It was a saga of courage against dismaying odds. Terry Fox, 22, who had lost his right leg to cancer three and a half years before, was running across Canada, raising money for medical research. Then, halfway through the journey he called a Marathon of Hope, he was overcome by neck pains and shortness of breath. Hospitalized in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on September 1, he was confronted with a grim diagnosis: The cancer had spread to both lungs. Terry was immediately flown home to Vancouver, where he resigned himself to intensive chemotherapy. “I’d done a lot of research,” he says, “and I knew from reading 50 to 100 case studies that there never had been this kind of spread. I was totally unprepared.”
Canada, however, perhaps fatigued by internal political struggles in recent months, was ready to enshrine him as a national hero. Before he was forced to quit, Terry had received pledges of $1.7 million. Since then an outpouring of money and support has guaranteed the Canadian Cancer Society $12 million—two-thirds of its fund raising goal for the entire year. In Toronto children solicited quarters from their neighbors in return for running around the block. At the Winnipeg Speedway drivers passed the hat for $1,600. And network television sponsored a telethon during which stars like Elton John, Glen Campbell and John Denver performed free of charge. “Terry has really pulled the country together,” observed one impressed British Columbian.
The son of a Canadian National Railway switchman, Fox is the second of four children. While a student at Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, he played varsity basketball and ran cross-country. But in early 1977 he began feeling pain in his right leg. Doctors found cancer, and amputated the leg above the knee. After 18 months of chemotherapy Terry was inspired by a magazine article about a one-legged runner in New York. He decided on his transcontinental endurance test. “I told myself if that man could run, I could,” Terry recalls. “It was one of the things that motivated me.” Another was the faces he saw in a cancer clinic. “Some were brave, and some had given up smiling,” he says. “I was determined to take myself to the limit for the cause. Somewhere the hurting must stop.”
Terry logged 3,149 miles in training during the next 14 months—”I know because I kept a diary”—then flew east to begin his run. He dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic at St. John’s, Newfoundland as a symbolic beginning and vowed to repeat the gesture when he reached the Pacific Coast. Starting on April 12, he ran up to 30 miles a day and was greeted along the route by well-wishers, including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and retired hockey star Bobby Orr. “I’d get up at 4 in the morning, eat and be ready to go at 5,” recalls Terry, who ultimately completed 3,339 miles, following a twisting route chosen to bring him in contact with as many of his fellow Canadians as possible. A reporter remembers Terry’s running style as “painful to watch. He’d step with his left leg, then twist his whole body to throw his artificial leg ahead of him. It was sort of a step, hop and skip.”
Now resting at home, Terry faces an uncertain future. Still, he says, “I’m breathing a lot better now, and the pain in my chest is gone because they took the fluid out. I’m eating right, doing 60 push-ups a day and getting enough sleep.” Terry was recently awarded the Order of Canada—the highest medal a Canadian civilian can receive—and British Columbia has donated $1 million toward the establishment of a Terry Fox lab at a cancer research center in Vancouver. “All the support has really helped me,” says Terry. “It told me that what I’ve done was worth it—all those lonely times when I was training by myself. I read in a Hong Kong paper, ‘CANCER BEATS RUNNER.’ That’s totally wrong because I did the best I could. Maybe the cancer defeated my body, but it didn’t affect me spiritually. That’s more important.”