Terry Fox Day is a Canadian thing. During the month of September, communities all across the country organize run/walk events to raise money for cancer research in Terry’s name. This year marks the 30th anniversary and celebrates the $500 million that has been raised in his name since his attempt to run the length of Canada thirty years ago.
What made Terry’s run special and inspiring to Canadians was the fact that he’d lost part of his leg to a cancer that would go on to claim his life at the age of 21. His cancer returned after a three-year remission during his trek and he never saw the finish line, but his family was determined that the run become an annual event and it has.
I first heard of Terry as a high school student. We read about him in our Catholic high school back in Iowa. It was one of those grisly teachable moments that the nuns and priests were so fond of when I was a child. “See how lucky you are that you aren’t one-legged and being eaten away by cancer?” was the gist of the lesson.
As an American though, I didn’t know the run went on to become a yearly event.
Until I emigrated to Canada three years ago.
Terry Fox came back into my life via Dee, who discovered Terry in kindergarten and developed a morbid fixation that plagued us for months.
At the school assembly, where footage of Terry’s original run was shown and the children received morbid Terry tattoos, Dee met up with death too young – again.
She created a tiny little shrine for the tattoo in our dining room and all manner of death, cancer and why questions haunted Rob and I more than our own dead spouses do when they are feeling feisty.
Last year, Dee asked if she could skip school on Terry Fox Day. She didn’t want to see any more pictures of him. They made her feel sick.
“So you don’t want to take a toonie or go on the walk?” I asked.
The kids bring “toonies for Terry” and go on a 3km walk in the afternoon. She loves donating coin. We can’t walk past a street musician without tossing change, and she adores group walks, which is ironic because “walking” her father is the eye-rolling height of boring in her opinion.
“No, I want to bring a toonie and walk, ” she said. “I just don’t want to hear about him or see him anymore. He makes me sick.”
A quick flurry of emails between her teacher and I resulted in Dee being excused from the assembly after which she happily strolled hand in hand with her teacher.
This year? Same thing. Pictures of Terry give her “a sick feeling in my tummy” and she would rather stay home from school (she adores school so much that she can make weekends unbearable for Rob and I) than endure the sight of Terry.
More emails. A new, and fortunately equally sympathetic, teacher will handle distraction duty.
My own feelings about the cancer run/walks is predicated on the fact that my late husband died of something rare and unglamorous and, therefore, not worthy of fund-raising. The boobie bracelets for breast cancer and the fun-runs for cancer research in general distract from the fact that most people die of something other than cancer.
Rob’s heart attack is a stark reminder that cardio-vascular ends await more of us than cancer does and, between it and accidents, that’s how most of us who don’t die old and asleep in our beds will shuffle off this mortal coil.
Despite losing my father to lung cancer and Rob losing Shelley to melanoma, I feel removed from the whole cancer thing most of the time. I have read too much to believe that there is a cure anywhere or ever, and I am a bit hesitant to cheer for treatments that mostly seem aimed at allowing death to whittle away at you at the expense of life’s quality and at the greater expense of the physical, spiritual and mental well-being of your loved ones.
Dee took a toonie. The school’s gym isn’t finished and so there will be no assembly, but her teacher will shield her from any reading material the class goes through. And she will walk. She does love to go on those walks, which I am grateful she is healthy and able to do.
- Thousands mark Terry Fox milestone (thestar.com)
- Terry Fox Run – 30th Anniversary (broadcasting-brain.com)
- Three decades later, Fox is still ready to run for her son (theglobeandmail.com)
- Runners take part in 30th anniversary of Marathon of Hope (theglobeandmail.com)