I knew nothing about Terry Fox before I moved to Canada although his image, when I first saw it, seemed to resonate with me and so, there is a chance at the tender age of 7, I may have seen it on a news report or in a newspaper back in Wales perhaps, but I’m only guessing.
Now, there is no way that I could ever forget him. It’s not just because he is a massive Canadian icon and rightly so: it is because his story is so moving, so poignant, so bloody unfair that you can’t help be touched by it. The man was a bloody marvel and deserves to be seen as a hero, there is no doubt.
My husband knew this and bought me this 40th anniversary book to commemorate Terry Fox’s remarkable legacy.
For those of you reading this who are not familiar with Terry Fox, here’s a brief synopsis: Terry was a young man of 21 when, having lost his leg to cancer, he decided that something needed to be done to combat cancer, based on seeing children in hospital at the time of his treatment being told that they had limited chances of survival. Spurred on by this, he started his “Marathon of Hope” which involved him running from his starting point in St. John’s in Newfoundland on the most easterly tip of Canada’s Atlantic coast to the most westerly point in British Columbia on Vancouver Island and the Pacific coast.
He ran 26 miles a day on a prosthetic limb which caused him pain and often led to sores and bleeding.
Despite his determination, perseverance and courage, he was not to fulfil his goal as on the 1st September 1980 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, suffering from severe chest pains and struggling to breathe, he had to postpone the continuance of his marathon because cancer had returned in his lung and he had to have treatment. At this stage, he had run for 143 days and for 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles). He vowed to return and continue his marathon but he never did. He succumbed to the disease on June 28th 1981.
When we did our epic trip across Canada from Calgary to Ottawa in the middle of a pandemic, we stopped in Thunder Bay and one of the things that we did as a family was visit Terry Fox’s monument. It sits above the TransCanada and has been re-sited to allow the many visitors to be able to park and take some time there. It is a grand setting, surrounded by trees with a short walk from the car park to the monument.
I will never forget the welling up of emotion as I saw his statue appear ahead of me on the path. Lake Superior was in the background, it was a greyish morning of mistiness and moodiness and as I headed towards him, I couldn’t stop the tears from coming, just like I can’t stop the tears now as I’m typing. His story inspires me and affects me in a way that no other does and I am clearly not alone in this.
I, like a lot of us, have seen the effects of the malignancy of cancer, my grandmother having had to have a mastectomy and my aunty too suffering with it but surviving; however, I lost both of my grandfathers to the disease and it is harrowing. Cancer is debilitating as it shrinks the ones you love, changing them demonstrably from the people who you have always known, administering almost unbearable pain to them and there is no control over this. You can keep it at bay but if it’s determined enough, it will win. Having seen this first hand, it scars you emotionally, leaving the memories of your loved ones diminished as its legacy. It is easy to be morbid about it as it casts a dark, dark shadow over the history of our family.
And then, in contrast to this positively depressing vision of cancer, you have Terry Fox. He was defeated by cancer but he never let it affect his outlook, allowing his determination to be a ruling force in his life and he never submitted to self-pity. And that’s what you get in this 40th anniversary book, Terry Fox – A Legacy in Letters which is a collection of people’s memories of Terry Fox and how he personally affected their lives. This can be told in anecdotes from having had the privilege of meeting him or from people who have become involved in raising money for the Terry Fox Foundation after being touched by cancer themselves.
There are recognisable sports’ stars here which is logical as they are the people who would know first hand just how much it must have taken for Terry to have continued for as long as he did and how pursuing your goals, whether personal and ambitious or in the name of philanthropy like Terry, requires much of you – full commitment and resolve.
There are everyday folk, who like me have been touched by Terry’s story and have acted upon it, creating events or ensuring that the annual Terry Fox Run continues in their home town. Some of these have taken Terry’s message outside of Canada – cancer does not seem to be geographically confined – and the fact that there are people worldwide who recognise Terry Fox, his mission and his distinctive silhouette means that, despite him not completing the race, he achieved his goal and established a lasting legacy that has endured for 40 years.
I don’t believe that it will slow down any time soon either.
This was a simple book but it is one of the most moving books that I have ever read in my life. It was a very tender tribute and it provoked emotional responses in me throughout, due to the depth of feeling that people have towards this significant figure.
It also told me two things: never underestimate the power of words and never underestimate the power of the human spirit.