“I don’t have an expiration date.”

“I don’t have an expiration date.”

That is what Kristina LeeAnn “Cricket” Russell of Port St. Joe told her family while battling an aggressive form of breast cancer at the young age of 22.

The comment, those who knew her said, revealed wisdom beyond her years.

And thanks to those who love her, Russell’s spirit of caring and giving lives on as the inspiration of The Cricket Fund.

The Cricket Fund is the brainchild of Anna Hicks, a Radiology/CT/Mammography Technologist at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf.

Hicks, who joined the hospital when it opened in 2010, was employed in CT and transferred to SHHG’s Women’s Center earlier this year.

The fund will provide free mammograms to women in need in Gulf and Franklin counties. Russell had no insurance at the time of her diagnosis on March 12, 2012.

Hicks believed it is important to provide a fund like The Cricket Fund.

“There are lots of women without health insurance and women are bad about putting themselves last,” she said. “If they have an extra $200, they won’t spend it on a mammogram for themselves; they will spend it on food, electricity, clothes for their children.”

Like many others, Hicks was also inspired by Cricket’s strength.

“My husband worked with Cricket’s father and my brother was close to her,” she said, adding she got to know Russell after her diagnosis. “She was full of life and tried to make everyone feel better about her situation. Even on her worst days, she still had a huge smile on her face.”

Joe and MaryAnn Russell described their daughter with words such as “fun-loving” and “carefree”, “beautiful inside and out.”

“People would gravitate to her; her smile was contagious,” MaryAnn said. “She never met a stranger, and she was always willing to help people.

“She was attending Gulf Coast State College and was studying to be a nurse when she was diagnosed. She was very close to her grandparents – called them ‘G & P’ for Granny and Pop – they have some health issues, so she wanted to be able to help them.”

Cricket Russell was always able to make the best of a bad situation, and her battle with Stage Four breast cancer was no different, according to her family.

That family includes a brother, Blake Gill, and two sisters, Jill and Megan Russell.

During her battle with cancer, Cricket touched many lives, including many staff members at both SHHG and SHHEC.

Her family, friends and staff knew her to be strong and courageous during her treatment program, which included chemotherapy and radiation.

“She was trying to be strong for everybody else; she was actually our rock; she was the glue that held it all together,” MaryAnn said. “Her strength was amazing. She never complained, and I told her that God chose her because she was strong.”

MaryAnn and Joe Russell expressed gratitude for Sacred Heart’s support of their daughter through her short journey with cancer.

“She put her full faith in God and Dr. Mose Hayes and the nurses and other caregivers at Sacred

Heart on the Emerald Coast and Sacred Heart on the Gulf,” MaryAnn said. “They stood by and fought with us even before there was any insurance. Dr. Hayes accepted her even before her insurance was in the works.

“He is nothing short of a saint. She was in the ICU at Sacred Heart in Destin on her birthday on Nov. 24, 2012, and the staff threw her a huge birthday bash. There were 20 or 30 people; she had a cake and balloons.”

On the afternoon of her birthday, Cricket was transferred to Panama City for radiation treatment. “She went to Heaven that following Tuesday at 5:36 a.m.,” recalled MaryAnn. “She touched so many. We are very honored that Anna Hicks brainstormed and created The Cricket Fund.

“I love that people in this community cared enough to honor her in that way, and to know that it’s going to help someone else. It is an amazing fund that will help so many in the future, and that’s all she ever wanted to do. Cricket didn’t know that she was going to leave this legacy.”

For more information about The Cricket Fund, please call Hicks at 229-5680 or Shelly Cannon, RN, at 229-5680.