“Today is the day it all begins” – Terry Fox’s enduring legacy

On Saturday, April 12, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his foot into the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s, Newfoundland and said, “Today is the day it all begins.”

So began an epic journey that took this heroic Canadian halfway across the country and into the nation’s heart.

Just three years earlier, at the age of 18, Terry had battled osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer), which resulted in amputation of his right leg, 15 centimetres above the knee. He underwent 16 months of chemotherapy, during which time he witnessed child cancer patients facing their own challenging ordeals. That made a lasting impression.

After he completed his final treatment, Terry felt the burden of responsibility. He vowed, “I could not leave 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.”

Although Terry was an avid runner, he had never completed a marathon. Nevertheless, he came up with a plan to run a marathon a day until he’d made it all the way across Canada, raising awareness and money for cancer research along the way.

Nearly two years after his surgery, Terry started preparing. At first, he would run in the dark so no one would see him fall, but, over time, his ability and confidence grew. While training, he covered 3,159 miles, running every day for 101 days, until his stump was raw and bleeding.

Driven by a sense of purpose that transcended his own experience, he persevered, with determination and tenacity.

“I remember promising myself that, should I live, I would rise up to meet this new challenge face to face and prove myself worthy of life, something too many people take for granted.”

“It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live. The answer is to try and help others.”

Terry’s goal was to raise a million dollars for cancer research. A few months after he was forced to abandon the Marathon of Hope when his cancer returned, more than $24 million had been donated. To date, over $750 million has been raised in Terry’s name.

In 1980, the chance of survival of a diagnosis of osteosarcoma was 15 per cent. Due to the progress made in the field of cancer research, that has risen to over 80 per cent, and amputation is rare. We know more about cancer today because of research funding from The Terry Fox Foundation.

“There can be no reason for me to stop. No matter what pain I suffer, it is nothing compared to the pain of those who have cancer, of those who endure treatment.”

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by his own misfortune and suffering, Terry chose to dig deep within himself, and he found strength in adversity.

When he dipped his foot in the ocean at the beginning of his epic journey, he gave us hope.

Forty years later, that is Terry’s enduring legacy.