in the placenta.

"It's a cancer of the uterus and pretty much only occurs in women that are pregnant or were pregnant."

In January, Sarah was carrying the couple's fourth child when she miscarried.

Memories and traditions

Russell said things have been hard for him and he's still grieving, but doesn't have time to slow down his busy schedule.
Peter Russell says his twin boys are too young to understand what happened to their mother, but daughter Rowan has a better grasp. (CBC)

Sarah's death put a financial burden on the family. She was a schoolteacher, and without her salary, and no life insurance policy, the family is finding it a challenge to make ends meet.

Her doula group has organized a fundraising campaign, called For Sarah's Kids, to help alleviate the family's financial burdens.

But Russell said that by keeping busy, he has been able to focus on other things. At least for a while.

"She died right in front of me actually. I don't know — I relive it every now and then. Usually around 4:30 in the afternoon when I'm driving home in the car, I relive it. That's probably the only time of the day I'm not busy is when I'm driving, so that's kind of when I think about it.

"Being busy is what's been the most therapeutic, I guess. The kids are the most important to me now. It comforts me to make sure they're comfortable. As long as they're comfortable, I feel good."

Peter Russell says he has been getting lots of help from Sarah's mother and sisters, but he misses having his wife around. (CBC)

He said twins Grant and Ellis are still a bit young to understand what is going on, but Rowan has a better grasp.

"There were a couple of weeks where Rowan had dreams about her mom and she'd wake up a little bit upset. That was the hardest, but Rowan looks forward to having dreams about mom now. She looks forward to going to bed because she'll have dreams about mom."

For now, Russell keeps Sarah's traditions with her children alive; every night, he plays the fiddle and the kids have their nightly dance party.


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