Participants begin the Terry Fox run in Canada. Photo courtesy of Run Society/Flickr

Cathy Majtenyi: Terry Fox reminds us all of need for compassion

  • September 27, 2018
Terry Fox Canada

He was exhausted, lonely, in pain and occasionally maligned. But he carried a vision in his head and a love in his heart that kept him going despite the circumstances.

That sounds like the Apostle Paul during his many travels. But this is actually the experience of a modern-day Canadian hero who personified many of the values lived out by Christ and His apostles.

September is the month when communities across Canada and around the world hold a Terry Fox Run to raise funds for cancer research. The event commemorates the incredible journey of Terry Fox, a student athlete who, at the age of 19 in 1977, had most of his right leg amputated because of cancer. 

The night before the amputation, he read an article about an amputee who ran in the New York City Marathon. Terry then dreamt of running across Canada to raise $1 million for cancer research.

Three years of intensive training later, on April 12, 1980, Terry stuck his artificial foot into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. Thus began what was to be a 143-day, 5,373-kilometre Marathon of Hope. Terry made it to Thunder Bay, Ont., before his cancer returned and made it impossible to continue.

He died on June 28, 1981, a month before his 23rd birthday. He raised more than $24 million for cancer research.

Not much is publicly known about Terry’s faith life, although there is a hint in one of his more well-known quotes. “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.”

Terry’s brother Fred once told Christian broadcaster Lorna Dueck that Terry was a Christian who “accepted that he was put on this Earth for a higher purpose.”

“Yes, faith played a huge part in Terry’s life after being diagnosed with cancer and gave him strength before he passed away,” Fred said.

That sense of purpose sustained Terry: when his stump was raw and bleeding; when a woman yelled “get that freak out of here”; when drivers tried to run him off the road; when a journalist falsely reported that Terry did not actually run through Quebec; when his family and friends tried to talk him out of running.

“I have to really concentrate to ignore the pain and keep going,” Terry once said. “Sometimes I’m actually crying while I’m running but I just don’t think about it.”

It’s similar to the purpose Jesus demonstrated when He begged His Father to take the cup away from Him, if possible, “yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

God has given us all a purpose. Many times, the fulfilment of that purpose brings with it sacrifice and suffering. It is what Jesus called denying oneself and taking up the cross to follow Him.

Terry didn’t allow anything or anyone — his detractors, his well-meaning loved ones, his own self-doubts, pain and suffering — to stop him. He was motivated by his encounters with children with cancer. More than just feeling deeply for children, he was united with them in their suffering.

We are also called to be united with the suffering of others through empathy. We can channel our present or past pain into efforts to help others who are struggling.

Terry Fox reminds us of our call to activate our compassion towards one another and to draw upon Jesus for the strength to persist in our personal marathons. Let’s not allow anyone or anything to derail us with discouragement. As it is said in Galatians, “in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

 (Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research at an Ontario university.)

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