The number three has a special meaning for Sandra Joyce. The three-time cancer survivor participated in her third consecutive run at the Toronto-Beaches Terry Fox Run on Sunday, which also marked the 30th anniversary of the event, inspired by Fox’s 1981 cross-Canada run to find a cure for cancer.
“Cancer changes you, but you can choose how it changes you,” Joyce said. “You can dissolve, which is what some people do, or you can change … the rest of your life and do something positive.”
Each year, on behalf of the Terry Fox Foundation, Toronto hosts the Terry Fox Run at over a dozen run sites, said Paul McCourt, chair of the Toronto-Beaches organizing committee.
About 550 people attended the Toronto-Beaches run Sunday and raised approximately $90,000, McCourt said.
Since her first fight with cancer in 1977 Joyce has seen how donations can make a difference. Researchers have increasingly better technology to help detect tumours early and, in many cases, cancer treatment is slowly becoming less intensive, Joyce said. However, she knows donations and funding for cancer research need to continue.
“It’s not an easy disease; there are so many different kinds of cancer… and they need to work on the treatment as well as early detection,” Joyce said.
The first time Joyce was diagnosed with cancer, she found out while still at work. Hospital staff called her and told her that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They later told Joyce that her prognosis was good, but she had to go through treatment that included chemotherapy.
“I carried on with my life as normally as I could,” Joyce said. “I worked through the treatment as much as I could: I did the chemo on Friday afternoons, recovered over the weekend and went back to work on Monday mornings.”
Since then, she has also had to fight and conquer thyroid cancer and breast cancer when she was diagnosed in 1992 and 2009, respectively.
For Joyce, 56, staying positive made it easier to conquer cancer. However, the treatment still took a physical and emotional toll on her.
“Not having hair is really hard for women,” Joyce said. “I didn’t like wearing a wig because it was really uncomfortable, so I wore hats all the time.”
At the end of her first Terry Fox Run in 2009, Joyce threw her scarf off. She considers that as one of her moments of defiance in the face of cancer.
Jaime McGowen of Toronto also knows what it feels like to go through chemotherapy. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was seven years old. Due to the treatment she received, McGowen had to miss a lot of school until she could recover.
When she eventually returned to school, her classmates noticed that she had lost a lot of her hair. McGowen remembers some of her friends sticking up for her when other children teased her.
“I didn’t really understand how they could, at the time, tease me about something so serious,” she said.
Now 24, she has been free of cancer for 11 years. However, she continues to raise money through the Terry Fox Run each year. McGowen has taken part in the run for the last 16 years, running mainly at the Toronto-Wilket Creek Park run site.
“I won my battle with cancer, but I’ve decided to take up the fight in another way,” McGowen said. “Every year, I go out and try to raise as much as I can.”
She volunteers for the Terry Fox Foundation and also plans to continue participating in the Terry Fox Run every year.
“I’m motivated by all of the children I see that are still going through (cancer), by family members and friends… that are still going through it and by my own dream, which was Terry’s as well, of one day creating a cancer-free world,” McGowen said.