Terry Fox’s legacy lives on at Wilket Creek Park

37 years later, local site has generated almost $10 million for cancer research

Maria Fong, 55, was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2016. She later learned that it spread to the bone. She didn’t have any symptoms, but tests for a fractured vertebra revealed the diagnosis.

Her experiences with cancer, and the treatments she’s been undergoing to deal with it, convinced her to put on her walking shoes last Sunday and participate in the Terry Fox Run for the first time in her life.

“I feel blessed that I’m able to do this walk today,” she said.

Fong was one of numerous people taking part in the annual fund-raising event at the Wilket Creek Park location, just outside of East York. This year marked the 37th anniversary of the run, which continues Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

The Wilket Creek site alone has raised almost $10 million since the first run was held in 1981.

According to a 2017 report by the Canadian Cancer Society, one in two Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer within their lifetime. The lifetime risk is 49 per cent for males and 45 per cent for females.

“It’s very important because there are so many people with cancer. I go for treatments at Sunnybrook and it’s always packed. It is important that we find a cure. We have to find a cure,” Fong said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. One day you are fine and the next day you are told that you have cancer.”

Fox, who lost his right leg to cancer when he was diagnosed at the age of 18, began his cross-country run in April 1980 to raise funds and awareness for the disease. The cancer spread to his lungs and he died on June 28, 1981 at the age of 22.

On the day of the most recent run, participants sported T-shirts bearing the iconic image of Fox running his marathon. The park was adorned with posters of Fox, along with a signing wall where participants wrote who they were running for, be it the memory of someone who has died or to honour a loved one currently fighting the disease.

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant took part in the opening ceremony, sharing their thoughts on the legacy of Terry Fox.

“The run has grown, but the cause remains the same,” said Wynne, who was participating in her 33rd Terry Fox Run. “There is nobody here who doesn’t know someone who is struggling with cancer or who has lost someone to cancer, and so we are all touched by this struggle.”

Oliphant shared his story of being diagnosed with cancer in the 1980s and said what gave him hope was that developing research would help.

“When I look out into this crowd, I see a tremendous example of Canadian citizenship,” he said. “What Terry Fox did was show that one person can make a huge difference in the world. What you are doing today is keeping that dream alive.”

Mia Craig, 41, who received the Terry Fox annual athlete of the year award, was a university student when she was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. After surgery and radiation, she fought the disease and was cancer-free six months later.

That was 18 years ago.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. I was blessed with access to world-class medical care in Toronto,” Craig told the crowd. “The experience was nothing short of life-altering, but today I am stronger physically, emotionally and mentally because of it.”

Craig has watched her mother, aunt and good friends struggle with breast cancer. This year — her 30th time participating — she dedicated the run to her friend who is battling brain cancer.

“This teaches and inspires future generations what an incredible difference Terry’s Marathon of Hope has made,” she said. “Everyone here today represents the generosity, the courage and the hope that is Terry’s legacy. You are teaching our children what it truly means to be a Canadian hero.”