Sorry for not posting last week, but I have a decent excuse. 8 days ago pains in my abdomen led me to an emergency room, where I found out I had acute appendicitis and the next day my traitorous appendix was removed. It’s odd when your own organs decide to mutiny. So now I’m pretty much free of all my unnecessary biological parts: tonsils, gone; wisdom teeth, gone; appendix, gone. It’s interesting the way we’re evolving and shedding all these vestigial pieces of ourselves, genetic hold-overs from when we ate bark or had tails. After all… what did you think your tailbone originally was for anyway?
The ironic part was that, only hours before the pain started, I’d been reading “Terry”, Douglas Coupland’s exquisite photo-biography of Canadian cancer crusader and all around hero Terry Fox. The beginning of the book deals with his diagnosis of osteosarcoma, the resulting amputation of his leg, and his time enduring chemotherapy. I’m not comparing appendicitis to cancer in any way, but I’d been thinking, as I read, about how long it had been since I’d been in a hospital, how scary it must be, how lucky I was to have been healthy for so long (in retrospect, I was basically daring the universe to smite me with something…) Twelve hours later I was in a hospital myself. Then they gave me morphine, and I didn’t give a fuck about much after that. The next time something hurts, I highly recommend intravenous morphine.
If you’re not familiar, Terry Fox is an icon and an intrinsic part of being Canadian. His name is spoken in hallowed tones: I’ve seen people grown instantly quiet and still and almost break into tears at the mere mention of his name. That’s how deeply ingrained in our national conciousness is the idea of Terry Fox.
He’s the quintessential Canadian superhero: humble, idealist, innocent, extraordinary. Boasting is completely un-Canadian, and Terry was a model of pride and modesty. A trail-blazer, he did unbelievable things, but didn’t seem to think himself deserving of any more praise than anyone else. He turned down every corporate endorsement, including a major one from McDonald’s, in an effort to keep all attention on his purpose. Any money given to him was to be donated to his cause, no advertisements or branded-strings attached. His aim was pure. His legacy was to be left in his actions, not in an image he was trying to create. Like a prism, plain and unassuming cradled in your hand, never hinting at its inherent glory. But when held up to the light by another, it bursts into a constellation of rainbows. Terry was that prism, and his modesty and unifying determination led the people of Canada to hold him up to the light.
After losing his leg, Terry Fox trained for 18 months before he began his Marathon Of Hope. To achieve his goal of raising $1 for every Canadian ($24.17 million to match the population in 1980), he was going to run 8000 kilometres (5000 miles) across Canada. Simple. He would run a marathon – 42 kilometres (26 miles) – every single day, from one end of the second largest country in the world to the other… with one artificial leg. Nothing even close to it had ever been attempted before.
He began on April 12, 1980 and in the months that followed wrote one of the greatest stories the world had ever seen. 143 days later, after running 5,374 km (3,339 miles) he was forced to stop due to pains in his chest. His cancer had returned, and Terry flew home to resume treatment. This is where everyone else kept running when Terry could not. A nation-wide televised fundraiser, watched by Terry from his hospital bed, raised more than $10 million dollars in one weekend. By February 1981, Terry realized his dream as the Marathon of Hope passed the $24,170,000 dollar mark. A dollar for every man, woman, and child. That June, one month before his 23rd birthday, Terry Fox passed away.
That September, the first ever Terry Fox Run was held. In Terry’s honour, people raised money to compete in a non-competitive run. This was the blueprint, the genesis, for the countless numbers of walks and runs held by almost every medial fundraising organization in North America. Like most things he took on, Terry did it first.
Today, the Terry Fox Run has raised more than $400 million dollars, and more than 2.5 million people have participated in the run in 53 countries around the world. The cancer that claimed Terry in 1981 then had less than a 50% survival rate. Today more than 70% of people diagnoses with osteosarcoma survive.
I think Terry would like that.