An Indigenous activist participated in her first-ever Terry Fox run Sunday in Kagawong, a town on Manitoulin Island, in central Ontario.
Caeley Genereux, 20, was running for Indigenous community members that have lost their lives due to cancer.
“I will be thinking about my family members who have passed away to cancer. And I will also be thinking about my community. I’ll be running for them, as well,” she said in an interview before the run day.
Genereux decided to participate this year after her cousin, age 20, died of cancer. He was two years younger than Terry Fox, who died at age 22 in 1980.
“I think being Indigenous [changes] the way that I view illnesses such as cancer. We have a long history of being the most affected by it…Just knowing that you’re so vulnerable to these illnesses and diseases genetically and environmentally, it kind of puts a strain on you,” said Genereux, a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
It has been 40 years since Terry Fox began the Marathon of Hope to raise awareness for cancer research. Since the marathon in 1980, over $800 million dollars has been raised in Fox’s name.
Unlike Genereux, Rachel Lehman has been a supporter of Terry Fox since high school, and has participated in the runs off and on for eight years.
On run day Lehman usually thinks of her mom, a two-time breast cancer survivor. This year the volunteers and participants of the Meadowvale run are on her mind.
“I’m thinking more so of my Terry Fox community, of those people that have put in hours and hours of time into the foundation to make this year a success, even despite all of the challenges that they’re facing.”
Tara Swartz-O’Neill, organizer for the Meadowvale community, was one of the volunteers making sure the run continued this year.
“One of the biggest issues during this year’s run was making sure that everyone knew we were doing it,” she said. “I had to use my social media platform and contact people so everyone knew it was happening.”
According to Swartz-O’Neill, the Meadowvale location has brought in over $111 thousand dollars in donations over the years, making them one of the largest fundraising locations in Ontario.
When Swartz-O’Neill and Lehman were asked about why Terry Fox’s image resonated with so many, they both agreed that cancer unites people through a common enemy.
“Cancer is not a Canadian issue,” Lehman said. “It is not rooted in one country, one continent. It is something that is worldwide.” She admired how Fox was so committed to putting an end to cancer and the suffering of people, no matter what age, gender or ethnicity.
Watch Rachel Lehman as she completed her Terry Fox kilometres Sept. 20, 2020.
Though cancer may not discriminate, Genereux believes the lack of infrastructure and health care on reserves is a representation of the environmental discrimination which Canada’s Indigenous people experience.
Data shows that Indigenous women and men are more likely to experience colorectal cancer than non-Indigenous people. Women are 22 per cent more likely and men are almost 40 per cent more likely to experience this type of cancer. Colorectal cancer is influenced by things such as tobacco use, diet and alcohol use.
Indigenous women were also found to have a 92 per cent higher incident rate of cervical cancer.
Genereux feels even more connected to this cause after a 2018 article published by the Globe and Mail revealed Terry Fox’s Métis ancestry.
When Fred Fox was asked about his family’s Indigenous roots, he not only expressed pride for his Métis identity, but also mentioned possible plans to integrate the family identity with the foundation as well.
“We’re very proud of our Métis connection, the foundation hasn’t done anything about it yet, but we are hoping to someday soon,” Fred said in an interview Wednesday with the Toronto Observer.
Genereux is proud to learn of the Canadian icon’s history. She feels now more than ever, he represents her community, as well as many other communities around the world.