Fighting cancer, one match at a time

"Defeat is not an option”: Angie Seth speaks to two women who are taking their fight against cancer into the boxing ring.
"Defeat is not an option”: Angie Seth speaks to two women who are taking their fight against cancer into the boxing ring.

Have you ever stepped into a boxing ring, strapped on a pair of gloves, and started sparring? You need to stay focused, keep a close eye on your opponent, defend yourself, and of course, avoid a knockout. Boxing — some say it’s not for everyone, but for a group of men and women, it is their calling.

Four women and six men will be squaring off in the ring on June 2nd, boxing three two-minute rounds for the first time ever. These individuals are not boxers. In fact they are far from it. But they are connected, driven and ready to fight cancer.

According to the Cancer Society, one in two Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime and one in four will die from the disease. One group is trying to change those numbers one match at a time. Since 2001, the Fight to End Cancer (FTEC) has been raising money for cancer research. So far they have raised over $800,000, all of which is going directly to the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Each year, they train 10 individuals with little to no experience in boxing to become fighters. The team goes through a rigorous six-month training program that teaches them the skills they need to box and builds their endurance and strength. The ultimate goal is to raise as much money for cancer research.

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Click to play video: 'Fighting cancer one match at a time'
Fighting cancer one match at a time

Alison Turnbull’s mother Iris Collins died from pancreatic cancer in 2016. The loss is still fresh for Turnbull, but she says she is stepping into the right to fight for her mother as well as countless others who have been affected by cancer.

“She was probably the heathiest 77-year-old you would ever meet,” Turnbull said. “She could take me in an arm wrestle. She was active, she was vibrant. She had never been in a hospital aside from having her five kids — she was that healthy. And literally a neighbour kind of noticed she was yellow and two days later she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…10 weeks, 10 weeks later she was gone.”

She says the experience of training to fight in the ring gives her a sense of purpose and strength beyond what she could ever imagine. “It’s all encompassing,” Turnbull said. “I think it stretches you personally, mentally, so far out of the comfort zone. I mean, I have never done anything like it. But everyone I know who has fought — I have three people from my company who I know have fought in the past, so [I have] heard a lot of stuff first hand.”
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“We had a particularly rough weekend,” Turnbull said. “Just very intense defensive training and when I went into his office feeling a little bit defeated, he said, ‘Trust me, this will be the best thing you ever do.'”

Turnbull will be fighting Dawn Millar on June 2nd. Millar lost her father to cancer several years ago. “This is an amazing experience. I lost my Dad when I was pregnant with my first child. I felt like this is something I could actually do to really fight back because I felt sort of useless at the time and out of control,” Millar told Global News. “My Dad was a great man. I loved him so much. He was like my best friend. We would talk every day. He was so supportive of us, of his kids—and we lost him way too young, too suddenly and too young.”

The brains behind the FTEC project is Jennifer Huggins. Huggins is the owner of the Kingsway Boxing Club. She is also a certified referee, coach and judge. In fact, she is one of a couple female boxing referees in all of North America. “The battle, which one faces with cancer, is much like a boxing match,” Higgins said, “only the decision to step into the ring was made for them along with their opponent. The team that stands behind a boxer can make, or break their fight. It is no different for someone who is faced with the reality of having to fight cancer.”

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This year’s fight to end cancer team is hoping to raise enough money to hit the $1 million mark.

The FTEC motto is simple and direct: “Defeat is NOT an Option”—not in the ring, but in the fight to end cancer.

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