Terry Fox’s Story

In March, 1977 Terry Fox was diagnosed with cancer at Royal Columbian. He was not yet the famous young man who would inspire people around the world with his courage. As his older brother Fred says, Terry was still an 18 year old “kid”. From the start, he found a welcome at Royal Columbian.
Terry Fox — Always thankful for the way he was treated.

Photograph by: Brian Kent, Vancouver Sun
Terry Fox with Dr. Ladislav Antonik, medical director, Royal Columbian hospital in 1980. Fox entered the hospital for chemotherapy treatments.

Fred Fox recalls those first days after the diagnosis of a malignant tumour in his right leg. “It was a shocker. And hospitals can be so uncomfortable. But it never felt that way.”

“Terry was playing university basketball and had lots of guys visiting him. Big guys, who took up lots of room. But the hospital was always accommodating.” Terry had made Simon Fraser’s junior basketball team in spite of being told he was too short for basketball, showing the determination which never left him.

The amputation happened at Royal Columbian within three days of Terry’s diagnosis. In his hospital bed the night before surgery, Terry read about a one-legged athlete who ran in the New York Marathon and said “I can do that”.

After months of chemotherapy and training on his artificial limb, Terry entered a 27 km. marathon in Prince George. He finished last but was greeted at the finish line with a chorus of cheers.

Seven months later in April, 1980, Terry dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean and began his marathon of hope across Canada. By September 1st, he had reached Thunder Bay, Ontario but was forced to stop because the cancer had spread to his lungs. Before heading home for treatment, he said “I’m gonna do my best. I’ll fight. I promise I won’t give up.”

Days later, from his bed at the Royal Columbian Hospital, Terry watched a special CTV telethon which that night raised $10 million for cancer research in Canada. He fell asleep before the end of the program, exhausted from his treatments.

In his final months, Terry Fox received many honours—he became the youngest Companion of the Order of Canada. Continuing his treatments at Royal Columbian, one of his nurses, Alison Sinson Ince recalled that Terry was an emotional magnet. “You couldn’t help getting emotionally involved with this young man,” she said.

As Terry’s health worsened, Sinson Ince remembers that special phone lines were set up at the hospital and extra operators were hired because so many people were calling for updates. Terry’s parents remained at his bedside pretty well around the clock.

In early June, 1981, Dr. Ladislav Antonik, Royal Columbian’s Medical Director, informed national media that Terry’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, but he could still report that Terry was pleased about a proposed stamp commemorating his cross-country run. In those final weeks, Fred Fox remembers the hospital did a “wonderful job” in Terry’s care and in protecting his privacy. “The hospital was also fantastic in supporting my mom and dad, especially toward the end.”

All these years later, Fred Fox says “we were always thankful for the way he was treated at the Royal Columbian Hospital.” Terry Fox died at Royal Columbian on June 28, 1981, a month before his 23rd birthday.

Patient Stories