Field comes Alive with the Sound of Courageous Young Runners

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

On February 1, 2018 all the students at The American International School Muscat partook in a week of fund-raising, awareness-raising and running for the Terry Fox Foundation. Terry Fox was a young Canadian from near Vancouver. He enjoyed sports and athletics, but at the age of 18 in 1977 Terry was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma — bone cancer.

He had to have his right leg amputated above the knee, but while he was in hospital he was shocked and moved by the plight of other cancer patients’ suffering. The night before his amputation he was inspired, reading about another amputee running with a prosthetic leg, and decided he would do the same. He trained for 18 months and then set off on April 12, 1980 to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

He called it “the Marathon of Hope”. At first there was little interest in his effort, but as time went on public enthusiasm grew — and so did the fund. Terry ran for 143 days averaging 42 km per day, he completed over 5,000 km but the cancer had spread to his lungs, and on September 1 he had to stop. Terry said, “even if I cannot complete the run, others must continue” and sadly he died, aged 22, on June 28, 1981.

The Terry Fox Foundation was set up in Canada by a fellow cancer sufferer’s mother, Isadore Sharp, but now has spread throughout the world. To date they have raised over $750 million for cancer research, and the battle continues. The connection in Oman is in the form of Dr Zakiya and the Leukemia Research unit at SQU. Dr Zakiya’s daughter, Asya, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma — the same cancer which Terry Fox had.

They ended up needing special care, which was not available in Oman at the time, and went to Texas for treatment. Dr Zakiya studied Paediatrics in London and became one of the first female doctors in Oman. Asya ended up losing her arm, but she survived, and is now a doctor herself! One of Doctor Zakiya’s dreams was to improve the standard of care for Omani children diagnosed with cancer, as not all people can afford to fly half way round the world for the best treatment available.

And so TAISM stepped in with their annual Terry Fox run to help fund cancer research in Oman. The health teacher at TAISM, Mrs Laura MacDonald, is this year’s organiser and arranged various activities throughout last week to raise awareness on the theme of “Courage” — and to raise funds. Last year $5,300 was raised.

This year a tremendous $5,500 was raised to donate to the Leukemia unit at SQU Hospital. For the last 11 years Terry Fox money raised at TAISM has funded the only database in Oman for childhood Leukemia — the computers, the software and the training for using it. The database is now the basis for every single study about childhood cancer in the country. Leukemia (blood cancer) is the commonest childhood cancer in Omani children — more than a third.
The survival of these children in Oman was very low, 20-30 per cent in the early 90s. This has improved significantly in the last few years, and is now reaching nearly 80 per cent, equivalent to the best centres worldwide (Oman Children’s Cancer Registry).

“Courage” was the 2018 Terry Fox Team motto at TAISM. One new element this year was to match up older students with younger ones as ‘Courage Buddies’ to provide positive role models, and warm-up mentors before the run. On Wednesday, older students (over 16 years old) were given the chance to have a Stuco Head Shave by a professional Lebanese barber to raise awareness and funds for cancer patients. Chemo-therapy usually results in sufferers hair falling out so this was a metaphoric act of solidarity with those who lose their hair during cancer treatment.

T-shirts were also put on sale in various colours with the Terry Fox logo, and a massive 800 were sold. All proceeds went directly to the charity. Dedication Stickers and temporary tattoos were also used to raise money throughout the week, cake sales were organised in school and parents donated picnic food on the day of the run for the hungry pupils.

And so the courageous students at TAISM have come up trumps again to the tune of five thousand riyals for the benefit of children less fortunate than them in Oman. Well done, School!

Byline:  Georgina Benison, Oman Observer, February 6, 2018