Terry Fox: A Quest for a Cure

By Lorin Elias
Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

The Garden Valley Collegiate was the place to be on March 16 – that's when Betty Fox, mother of the late Terry Fox, gave an inspirational presentation on the life of her son.

She also spoke about the proceedings of the Terry Fox Foundation that they formed as a result of the run which Terry started. Fox began by telling us more about Terry the way she knew him. She said many people believed that he became the way he was because of his cancer but Terry had always been the kind of person he was when he died.

"He was a very ordinary young man." She described him as being stubborn, hardworking, a joker, and possibly the loudest kid at home. Terry was very competitive and he loved sports. He also had a temper.

In the spring of 1977, Terry was attending The Simon Fraser University to become a Physical Education instructor when he began to complain about a sore knee. It was getting progressively worse but he did nothing about it. His parents tried to get him to go to a doctor but he refused. His school work, sports, and social life were much more important to him than anything that was happening to his body.

One morning in March 1977, he got up to go to school as usual. He had not been gone long when his mother saw him coming onto the yard barely being able to walk. They had to wait until his father arrived home from work before he was able to go to the doctor. Terry and his father had been gone for quite some time when they called home. He told Mrs. Fox that Terry probably had a malignant tumor in his knee. The doctor requested that Terry not be told at this time.

Terry was admitted into the hospital later that day although he was still not aware of his condition. Terry was angry at being admitted into the pediatric ward since he was 18 years old. The doctors decided that this was probably the best for Terry. Several weeks later, Terry remarked that he was glad that he was in the pediatric ward because children make you laugh even when you are sick.

The doctors arranged a meeting with Terry and his parents to discuss Terry's situation. The doctors then told Terry about the tumor they had found and then told him that his leg would probably have to be amputated. That night Terry cried and got angry. He said that he had always tried hard at everything but now he would have to try harder. Terry came to the realization that he was no better than anyone else so why shouldn't it be him.

Two days before the amputation was scheduled to take place Terry saw a runner on television. He asked himself, why couldn't he do that? Terry decided that he wanted to run. How many of us would be thinking about running when our leg is about to be amputated? Shortly after the amputation, Terry began to learn to walk again, and approximately six weeks later he was on the golf course. Terry received a invitation from Rick Hanson to join him in a game of wheelchair basketball. Terry played wheelchair basketball regularly for some time after that. Running was still continually on Terry's mind.

Terry had hated being in the hospital. He was angry at the lack of treatment in the hospital. When he found out how little money there was going towards cancer research in Canada, he made the decision run across Canada. The two main reasons he decided to do the run were to raise money towards cancer research and to help the people whom he saw while he was in the hospital. Terry compared the United States to Canada and found out that the United States receives most of the money for cancer research from its own government while Canada's funding comes mostly from private donors. This also spurred him into doing the run.

Terry began to train steadily. After a period of training he excitedly reported that he had finished a quarter mile. He admitted that he had spent most of the time falling down and picking himself up but he was determined to keep trying. Terry trained steadily, every day for one-hundred-and-one days straight. The One-hundred-and-second day was Christmas day and the only reason he did not run was because his mother did not let him. Terry told his family that he was training for the Vancouver Marathon. He decided to keep his intentions a secret until he felt that the time was right. His parents believed that he was hurting his body. His leg's stump got sores that bled when he ran, but he did not care. He trained for fourteen months for what his parents thought was the Vancouver Marathon.

One day Terry went to his mother and apologized for not telling her the real reason and then he told her that he was training to run across Canada. She became angry and they yelled at each other. Terry left and went off by himself for an hour or so. When he returned he apologized for yelling. He said that since they had always been close, he had thought that she would support him in her decision, but instead she had been the first person to let him down.

Terry had planned out his whole trip in the fourteen months of his training. Terry hand delivered a letter to the British Columbia cancer division requesting their support. Instead they told him to go home and think about his decision. Terry decided not to hold his breath, and continued with his plans. At his request, the Ford Motor Co. in Ontario, donated a camperized van for the run. The van was to be driven by Terry's friend, who volunteered to do it. He received many other donations, for which he was very grateful. He had many supporters.

His run started in St. John's Newfoundland, Canada, on April 12, 1980. Terry ran for one-hundred-and-forty three days straight. He averaged approximately twenty-six miles per day. Terry usually started his run at four thirty in the morning. There were many hazards to cope with such as potholes, gravel shoulders, discourteous drivers, semis and many similar dangers. He also ran through all sorts of weather conditions such as snow, heat, rain, freezing rain, and strong winds. Sometimes the wind was so strong that it would knock him off his feet.

Terry began to become tired more quickly. One morning he felt terrible and did not feel like running. When he came back to where he left off the previous day, there were people lining the road for miles. He completed his run for the day and then went to his van and told the driver that he needed a doctor. He had completed three-thousand-three-hundred-and-thirty-nine miles when he was forced to stop that day, on September 1, 1980. The doctor diagnosed him with secondary cancer. The same cancer he had in his leg had spread to his lungs. Terry passed away on June 28, 1981; a month before his twenty third birthday. He was mourned by many people who had found a place for him in their hearts.

But Terry's legacy lives on. Before his death, a supporter of his run suggested that a run be held every year and the proceeds would go towards cancer research. Terry thought that it was a wonderful idea. Ever since he died, Terry Fox Runs are being held all over the world on the second Sunday after Labor Day.

After the annual runs had been going for some time, a friend of the family looked at the record books and noticed something wrong with the figures. He looked it over carefully and found out that the administration costs were thirty-five percent. The family then decided that they must form a non-profit organization. In 1988 the Terry Fox Foundation was formed. In the next ten years, the administration costs have dropped from thirty-five percent to two percent. For every dollar that is raised, eighty-eight cents go towards cancer research. Mrs. Fox stated that this was possible through much penny pinching. Their offices are furnished only with second hand furniture and they do a lot of shopping around for the best deal.

In 1998 fifty-eight countries registered to host their own Terry Fox Runs. Terry's mother has a very active role in the organization. Every spring she travels giving presentations in schools all across Canada. She also travels to other countries where the runs are held. These trips to foreign countries are made only if all the expenses are paid. This is necessary to keep the administration costs down.

Terry's mother is away from home five to seven months a year. She said that this job was the hardest job she had ever had but it was also quite rewarding at times.

"Even those who are dying of cancer, have said thank you."

As of this year, two-hundred-and-fifty-million dollars have been raised. This money is being put to very good use and is helping us on our way to find a cure for cancer.

Mrs. Fox conveyed very clearly what it is like for a cancer victim. She showed us that something had to be done to find a cure. As Terry said, "Somewhere the hurting must stop."