With cancer diagnosis, Terry Fox Run gets personal for Kingsville organizer

Marilyn Farnworth has worked tirelessly for the Terry Fox Run for more than 40 years and was instrumental in establishing the annual fundraising run in Kingsville. But planning September’s run was different from past efforts: She organized the event knowing she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was a shock, Farnworth said. She thought she had done everything right — she exercised regularly and was aware of the importance of a healthy diet in preventing cancer. Still, the wolf had knocked on her door.

“I wasn’t suspicious. I just went in for a routine mammogram. I do it every two years because I value my health — and my life,” Farnworth said.

She went to Erie Shores HealthCare in Leamington for the test and was called back two days later. The hospital technician had noticed something but the results were inconclusive. Another test was done. Still inconclusive, a third mammogram was done, but this time a different machine was used, one that provided more detail.

“They said we’re still seeing something. They saw a clear patch, a little foggy patch, then a clear patch,” Farnworth said.

The next trip to the hospital Farnworth had an ultrasound and the result were more conclusive. “They said they are still see something so now I’m getting nervous, so they said we have to do a biopsy,” she said.

Two weeks later she received the news she had cancer. A lumpectomy was performed and now Farnworth is taking radiation treatments at Windsor Regional Hospital. The prognosis for a full recovery is high, thanks to early detection.

If you’re a cancer survivor, you’re given a red shirt for the run. So this year I earned a red T-shirt.

“Well now I’ve joined Terry’s team,” Farnworth said. “If you’re a cancer survivor, you’re given a red shirt for the run. So this year I earned a red T-shirt…. It didn’t affect me in any way other than I thought more about (Terry) than myself because I always run for Terry and my dad.”

Farnworth’s father also died of cancer. She said she has received support from family, friends and her neighbours, Hank and Jackie van Kempen. Their granddaughter, Hudson, ran in a Terry Fox Run north of Toronto and on her T-shirt wrote the name of the person who she was running for — Marilyn.

This year’s virtual run in Kingsville raised nearly $7,700.

Farnworth was a teacher in Brampton when Terry Fox passed through town during his 1980 cross-country Marathon of Hope run.

“At the time I was getting into running and thought, wow, to do a marathon every day on a prosthetic leg. I said I have trouble thinking about doing a marathon on two legs and being healthy,” she said.

Fox died in June 1981 and the first Terry Fox Run was held in September of that year. The annual event has raised $850 million for cancer research.

“Marilyn is such a great lady and we’re lucky having her support for the Terry Fox Run,” said Kim Smith, community events co-ordinator for the run.

The story of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope has touched many people throughout the world and there are now close to 30 countries that hold the fundraising runs for cancer research.

“It would be interesting to know just how much progress has been made in fighting cancer because of the research funded by the Terry Fox Run,” Smith said.

Farnworth said Fox had bone cancer and because of advances In cancer research and treatment he would now stand a much better chance of surviving.

“There have been such tremendous gains in cancer research, the methodology that is used and all the different things that have been developed as a result of Terry’s marathon.”

Farnworth said she benefited from those advances — and the fact her cancer was detected early. “Stay on top of it because I had no signs whatsoever,” she said.  

Pandemic puts crimp on cancer testing

Windsor Regional Hospital and its cancer clinic are encouraging Windsor and Essex County residents to be tested for cancers, like breast cancer, which can be treated with a high degree of success if detected early.

Dr. Rasna Gupta, an oncologist at Windsor Regional, said the COVID pandemic created a reluctance on the part of some people to go to the hospital or doctors’ offices for testing.

She said the stage in which breast cancer is discovered significantly affects rates of survival. Gupta said when breast cancer is found at the “localized stage” the survival rate is nearly 98 per cent; when it is discovered but contained to the lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 85 per cent. If the cancer reaches Stage 4 and has spread to other parts of the body, the survival rate drops to 27 per cent.

“So that shows the importance of early detection — that if we identify it early on they have such a high chance of being disease-free for the rest of their life,” she said.

Gupta said tests for colon, prostate and cervical cancer can also detect the presence of cancer at an early stage.

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