In its 43rd year, the Terry Fox Run has raised more than $850 million across the country to fund cancer research. And Fred Fox, Terry’s older brother, is more and more amazed each year by the level of support he sees for the cause in every community he visits, big or small.
Fox was in Niagara-on-the-Lake last Wednesday, where he helped local run organizer Joan King and Couns. Erwin Wiens and Tim Balasiuk raise the Terry Fox Run flag at town hall.
“My Mom (Betty Fox) started this after Terry passed away in June of ’81, after the return of cancer,” Fox told the supporters about the annual event that began after his younger brother was forced to cancel his Marathon of Hope in 1980. “Terry’s legacy has lasted 43 years just because of individuals like you. It doesn’t happen without people like you in communities across the country.”
Fox was travelling this week in the footsteps of his inspirational brother. Terry’s 1980 Marathon of Hope did not take him through Niagara. However, he did make his way to the region from Toronto, where he visited city hall in Niagara Falls and stopped at NOTL’s Prince of Wales Hotel for a reception. King had prepared a poster of photos from that visit to display at the flag raising.
Terry’s second bout with cancer forced him to abandon his run in September that year after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres. Fox passed away in hospital in New Westminster, BC about nine months later.
Like his brother, Fred stopped in at Niagara Falls before visiting NOTL. There, that city’s mayor Jim Diodati presented him with a key to the city.
“I was really given that on behalf of the citizens of Niagara Falls,” he said, “who work so hard every year to organize their run. It was amazing to receive that honour, but I know it was Terry being honoured, and that’s exactly what it should be about.”
Fox travels regularly to different communities to lend his support to their fundraising efforts. The visit to Niagara also included a dinner last Tuesday evening with organizers of runs in NOTL, Niagara Falls, Port Colborne and St. Catharines.
“You really feel that community spirit,” said Fox. “That’s what keeps things like this going. Everyone knows somebody in their community who has been touched by cancer. That’s why it’s so important.”
Fox pointed out the two or three people there on the town hall steps who were wearing red Terry Fox Run T-shirts signifying that they are cancer survivors.
“That’s what it’s alI about,” Fox went on. “That’s what Terry wanted to do, he wanted to impact research. He knew at one point, probably late in his Marathon of Hope, that something was going wrong. Even after he had to stop in Thunder Bay, when he knew he wasn’t going to survive his second diagnosis of cancer, he knew what he did was worthwhile.”
Rick Plato of Niagara Falls assists King with the NOTL run each year. He was wearing one of those red shirts last week, having fought prostate cancer five years ago. Plato opted for surgery back then and has had a clear diagnosis since.
The retired OPP officer choked up remembering Terry’s run in 1980, and said he was sure that the funds raised through Terry Fox runs through the years were largely responsible for his survival.
“I had options when I was diagnosed,” Plato told The Local. “External radiation, internal radiating active seeds. There were two surgical options, too, the old fashioned way or laparoscopic, the option I took. No incision, just two little holes, they drilled in there and removed it. I was lucky, too, as they caught it early.”
Plato became emotional once again when asked how it felt to meet the brother of the man named one of the greatest Canadians of all time by CBC television viewers in 2004.
“It’s absolutely awesome to meet him,” said an emotional Plato. “It’s unfathomable to think about what he and his family went through back then. You don’t expect to bury younger siblings and children. It’s amazing how he works to keep Terry’s legacy alive.”
“This is like the royal family of Canada,” King said about the visit to NOTL by Fox. “It’s so inspiring to have Terry’s brother here to tell the story. It reminds us that Terry is a brother, a son, a cousin, a human being like everybody else. Not just a picture that we see.”
The first NOTL Terry Fox Run took place in 1990. King, a retired teacher, took over the role of organizing the event in 2007. She has often said her many years of teaching young people about Fox’s courage is what inspired her to take the leadership role in town.
St. Michael Catholic Elementary School student Sophia Pillitteri was at the flag raising with her mother, Sarah. The two were excited to meet Fred Fox for the first time.
“Meeting an actual family member,” Sarah said, “Sophia may not realize it now, but she’ll look back on pictures when she’s older and realize who she met. To continue on the legacy is so special to me. We’ve had so many people in our lives battle cancer.”
“Today's students weren’t born 43 years ago,” Fox posited, “and likely their parents and teachers weren’t. Those young kids keep the legacy going. They will be the future Terry Fox Run organizers because they’ve been impacted by Terry’s example of never giving up.”
At the end of the ceremony, Fox joined John Grummett, organizer of the St. Catharines run for the past 26 years, for the car ride back to Grummett’s Beamsville home. He was to head to Toronto later that evening on his way to his next inspirational visit. Fox was scheduled to be in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sept. 9.
He will be returning to Niagara, though, to share the stage at one point during the evening with Joe Pillitteri for his comedy night Sept. 29.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind 24 hours,” Fox told the gathering. “Coming back and seeing photos of Terry when he was here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and at city hall in Niagara Falls, it’s amazing to know that Terry so many years later still impacts these communities. We’re so proud of what Terry did, because it wasn’t about him, it was about other people.”