Retired nurse Alison Sinson Ince helped numerous cancer patients over the years, including her most famous one, Terry Fox. She has spoken many times on behalf of the Cancer Society in Barbados and the Terry Fox Foundation in Canada since being inspired by her young patient. But now she can speak as a survivor herself, after her diagnosis of breast cancer earlier this summer during a regular screening mammogram. A lumpectomy is believed to have removed all the cancerous cells, but she’s been prescribed radiation therapy as insurance.
Research and treatments have changed significantly in the 31 years since Terry Fox inspired a country, due in no small part to the $500 million-plus raised since then by the Terry Fox Foundation, much of it through the annual Terry Fox Run held every September.
“Terry realized how many people were affected by cancer when he went to the Cancer Agency in Vancouver for chemotherapy after having his leg amputated,” Alison recalls. “It was seeing how many people it affected. When he saw other kids having to have this treatment, it hardened his resolve. He said, ‘We have to do something about this.’”
The “something” became Terry’s Marathon of Hope, in which he set out to run a marathon every day until he’d crossed all of Canada, raising both awareness of cancer and money for research. Tragically, his cancer returned and the journey he’d begun in Atlantic Canada ended near Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1980.
“At that point a lot of people weren’t even talking about cancer,” Alison says. “Terry opened a lot of doors in that area. Even the amputation – something like that was always covered in the past, and then there he was out there running in a pair of shorts.”
She remembers one eight-year-old patient who had lost a leg in an accident, who didn’t want to go to school, until after Terry Fox ran into the Canadian consciousness. “He was a totally different kid. The others went from calling him ‘Gimpy’ and other names to asking him, ‘Is your leg like Terry Fox’s?’”
Terry himself came to the hospital to speak to some young patients, “and it meant so much more to them, because he’d been there,” she says.
When they learned Terry was coming back to Royal Columbian Hospital after stopping his run at Thunder Bay, “I said a very rude word, and burst into tears,” recalls Alison. She became the media liaison, and learned first hand just how much Canada and the world had taken Terry into their hearts. They had to set up special phone lines at the hospital and hire operators for them to keep the emergency lines open, because so many people were calling for updates on his condition. “It felt like we were shepherding the whole country through it.”
“You couldn’t help getting emotionally involved with this young man,” she says. “Everyone related to him like he could be a member of their family. He was so sincere in what he wanted. He felt that the public needed to know more, to talk about cancer more and put more money into research so we could beat this thing.”
Alison has been part of the annual Terry Fox Run every year except for 1984 - 1988, when she returned to her native Barbados, helped establish a Cancer Agency, and did developmental and project work, “all because of that curly-headed boy.”
For the last few years, she has been part of the committee organizing the annual Terry Fox Run in Cloverdale. Last year’s event saw over 300 participants brave torrential rainstorms and raised nearly $18,000. Alison will be the keynote speaker at the Cloverdale Run this year, sharing her personal memories of Terry Fox, but from a new perspective – as a cancer survivor and therefore a member of “Terry’s Team”.
The Cloverdale Terry Fox Run for cancer research will start and finish at the Cloverdale Legion, 17567 57 Avenue on Sunday, Sept. 18. Registration starts at 9 a.m. and the Run begins at 10 a.m. Official merchandise will be on sale and there will be face painting, prize draws, a silent auction, refreshments for participants, and entertainment, including a performance by the Clayton Heights Jazz Band.
There are one, five, and ten km routes for walking, jogging, running, cycling – whatever participants choose.
There is no entry fee but donations will gratefully be received. For more information or to volunteer please contact Elaine Gooliaeff at 604-533-2027.
Visit www.terryfox.org to register and collect online pledges locate other runs being held the same day across Canada and beyond, or to be involved as a Terry’s Team member.
Alison remembers when she had to tell waiting media representatives that Terry had finally lost his battle with cancer. “I did say then that his legacy would remain part of this country forever.”
She was right.