If you’re like me, you probably remember doing the run at school every year and hearing the story of Terry Fox. Losing his leg to cancer at the age of 18 then running across the country, being forced to stop after the cancer returned. For most people, the story ends there. It did too for my family until August 2015 when my husband, Chris, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in his shoulder, the same type of cancer that caused Terry Fox’s leg to be amputated over 35 years prior.
At the time of his diagnosis, we had an 8-month old son, had just purchased a house in Burlington and were just completing the renovations on our home. We had planned to move the very day after Chris’ biopsy. But instead of moving into our new family home together, Nathan and I moved to Burlington and Chris stayed at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto. The next 10 months were filled with an aggressive chemotherapy regime that would have Chris living in the hospital the majority of that time.
Our life went from two sleep-deprived parents taking walks to the park and picking out new hardwood flooring and decorating our new home to Chris being in the hospital for 5 days, home for two days, back in the hospital for 5 days, home for two days, back in the hospital for 5 days, home for two weeks. This cycle was repeated three times and was followed by a 10-hour surgery to remove the cancerous tumor plus all surrounding muscle. Chris lost his deltoid, part of his bicep and part of his tricep.
Fortunately, Chris didn’t lose his entire arm. Doctors implanted a titanium rod that stretches from his collar bone to just above the elbow, allowing him to retain all function of his hand and lower arm. But losing his shoulder meant a lot of life changes. He no longer has the ability to lift his arm above his head, hold anything more than 5 lbs with his left arm or do anything that requires rotating his arm – ie. swinging a golf club or a hockey stick.
Prior to his diagnosis, Chris was an active cyclist. He was a hockey player and loved working with his hands, doing home renovation projects or working in the yard. While the months that he was undergoing chemotherapy were challenging and caused him to lose a lot of time with our son, time that we will never get back. I took a photo of Nathan every day and sent it to Chris, as a reminder of what he was fighting for. He looks back on those photos now and realizes how much time was lost. 10 months is a lifetime for a baby. We tried to make the most of the time he could spend with him; those two days that he was at home in between treatments, but most of the time, Chris was so exhausted, 10 minutes of play (long enough for mama to catch a quick shower) was about all he could handle.
While losing time with Nathan was tough to handle, losing his shoulder was the most devastating. Chris struggled with coming to terms with what this new body would and wouldn’t allow him to do and became frustrated when something that used to come so easily – such as hanging up a curtain rod – was now a task that required calculated planning, took 5 times longer and required a helper. For someone as fiercely independent as Chris, this was the worst thing.
In May 2016, right around the end of Chris’ treatment, the Terry Fox Memorial was unveiled in Stanley Smith Park and we just had to go see it. You see, every day when Chris was at Mt. Sinai Hospital, he passed by a photo of Terry Fox on the wall of the osteosarcoma floor. Even though he was mad at cancer for taking his shoulder, for causing him to lose time with his son and a year off work and many other things, it wasn’t lost on him (or on me) that it was because of Terry Fox that he was still alive. Without the sacrifice Terry Fox made, I’m pretty sure my son would not have had a chance to know his father.
We stood in awe of the monument of this 21-year-old man with an artificial leg; a man that should have been going to university and drinking to much on weekends, was instead was running across the country raising money to help people he would never meet. That day at the monument, we made a promise that we would always walk for Terry, to thank him for the sacrifice he made to help others.
Every time we do the walk, I think about how different our family would look had Terry Fox not made the choice to run across the country back in 1980. Terry knew that every single day, families just like ours had to hear the words “you have cancer”. He knew that the only way to ensure cancer wasn’t an automatic death sentence was to raise money for research and treatment. We are so thankful that he did.
Every year, we finish the run at the monument to pay our respects to Terry and thank him for all he’s given us; our family.