Cleveland Elementary School – pictures for hope and inspiration for Terry Fox Run – photo Todd Wong
Terry Fox National School Run Day: I speak at Cleveland Elementary as a Terry's Team cancer survivor
Students decorated the gymnasium with picture maps of the cities that Terry Fox visited on his 1980 Marathon of Hope.
In 2005, 9000 schools across Canada participated in the very first Terry Fox National School Run Day. Hundreds of thousands of Elementary School children all participated in school assemblies about Terry Fox, watched videos of Terry Fox, then did their very own Terry Fox Run at their own school.
Last year I spoke at Cleveland Elementary School a week before the National School Run Day. It was a very inspiring event. We showed a video clip from the CBC television special 25 Years of Hope: The Legacy of Terry Fox, produced by my friend Moyra Rodger who also produced the GungHaggisFatChoy CBC TV performance special.
One of the parent/teacher representatives talked about how Terry Fox was a light for the world. Then we watched a clip from the Terry Fox video “I Have a Dream,” followed by a run for all the students.
This year the video “I Am Terry Fox” was shown then I was introduced. I asked how many of the students remembered me coming to speak to them. I told them that last year I was involved with a CBC television documentary crew that wanted to make a story about my family history and me as one of the central stories. I told them that my great great grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan had come to Canada as a methodist preacher for the Chinese United Church. His life had been dedicated to community service and so were the featured members of our family.
Todd Wong guest speaker with Cleveland School Terry Fox Run organizers Debra Pascuzzi and Susan.
The documentary wanted to include my community service work such as speaking for Terry Fox Runs, and how I had overcome a near fatal cancer tumor in 1989. So in the documentary there is a picture of me with no hair on my head. I explained to the students that chemotherapy is a cancer-fighting drug that kills all the fast growing cells in the body, so your hair and fingernails stop growing. I had lost all my hair due to the cancer treatment, and so had Terry. Our hair actually grew back in curly.
This year, Terry's parents Betty and Rolly Fox and his sister Judith and brother Darrell all had their heads shaved to help promote the 2007 Terry Fox Run. I asked the students why they thought the Fox's would shave their heads, and one little girl answered “to be like Terry.”
“Yes!” I said, “they wanted to show compassion with other cancer fighters and help the public know what cancer fighters have to go through. One small part is losing your hair.”
At that point the video tech signalled me, and we started the Generations: The Chan Legacy dvd. She had to skip more than halfway to get to the picture of me when I was 16 years old, healthy and holding up two freshly caught salmon. The School Run organizer Debra Pascuzzi thought it would be good for the students to see me as a healthy youngster before I lost my hair.
The documentary talked about me facing the challenge of cancer and next showed me having lost my hair, but soon there were pictures of me speaking at a 1993 Terry Fox Run in Burnaby. I talked about realizing that this was a “second life” for me, and how it was important to give back to the community.
Next the documentary showed footage from the 2006 Terry Fox Run in Richmond BC, where I was the guest speaker. In the video I say thanks to all the participants for coming out to support cancer research. Next the video showed how I became involved in dragon boat racing.
“Dragon Boat racing… that's what I do now, ” I told the audience. “I am healthy now, but when I had my cancer in 1989, it was a size of a large grapefruit behind my breast bone. The doctors gave me a 60% chance to live with treatment. Without treatment they said I would have died in two weeks.
“But cancer research has really improved since Terry Fox's time. Many people who would have died 20 years ago, now recover and lead healthy lives.
“This week some of you or your parents might be attending the CIBC Run
for the Cure, or maybe you participated in the Lance Armstrong event,
or a different event. Many of these events wouldn't exist today if it
hadn't been for Terry Fox. It was 27 years ago today that he ran the
Marathon of Hope, which inspired the annual Terry Fox Run as a
fundraiser for Cancer Research.”
“And I want to thank each of you for helping to support and participate in the Terry Fox Run.”
After I spoke, the MC explained what would happen during the school run. But before that two grade 7 students came up to talk about Terry Fox. The parent / teacher rep came up to ask and answer questions about Terry Fox and cancer. The kindergarten, grade one and two students sang a song about Terry Fox. Then we watched one more short video about Terry Fox, and headed out to the field. What a fun inspiring day!
See my Flickr site for more photos:
Here are some of my related stories about Terry Fox and my cancer survival:
on Sun 18 Sep 2005
on Sat 30 Sep 2006 1
on Fri 15 Sep 2006
Globe and Mail: Cancer: A day in the life
– incredible stories of compassion, strength and sadness
On Saturday Nov 18th, 2006, the Globe & Mail published Cancer: A day in the life.
is a unique look at fifty Canadians living with, or dying from
cancer. Fifty stories spread throughout the country, and
throughout a single day – June 15, 2006. These stories are
incredibly moving. Some are inspiring. Some are sad.
can personally relate to many of the stories that Globe & Mail
writer Erin Anderssen has collected. From stories of chemotherapy
treatment to being strong for friends and relatives, from tearful
relapses to joyful recovery and accomplishing athletic endeavors.
I lived through many of these experiences with my family and
friends. These are stories that will tug your heart strings. What
really comes through in the stories are the importance of partners,
family and friends.I don't know what I would have done without my
family and girlfriend at the time. There were times that felt very
lonely. There were times when it felt good just to have
company. There were times when family and friends really took
their own initiatives to help. Some people could talk about it –
others couldn't. The “C word” still really scared a lot of people
back in 1989.
It was 17 years ago
this month, that I had my last chemotherapy treatment. It was a
very fragile time in my life. My head was bald due to
chemotherapy, and because the drugs killed any fast growing cells in
your body, my finger nails had stopped growing, and my finger tips were
slightly numb due to the drug's effects on the nerve endings.
Balance was wobbly, and I lost the abiltiy to hear certains pitches of
sound. But the week before Christmas, I was swinging a badminton
raquet, wobbly on my feet – laughing and playing with my family.
21st, is always a special day for me. That was that day in 1989,
was diagnosed with a life-threatening concer tumor. I had been
gradually becoming sicker for months after initially complaining of
back pain. Little did I know it was one of the warning symptoms
testicular cancer. Like in one of the stories… my doctor saw me
an athletically fit young man of 28 and did not think that behind my
breast bone, a tumor would grow to the size of a large
grapefruit. The doctors later told me that if I hadn't had
treatment – my life
expectancy from that day would have been two weeks. It was that
serious. The tumor was pushing on my vena cava – restricting the
flow to my heart, and putting pressure on my lungs, which had then
filled half-way with fluid.
Upon reading the stories in the Globe & Mail, I thought back to what I was doing on June 15th 2006. This year I was busy preparing the Gung Haggis Fat Choy
dragon boat team for the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival that weekend. I was
also getting my accordion ready to help send off the Head Tax redress
train to Ottawa which would leave Vancouver on June 16th, and arrive in
time for the Government's offical apology for the Head Tax and
Exclusion Act on June 22nd.
Some people say “the cancer's gone – you're healthy now – get over
it.” But I am always a cancer survivor, and the experience stays with
you for the rest of your life. I try to watch my health, eat good
foods, exercise, reduce stress. As a Terry's Team member, each year I
speak at Terry Fox Run sites in the Greater Vancouver area, as well as
at elementary schools, serving as a living example that cancer research
has helped to make a difference. Every now and then, people who experience health crises ask me for
guidance about recovery. It's always good to talk to a walking success
story. I guess that's what I am.
After my hospital recovery, I tried to study lots of things about
health psychology and incorporated it into my studies at Simon Fraser
University. I took classes in Behavorial Methods and Psychology
of Emotion (psychology), Health and Illness and Medical Anthrology
(anthropology/sociology), as well as Kinesiology, and Athletics.
I had felt that I had effective used pyschological techniques such as
visualization, pain management, social support and
affirmations/self-talk, during my recovery from cancer, so I planned on
furthering graduate studies for Health and Sport Psychology. But
life takes turns down paths you don't expect. While I took one
graduate class at SFU in Health Psychology, I never did apply for
Psychology graduate school.
a picture of Todd Wong (me) with Doug Alward (Terry Fox's best friend)
and Terry Fleming (Terry Fox's high school basketball coach) at the
2005 25th Anniversary “Hometown Run” in Coquitlam. – photo Deb Martin
strange to think of the things that I would not have been involved in
if I had died of cancer 17 years ago. But it's true… The Toddish McWong's Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner would not exist. None of it's spin-offs would exist: the CBC television special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”, Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry Night at the Vancouver Public Library or the SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy Canadian Games.
There would be no Taiwanese Dragon Boat Races in Vancouver, since I was
the first to present the idea to the Taiwanese Cultural Festival and
the Dragon Boat Association. And there certainly would be no Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dragon Boat team.
I wouldn't have been guest speaker at the 1993 Terry Fox Run in
Beijing, China, nor at any of the Terry Fox Runs or elementary schools that I have spoken at since. I wouldn't
have helped create the Asian Canadian Writer's Workshop's Pioneer
Community Dinners, nor the inaugural One Book One Vancouver program for
the Vancouver Public Library. I wouldn't have been present on the
campaign to save historic Joy Kogawa House
or Chinese Head Tax Redress campaign,
all have a life, and we make choices with how we live it. I am
glad that I have been able to help enrich my community, and the lives
of people that I connect with.
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Here are some significant articles about my cancer experience and my experiences as a Terry's Team member.
on Sun 18 Sep 2005 06:01 PM PDT
on Mon 19 Sep 2005 10:55 PM PDT
on Sat 30 Sep 2006 11:58 PM PDT
2nd Annual National School Run Day for Terry Fox – I speak at Tomsett School
Imagine if schools across Canada, all held their Terry Fox Run at the exact same time across Canada.
10am in BC, 11am in Alberta, 12noon in Winnipeg, 1pm in Ottawa, 2pm in Halifax, 2:30pm in NewFoundland.
This is what the National School Run Day is all about. Here are some links to articles about the National School Run:
The Brampton Guardian: Hundreds take part in local Terry Fox runs …
The Brandon Sun: Online Edition
North Bay News and Weather on BayToday.ca
This year I was invited to speak at Tomsett Elementary School in
Richmond. I always speak at Elementary Schools for Terry Fox Run,
as a Terry's Team member – cancer survivors who serve as living
examples that cancer research has helped to make a difference.
Tomsett is quite a small elementary school of only about 250 students. But they are very enthusiastic!
The Terry Fox video “I Am Terry Fox” played as classes entered the
gymnasium. There was also a raffle draw in which students' names
were called out, and they recieved Terry Fox Run shirts, or hats.
They all proudly put them on.
I spoke for about 15 minutes. First I shared with the students
about the cancer that I had, and how I became a cancer survivor.
Next I talked about how I became involved with the Terry Fox Run when
Terry's brother Darrell invited me. Then I talked about Terry Fox
Runs around the world.
The children from kindergarten to grade 7 were very good. As I
talked I asked them questions about Terry Fox and the Terry Fox
Run. Many students put up their hand, they certainly weren't
bored. It's always very cute that some kids put up their hands
just to participate. I ask them in which province did Terry Fox
start his run? – and somebody answers “Canada?”
Following my talk, we all went outside. We ran for 15 minutes
around the school fields, in an L-shaped pattern. It is a
wonderful feeling to be surrounded by such joyous energy, all running
with enthusiasm, knowing that this run is special…. this run really
means something. Children came up to me to ask questions. I
encouraged them as they ran. For much of the run, I talked with
the school run organizer Joan Young, a teacher at Tomsett. I
first got to know Joan, when her grade four students wanted to help
save Joy Kogawa House. The students were so enthusiastic, they
went to Vancouver City Hall, to ask Mayor Sam Sullivan to save the
house. It was then that I told Joan that I speak at Terry Fox
Runs as a Terry's Team member. I wrote about the students visit to Kogawa House where they met author Joy Kogawa.
To finish the run, I stood beside the finish line and gave “high fives”
to the students. I thanked them for supporting Terry's dream, and
gave them compliments and encouragement for doing so well.
Following the run, I visited Mrs. Young's grade four classroom. I
stayed to answer questions from the children. They were all very
enthusiastic. Some of them wanted to know what kind of cancer I
had; How did Terry discover he had cancer; or to share that their
grandmother had died from cancer. They enthusiastically answered
my questions about Terry's Run, such as “How many miles / kilometres
did Terry Run?” It was a great day. Certainly makes you
glad for the future of Canada, with so many children enthusiastic for
the values and ideas of Terry Fox. We ended my visit by shouting
our loudest “I am Terry Fox!”
Here's a thank you letter from Joan Young, teacher at Tomsett Elementary School in Richmond BC.
Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to come and talk to
the students at my school. I think that this was one of the most
successful Terry Fox runs that our school has ever had, largely due to your
We really appreciated the thoughts that you presented to the kids at the
assembly. I think that it is incredibly generous of you to share your story
of being a cancer survivor with others. There is no greater testimony than
to see someone such as yourself who has been through the hardships to stand
in front of others, strong and healthy - living proof that our efforts are
making a difference. I think that you helped the children to understand
about cancer and about the importance of keeping Terry's dream alive.
This made the whole idea of the run so much more meaningful for everyone.
The gorgeous weather certainly helped our run too. Why couldn't it have
been like that on Sept. 17?
It was great of you to stay and talk to the kids in my class afterwards as
well. They felt pretty special to receive an extra visit and have you all
to themselves. It's interesting how 8 and 9 year olds react to visitors.
They are a pretty enthusiastic bunch and they love to show off. I think if
we let them, they could have kept on coming up with questions for hours.
Thank you for your generosity and thoughtfulness.
Looking forward to seeing you again soon.
Joan and John
You can donate to my on-line pledge sheet. Terry's team
members are cancer survivors who also offer to run for people who cannot run themselves. Just click