As our nation continues to hunker down in an effort to combat a pandemic, hope is just beginning to rise above the horizon, even as numbers of infected seem set to spiral out of control. The advent of numerous vaccines are steadily, if not as quickly as we would hope, finding their way into the arms of the nation.
Monday, April 12 marked the 41st anniversary of the day Mr. Fox began his Marathon of Hope run from coast to coast (beginning by dipping his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland) in an effort to raise money to help in the fight against cancer. Although he fell to a resurgence of his cancer at 22, forced to stop his run just outside of Thunder Bay due to the cancer that took his right leg re-appearing in his lungs, since his death hundreds of thousands of Canadians have taken up his challenge each fall, raising nearly $800 million and counting to fund cancer research.
Now, after 41 years since Mr. Fox set out on his Marathon of Hope, COVID-19 may soon be vanquished thanks to a (mostly) united global effort, but pernicious cancer remains a scourge despite herculean amounts of treasure and focus across that same globe.
Cancer claimed 83,300 Canadian lives in 2020, while 23,315 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived upon our shores. (The number of excess deaths calculated in our nation, even adjusted for opioid deaths—the other pandemic sweeping our nation—would set that number considerably higher.) Cancer deaths are slowly declining thanks to the efforts of Mr. Fox and the army of researchers his effort has inspired (and funded), but that battle remains on the field. Cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada.
While fewer and fewer heroes remain unsullied to us in these days of woken perceptions, Mr. Fox continues to stand tall.
Mr. Fox began his life as an ordinary Canadian, born a middle child with three siblings in Winnipeg in 1958, he was described as a serious young man, but even as a child he showed signs of the determination that would soon drive him forward. He loved sports, yelled “car” in the street during road hockey games and wrestled with his siblings. He was an average student, in an average family, in an average home, in an average city, but like so many who have served our nation in its times of crisis, when the moment came he rose to the occasion.
At the age of 18 he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that would upend his life, steal his leg and eventually his life. But Mr. Fox went down swinging, with all the steeled determination and grit that lay within his soul.
He began his Marathon of Hope in obscurity, with little national attention. But by the time he passed the Highway 17 turnoff to Manitoulin Island, the attention of the nation had focused on his story.
There are many worthy individuals short-listed for the honour of being featured on the new Canadian five-dollar bill. In the spirit of reconciliation, Indigenous communities and Canada’s first peoples, each of the four Indigenous candidates on the shortlist of eight vying for the honour are strong contenders, as are the other two candidates. Each should definitely be commemorated upon our currency.
But the case for Mr. Fox is so universal (cancer cares not for race, creed or colour) that it should transcend even those most compelling of arguments put forward for the other candidates.
In these most oppressive of times our nation needs a true hero we can all look up to. Terry Fox provided an example of hope, determination and, yes, sacrifice to which we should all aspire. The story of a most remarkable average young Canadian, one whose selfless efforts have ingrained the image of him hop-running down the side of a deserted highway, eyes fixed on the horizon, is one that reflects our nation’s highest of ideals and it is an image that deserves to be commemorated, especially since although Terry Fox eventually lost his personal battle, thanks largely to his efforts, his war will be won.