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Opinion If he saw how far the Marathon of Hope has come, Terry Fox would be smiling that smile

Terry Fox in northern Ontario on Aug. 13, 1980, during his marathon cross-country run to raise money for cancer research.

Dennis Robinson/The Globe and Mail

Darrell Fox is the younger brother of the late Terry Fox, member of the Terry Fox Foundation and senior adviser and board member of the Terry Fox Research Institute.

There are days in which my brother’s Marathon of Hope seems so long ago – when my memories of his journey across more than half of Canada seem every bit as old as the 39 years separating then from now. There are others, however, when it seems like it was just yesterday that my brother had to suspend his galvanizing run across the country one heartbreaking summer day – Sept. 1, 1980 – in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Today is one of the latter, where I feel the ubiquitous presence of my brother, Terry Fox, as though he were standing right beside me, smiling the smile that became synonymous with him and his Marathon of Hope that spring and summer of 1980.

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I can hear him say the words that have been an inspirational call to action and purpose for many Canadians involved in cancer research and care: “I’ve said to people before that I’m going to do my very best to make it, I’m not going to give up. But I might not make it … if I don’t, the Marathon of Hope better continue.”

We now know that the Marathon of Hope will continue. We know it will continue to bring Canadians together in the search for a cure for all cancers on the strength of the vision, knowledge and expertise that defines the network of Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres. Thanks to the commitment to invest up to $150-million over five years – first announced in March by the Government of Canada – we are well on our way to funding the most ambitious nationwide team effort in the history of cancer research and treatment.

The legacy of my brother – which has grown over the past four decades with the now global reach of the Terry Fox Foundation and its nine provincial offices, and the innovation of the Terry Fox Research Institute and its six regional nodes – will now serve to accelerate the adoption of precision medicine across Canada through the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres network. As Terry’s family, we couldn’t be more proud and we all know that Terry himself would be so pleased to see his Marathon of Hope continuing in this highly collaborative way.

He would be smiling that smile.

Part of this has its roots in what Terry did to literally put cancer research on the map with his idea to run across the country. He was just three years removed from March 9, 1977, the day he was diagnosed at the age of 18 with bone cancer – specifically osteogenic sarcoma – in his right leg. Less than a week later, on the night before his amputation, he read about an amputee runner and he began dreaming of running.

While recovering from the surgery in which his leg was amputated 15 centimetres above his knee, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. It was then that the idea behind the Marathon of Hope was officially born.

On Oct. 15, 1979 – almost exactly six months before he dipped his prosthetic leg in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean to begin the Marathon of Hope in St. John’s – my brother wrote that now-famous letter looking for support for his run: “I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.”

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To this day, the miracle is the staying power of the Marathon of Hope. More than $750-million has been raised by the Terry Fox Foundation through its campaign of community and school runs across Canada, and now, around the world. We are, of course, forever grateful for the response the country gave to Terry’s call to action in 1980 and the way Canadians have stepped up ever since to transform fundraising for all forms of cancer research. In many ways, one of our greatest Canadian exports is the model of the Terry Fox Runs and how that model has brought together people from more than 30 countries in the fight against cancer.

Now, the Marathon of Hope is ready for its next phase. That next phase is the introduction of a model for cancer research and treatment, a new national network bringing together cancer researchers and clinicians using precision medicine – such as genomics, advanced imaging, big data and artificial intelligence – at leading research centres, hospitals and universities across Canada. We believe this Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres network will be every bit as transformative as Terry’s 1980 run.

We are confident it will enable a “Team Canada” of dedicated cancer researchers to unite in the pursuit of a cure for all cancers by sharing knowledge, harnessing technology and championing collaboration. As the president and scientific director of the Terry Fox Research Institute Victor Ling has said, this continuation of the Marathon of Hope will mark a new era of cancer research in which the powerful tools of precision medicine will bring together information from the widest possible pool of genes, lifestyles and environments to help deliver truly individualized care and, ultimately, cures for all cancers.

There is much work to be done by our national, regional and local partners, including raising funds to match the federal investment. On the ground, we are always keen to have Terry Foxers join our team and support our work. There is also an entire network of collaborative cancer centres to roll out across Canada. Yet, in the spirit of my brother and his Marathon of Hope, we remain more convinced than ever that working together to advance precision medicine will transform research and care for Canadians.

Terry would be proud of the new hope this network brings for finding cures for all cancer patients. He would be smiling that smile.

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