On a sunny Sunday morning, Sept. 14, 2014, cancer survivor Terry Gardner completed the Terry Fox Run in Okotoks, Alta. It was his twenty-ninth run.

Gardner was inspired to join the Terry Fox Run as a means of helping others when he suddenly found himself fighting a rare and dangerous form of cancer.

At age 18, Gardner was in his first year of university when persistent pain in his leg compelled him to visit a doctor. His life was changed forever.

He was told that he suffered from a pulled muscle, and he was sent away twice, before his doctor ordered blood and urine tests, and an x-ray scan.

In February 1985, Gardner was told he had Ewing’s sarcoma.

A highly aggressive bone cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma offered Gardner a fearsome prognosis. Survival rate of the cancer was less than 3 per cent.

“It’s fairly rare and has a fairly low survival rate,” Gardner discloses.

Doctors put Gardner on a strict drug regime that included 15 rounds of chemotherapy at three-week intervals, and 20 rounds of radiation therapy.

“So I had a great tanned leg for about 15 years,” Gardner laughs.

He underwent a new form of chemotherapy, being the 50th person in Canada to receive the intense and invasive treatment which required the removal of Gardner’s bone marrow.

 

“It’s the type of chemotherapy that requires you to be in hospital for a month, because they basically try to kill you,” Gardner explains.

 

“In my case, they stripped out all of my bone marrow and then gave it back to me afterwards, because otherwise it would sterilize the bone marrow and [I’d] have no blood.”

 

After undergoing surgery to remove the affected bone, muscle, and some of the tendons in his right leg, doctors performed a biopsy to determine that the cancer was dead.

 

Gardner was declared to be in remission, until another tumour was discovered nine months later. Like Terry Fox, his cancer had metastasized to his lungs.

 

He underwent another radiation regime to thwart the cancer.

 

“This time it was just small enough that they could nuke it for about a month,” Gardner recalls.

 

“So I’d go to university and then I’d go have a radiation treatment, and go back to the university.”

 

After five years, Gardner was deemed to be cancer-free, although the effects of his disease will haunt him forever.

 

Once boasting thick and wavy hair, Gardner now has thin and fine locks as a result of his treatments.

 

His red blood cell count is perpetually low, despite the supplements he takes to counteract the deficiency, and his lungs will always be more susceptible to infection.

 

The common cold posing a significant threat to his immune system.

 

“I’ll never be considered to be absolutely healthy,” Gardner muses.

 

“Every day, every time I stand up, every time I sit down, every time I walk, I have a reminder of it.”

 

Despite the fact that walking has been difficult for him since his diagnosis and treatment, Gardner continues to do the Terry Fox Run every year.

 

The idea came to him as he was undergoing chemotherapy back in 1985. At one appointment, Gardner lifted a binder that held his chart, and read what one resident had written in his file: “Cut off the affected limb and tell the parents to buy a pine box.”

 

Gardner was determined to alter that prognosis.

 

“I was facing my mortality.”

 

“A lot of people come up with bucket lists, but I went a slightly different route. I said, ‘What is it I want to do after I beat cancer?’”

 

The answer was that he wanted to help others, as he had been helped through his illness and treatment, and he began to do the Terry Fox Run in support of cancer research.

 

Gardner has received considerable support for his run each year from his family, friends, and colleagues.

 

“I average about $2,000 or $3,000 per year,” Gardner says.

 

“People give me $100 or $50, so it’s a large number of small donations.”

 

This year, Gardner began to campaign a little later than usual, and will collect about $2,000 in total.

 

Sherry Heron has organized the Terry Fox Run in Okotoks for the past three years, and raves about the hard work Gardner puts into his run each year, and the massive support he receives.

 

“We usually have an average of 100 people show up for [the run], and this year we did $4,000,” Heron boasts.

 

“But Terry is the major contributor to that amount. He brought in about half of our total this year alone.

 

“I hope he continues with the run. He inspires us all.”

 

Robin Platz, Gardner’s wife and one of his greatest moral supporters, encourages him through the run every year.

 

“It is dear to our hearts because it hits so close to home,” Platz explains.

 

“And despite sometimes the challenges, there’s still a lot of blessings that come of it.”

 

Gardner takes part in the Terry Fox Run no matter the weather; three years ago he participated on a particularly cold and rainy day.

 

“Both of my legs were cramping up as I was finishing, so I could barely walk at the end,” Gardner recalls with a wince.

 

Platz met him at the end of the walk with a fresh, hot cup of Tim Horton’s coffee – his favourite java – and a smile.

 

“I knew he would need me to be there at the end with something warm and positive,” Platz smiles.

 

“He inspires me every day, and I do what I can for him.”

 

Gardner is no stranger to completing the run in inclement weather and unusual circumstances.

 

He recalls flying home from Aberdeen on a Saturday and doing the run the next day. He has been out of town and had someone turn in his form by proxy, completing an outline of the route and doing the Terry Fox Run alone when he returned home weeks later.

 

“It comes down to just a lot of walking,” Gardner grins.

 

“I’ve done some with friends. Robin’s come with me. I’ve done it alone. I’ve gone when it’s been snowing, when it’s been raining, when it’s been sunny.

 

“There’s some I’ve raised $4,000 for and some I’ve raised $500 for.

 

“But you’ve got to do the walk.”

 

Gardner is committed to the Terry Fox Run, and plans to continue doing the walk. The year 2015 will mark his thirtieth consecutive walk, an outstanding statistic.

 

He attributes his survival to Terry Fox’s original Marathon of Hope, the 1980 journey that raised more than $20 million for cancer research. New drug treatments were developed with those funds, which were used to fight the Ewing’s sarcoma with which Gardner had been diagnosed.

 

The odds of surviving Ewing’s sarcoma are now 65 per cent, or 25 per cent for metastasized cancer.

 

“That’s because of the money that Terry raised,” Gardner says, vowing that he is now trying to pay it forward.

 

“Terry’s money saved my life,” Gardner smiles.

 

“I’m trying to see if I can help save the next generation’s life.

 

“That’s what it means to me.”