Terry Fox on his Marathon of Hope.

Hope in cancer fight, but ‘maybe we’re not even at Thunder Bay’

Terry Fox's name carries great weight with cancer researchers.

Terry Fox – if he was alive today – might take satisfaction in the work he helped motivate, but he’d also say more needs to be done, according to one of Canada’s leading cancer researchers.

“I don’t think he would say you’re done yet. I think he would say that maybe we’re not even at Thunder Bay,” said Marco Marra. “So let’s get on with it.”

This weekend, thousands of people will participate in the Terry Fox Run, an annual countrywide event that raises funds and awareness for cancer research. Marra, head of the genome sciences department at BC Cancer Agency’s research centre, said Fox lives on with scientists – decades after his Marathon of Hope came to an abrupt end in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“When I think of Terry I think of this heroic figure bearing an incredible burden, soldiering on against incredible odds at all hours – come hell or high water – to motivate an outcome,” Marra told Peace Arch News, ahead of his presentation at a Rotary Club of White Rock luncheon yesterday (Tuesday).

“Every single last one of us has lost friends and family to the disease, so there’s no shortage of enthusiasm. So the image and the example set by Terry resonates in a deeply personal level with many,” said Marra, a member of the Order of B.C.

“The meaning of the Fox contribution, is such that if one is asked to do something in the context of Terry Fox, and one is a scientist, that one does it.”

Among Marra’s many titles is B.C. node leader for the Terry Fox Research Institute, which operates on behalf of the Terry Fox Foundation to organize and conduct cancer research in Canada, and to promote research even beyond our nation’s borders.

Fox’s name carries enormous weight in the research community in Canada and beyond, said Marra.

It was April 12, 1980 when Fox embarked on his Marathon of Hope in 1980 in St. John’s, Nfld. with little fanfare. Fox had spent 18 months training for his run, the idea for which was born in hospital while he was being treated for osteogenic sarcoma, also known as bone cancer. In 1977 cancer claimed his right leg, but not his spirit.

Fox’s marathon ended after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres in Thunder Bay, Ont. after cancer was found in his lungs. He died June 28, 1981 at age 22.

Since then, cancer survivorship has grown significantly, as researchers have been working to discover what makes cancer tick. Although the basic properties of cancer have been known for some time, the genes responsible – and their alterations – were not. But within the last few years, new gene sequencing technology has changed the research landscape.

“That technology continues to evolve and develop. That technology made it reasonable for cancer biologists and physicians to assemble a parts list of all the broken pieces in cancer,” said Marra.

Marra likens the technology to repairing a car. If a car doesn’t work, fixing it is a difficult task, unless one can identify what part is broken.

“The point is through a detailed description of the defect, you can focus on what you ought to be correcting to return the car to normal service.”

Marra believes global efforts on this front are having a significant impact on how cancer is treated. An example of that is an expansion of the class of drugs that target specific anomalies of a cancer.

The overall challenge of conquering cancer remains enormous. Cancer is a term that encompasses 200 or more distinct entities, said Marra. But the science behind fighting cancer is advancing significantly – thanks to the fundraising efforts of Terry Fox Run participants.

On Sunday, Surrey’s runs take place in South Surrey, Cloverdale, Fleetwood and Fraser Heights (www.terryfox.org/Run/Find_A_Runsite.html).

Semiahmoo Peninsula’s run will take place at South Surrey Athletic Park, beginning at the Rotary Fieldhouse. Registration opens at 8 a.m., and the run starts at 9 a.m. There are 1.6-km and six-km routes to run, walk, bike or ride.

Locally, the run draws individuals and corporate teams, including longtime supporters Hugh & McKinnon Realty and Homelife Benchmark Realty, which have challenged other local firms to participate.

For Cloverdale, at Cloverdale Legion, registration opens at 9 a.m., and the run starts at 10 a.m. There are one-km, five-km and 10-km routes.

There is no Newton run at Bear Creek Park this year.

Runs around the world that have raised $650 million for cancer research. Marra is quick to thank people who engage with the foundation and participate in the run – people who raise money in the belief that research is the way forward.

“It’s enormously important that people continue to believe, and continue to run on behalf of Terry’s vision.”

Download a pledge sheet or donate online at terryfox.org. For more information on the South Surrey run, contact organizer Van Scoffield at 604-531-3868 or vanandjan@telus.net

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