August 1, 2014

Terry Fox Runs for Other Cancer Fighters

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My husband Scott and I went to Canada recently and enjoyed the area very much.  While driving around, I saw a building named the 'Terry Fox Sports Facility.'  I asked Scott who Terry Fox was and he told me his story briefly.  So cool!  He's a real hero!

Terry Fox was a Canadian boy who loved to play sports.  Because he was short, his middle school coaches discouraged him from playing basketball, telling him he'd be a better runner.  So Terry started running, but kept coming back to basketball as his favorite sport.  He practiced so much that he made the high school basketball team in spite of his shorter height.  In fact, in his Senior year he was named Athlete of the Year.  He was offered a spot on the college basketball team the next fall, not because of his height or skill, but more because of his determination.

Shortly after graduation, Terry was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone in his knee.  In 1976, the treatment for the disease was leg amputation in addition to chemotherapy and radiation treatment.  Terry underwent all of these procedures and started physical therapy with his new prosthetic leg.  He started running again, although it was very painful on his stiff artificial leg.  He had to hop on his good leg twice for each step on his artificial leg, since the spring in his artificial leg took so long to reset.  It made for a painful run, causing shin splints and bruises on his good leg, and sores, blisters and bruises on his stump. 

He had heard of a runner (Dick Traum) who completed a marathon with a prosthetic leg and chose a marathon several months away in which to run.  This gave him a goal to work toward.  Terry finished the marathon 10 minutes after the last runner did, to the cheers of the adoring crowds.  Emboldened, Terry announced that he would run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.  His mom was alarmed and unsupportive at first, but seeing his determination, she joined the rest of the family in supporting him.

Having successfully beat his cancer, he wanted to offer other cancer patients courage and hope.  He felt it was his new purpose in life and set about to make it happen.  He said, "My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave (treatment) knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop....and I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause."  

He set out a course across Canada starting at the Atlantic ocean and ending at the Pacific.  He called it 'Marathon of Hope' because he would run a Marathon each day until he crossed the continent.  He filled two bottles up with sea water in Newfoundland.  He intended to pour one into the Pacific ocean when he finished, and keep the other as a souvenir.  He asked for monetary contributions, securing enough funding to start his journey.  Then he asked Canadians to contribute, hoping to raise $1 for each of the 24 million citizens.  Terry's best friend would drive a van behind him and cook his meals. 

Starting running on April 12, 1980, he was faced with a snowstorm, heavy rain and intense winds the first few days.  Nevertheless, Terry ran a marathon each day, persisting in his quest.  Slowly, his efforts were noticed by the media and he began to get more support.   A hotel owner offered him a room every night in his hotel chain as he crossed the country.  That was probably a nice help!  People began running with him or cheering him on as he ran.  Local governments asked him to speak when he visited their towns.  And people began to contribute money to the cause, making him happy in spite of the pain he was in with each step. 

Running a marathon every day (remember that's 26 miles!!!) would exhaust any healthy athlete.  (He even ran on his 22nd birthday.)  Imagine how extra hard it would be for an amputee running on a prosthetic leg.   Remember that he had just endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments a few years prior.  Terry was exhausted by the time he reached Thunder Bay, Ontario (on Lake Superior) in September and doctors made him stop the run. Terry was devastated and said,  "Everybody seems to have given up hope of trying. I haven't. It isn't easy and it isn't supposed to be, but I'm accomplishing something. How many people give up a lot to do something good? I'm sure we would have found a cure for cancer 20 years ago if we had really tried." 

Even though the run was stopped, Terry had raised $1.7 million dollars to that date.  By the next February, $24 million had been collected!  Terry had met his goal, and the people kept giving.  To date, Terry has raised $400 million, all dedicated to cancer research.  One of Canada's leaders said, "It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life...  [we think of Terry] as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity". 

Bridges, roads, schools, running trails and facilities are named in Terry's honor, as well as a yearly run to raise money for Cancer research.  A song was even written about him (Rod Stewart's 'Never Give Up on a Dream.")  In a 1999 public opinion poll, he was named Canada's greatest hero.  Pretty amazing.  It's a wonderful thing to see the difference one person can make. 

Terry took his struggle against Cancer and turned it into a way to help others.  He showed amazing courage, strength and determination as he thought of others.  What a hero!

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