Adam Russell

Adam Russell poses with his nephew Tommy Galvin. When he's not playing baseball, the Orioles reliever often looks out for his niece and nephew as his sister and brother-in-law battle advanced cancer. (Courtesy photo / February 22, 2013)

SARASOTA, Fla. — Over the next two weeks, Orioles reliever Adam Russell will get a visit from two of his biggest fans.

Fiona Galvin, 6, and her three-year-old brother Tommy will light up at the first sight of their "Uncle Bubba." In the offseason, he's the one who takes them to the park back home in Cleveland. He will take Tommy to baseball practice. He will dress up like Bigfoot to make them laugh. The kids will climb onto Russell and make him their personal 6-foot-7 jungle gym.

Russell, 29, is fighting for a job in the Orioles' spring training camp. His ability to throw a mid-90s fastball made him a professional baseball player, but the open-mindedness to tinker with throwing sidearm carried him to the majors. He's still looking for a place to stick. The Orioles are his sixth organization since the beginning of the 2009 season.

His baseball career has been about resilience, but he says the fight he's shown is nothing compared to that which his family has displayed.

Fiona and Tommy's parents — Russell's oldest sister, Tracy, and her husband, Marty — both have advanced cancer.

Over a traumatic 30-month span, Russell has received a firsthand lesson about life and how sometimes it can be cruel. He's learned that the future isn't guaranteed — whether it's your days in a major league uniform or the days you can embrace a family member.

"I think now that we keep getting bad news after bad news, we're just more numb to it right now," Russell said. "My family is fighters. We just want to get better. We don't want anyone to feel sorry for us. Whatever we need to do to move forward and keep their kids happy, that's really the main focus."

"In a very scary place"

Two and a half years ago, Tracy Russell Galvin was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 34. She endured nine weeks of weekly chemotherapy, surgeries for a liver resection, ovary removal and lumpectomy and five weeks of daily radiation.

Tracy has had no evidence of disease for the past year, but in September a common cough sent Marty to get some tests that revealed he had Stage 3 lung cancer. Surgery to remove his entire left lung — along with four rounds of chemotherapy — seemed to remove all of the cancer, until a follow up showed that it had spread to his remaining lung.

Radiation and a lung transplant aren't options, so the Galvins have spent the past two weeks traveling across the country to five cancer treatment centers searching for a solution. Now, they anxiously wait to see if Marty, 43, is eligible for a trial drug study.

"We're in a very scary place right now," Tracy said.

Saturday, they will fly to Florida from their home in Cleveland to get away from it all for a bit and to be a part of something that's brought the family great joy.

"Sometimes you do things like go to your brother's baseball games," Tracy said, "when you have that fear and you ask, 'Is this the last time I'll do it? Is this the last year I'm going to be healthy enough to go. Is this the last year, with my husband going through this, that we'll be able to go to spring training together.'

"A lot of times it's not like that. It's that this is what we do. This is our family. We're tight and we're always there to support each other. We'd rather be nowhere else."

Russell sees himself as the lucky one. After his sister's diagnosis, his entire family was tested for the cancer-causing gene that Tracy had. Russell's middle sister Lindsay had it, which meant she had an 87 percent chance of eventually developing cancer, so she had a preventive mastectomy.

Adam's tests showed he's the only sibling that doesn't have the gene.

Playing the "Manny"

When Russell isn't training for baseball, he's been helping Tracy and Marty take care of their young kids. They call him their "Manny" — or male nanny.

"He was just there for us with everything," Tracy said. "When I was in treatment, he would come with me to appointments. He'd always be there for the kids, babysitting. A lot of babysitting, just entertaining them and keeping the house in order. They just adore him."