Growing up, like most Canadians, I learned about Terry Fox’s story in primary school. At the time, amidst my pro sports heroes, his story stood out. He would become my most revered Canadian icon. His accomplishments were unfathomable. He ran a marathon a day for 143 consecutive days…on one leg! Mostly I admired his ambition, which to me exuded tenacity bordering on insanity.
Later in life, I would find out what this courage looked like, on a much more personal level. A level beyond quantifiable metrics, but just as inspirational. Courage that it took for a mother to call her only son, while he studied abroad, to tell him that the cancer had returned. But the disclaimer being he wasn’t allowed to come home with this news, because his photos and stories from France were giving her strength while she herself, absorbed the news. Courage it took to take out her wig she thought she had put away for the last time, 30 years prior, be-cause she was going through treatment all over again. The courage of conceding that she needed to check into Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and she could not fight this alone in her home with her family. Her courage to remain positive in the face of being transferred to palliative care amidst the never ending sobs of families in the hallway who themselves had just watched their loved ones succumb to the same disease. It was October 2004. The Bos-ton Red Sox had just made a historically improbable comeback in the ALCS to end the “curse of the bambino”, two doors down the hallway in the communal room. In her room, however, the statistics were far less kind. A mother was torn from her kids. A devoted father had lost his bride. Her final words were to my Dad, “We did it, Foster”. To this day, I’m not sure if she meant their marriage had lasted over 30 years and they were a beacon of what love could be. Or if perhaps she looked at my sister and I as grown ups, and her pride shone through once again. I do know that she left this world full of faith and gratitude. I left the hospital that night, vowing that I would never return to the palliative care ward in Princess Margaret. Also that I would never have another meal at the Druxy’s in the lobby of the hospital. I was wrong.
Seven years later I would be in that same hospital. This time with 15 of my best friends from high school. Sending prayers up the hallway of the palliative care ward of Princess Margaret for our best friend, Arjun. His ulcerative colitis had deteriorated into colon cancer. He had fought with the same tenacity, using his charmingly positive disposition and fearless ‘taking life one day at a time’ approach. Before he passed, I got a chance to wheel him outside, against the medical staff’s wishes, so he could feel the cool winter air on his face, one last time. This week, I got a chance to fulfill my promise to him that he would be the best man at my wedding. Sadly, that promise meant there was an empty space beside me.
Two years ago, I got the call to test my mettle against this same disease, only mine was a tumor in my brain. I remember a litany of things I’d never experienced before. The techni-cians of the hospital pinning me down so they could make a mold of my face. It had all the grace of a Bain mask from the movie Batman. It’s purpose was so that I wouldn’t be able to move as they slid me under a massive radiation machine. In my first of 60 consecutive days of radiation, I drew upon the strength of my mom and Arjun. Not in a cheesy, amorphous way. In a very tangible “you guys have been here before. Is this normal?” with a very vivid “we were there then, and we are here now, and yes, this is normal”. It was that moment that punctuated the importance for me of drawing upon the courage of those who came before me, and those who are fighting the same battles. It was there I learned that as much as I hat-ed it, I was part of the world’s least popular fraternity, and that solidarity was the only thing I could contribute to it.
Last year I was invited by my friend from back home to run the Terry Fox 5km to raise mon-ey for charity. I looked up the races and there wasn’t one listed in the greater Los Angeles area. So I started one. However small a step I could take, it was something I could do. It was touching the people who showed up, in their own show of support, solidarity and encourage-ment. This year, I am doing it again. I pray for the same level of humbling support from my community, both back home in Toronto and in my new community in Santa Monica. In the mourning of Terry Fox’s death, the then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau said “We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity””.
I suppose I’m trying to capture this spirit as best I can, and am hopeful you will join me.
— For more information on Terry Fox – Please see the documentary done by Steve Nash, Into the Wind
— To register for the Terry Fox run in Santa Monica, or to make a donation, please visit here:
By Dave Brown