September 13, 2013 11:14 pm

A look at the changes in cancer research since Terry Fox was diagnosed in 1977

Terry Fox was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 1977.

This year will mark the 33rd anniversary of annual Terry Fox Run – a run honouring a Canadian hero and continuing his fundraising mission for cancer research.

When Fox was diagnosed with cancer, the survival rate was less than five per cent. Today it’s over 80 per cent and amputation is almost unheard of.

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When Anna Solnickova  was diagnosed with osteosarcoma she was given a 50/50 change of amputation when she went into surgery. In 1977, Fox didn’t have a choice. amputation was the only treatment at that time for the aggressive osteosarcoma, and chemotherapy drugs were relatively new.

Solnickova  wasn’t even born when Fox started his Marathon of Hope, and she didn’t know anything about him until her family immigrated here from the Czech Republic in 1985.

But now she thinks about him every day.

“I look at my leg and I thank him,” she said. “Because he saved my leg and he saved my life and I can never repay that debt to him, but I try.”

BC Cancer Agency Pathologist Torsten Nielsen said in Fox’s time, survival rate, even with an amputation, was only 15 per cent. “Today very few patients get amputations,” said Nielsen. “We do limb reconstructive surgeries, so a patient like Terry would keep his leg, have a prosthetic knee, and then with the chemotherapy their cure rates will go up to almost 80 per cent in patients like Terry.”

After 143 days into the Marathon of Hope, Fox announced the cancer had spread to his lungs. He died 10 months later.

Since then, his foundation has raised more than 600 million dollars for cancer research, and even though there are great stories of success, scientists continue to learn more.

This Sunday, at the Terry Fox Runs across the country, thousands of participants will help take cancer research even further.

- With files from Elaine Yong

© Shaw Media, 2013

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