‘I would have lost my leg’: Young cancer survivor highlights importance of fundraising for research

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Young cancer survivor highlights importance of fundraising for research
WATCH: The annual Terry Fox run is just around the corner. In the name of one of Canada's greatest heroes, people across the country will be running and walking to raise money for cancer research. But a few days out from the event, one Montrealer is sharing her own harrowing experience with the same disease to show just how lifesaving the fundraiser can be. Global's Dan Spector reports. – Sep 11, 2023

A few days ahead of the annual Terry Fox Run, a young Montreal woman is sharing her own harrowing experience with the disease to show just how lifesaving the fundraiser can be.

Twenty-year-old Cassandra Harding told her story to hundreds of students at her alma mater John Rennie High School on Monday.

“I’m still recovering. The side effects of chemo are still lingering; it takes some time to get out of the system,” she told Global News.

In June of last year, Harding was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

“We got the MRI reports of the tumour in my left knee spreading into my femur and tibia,” she recounted.

Having created strong bonds with Harding, staff at the school were hit hard by the news.

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“We were devastated. We couldn’t understand how that could possibly happen to her,” said Wendy Robinson, a member of John Rennie’s support staff.

It wasn’t the first time cancer had struck Harding’s family.

“When I was eight years old, I lost my mom to breast cancer and that was extremely difficult,” she said. “Luckily enough, I have a fantastic father who is there with us through everything and dropped everything in his life to be there for my sister and I.”

Osteosarcoma is the same type of cancer Terry Fox had. Much like the Canadian icon, Cassie refused to back down.

“Staying positive and keeping a positive mindset with everything has allowed me to thrive in my treatments and thrive now,” she said.

After 10 weeks of chemo came the life-altering surgery.

“It was a seven-hour surgery to replace basically half of my leg bone from my tibia all the way to my femur. including my knee,” Harding explained.

Click to play video: 'New book honours Terry Fox and his historic journey'
New book honours Terry Fox and his historic journey

Terry Fox had to have his leg amputated, but because of advancements in cancer treatment, Harding now stands on a metal prosthetic.

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“Within a month of her surgery, she was walking up the stairs to my office. I couldn’t believe it,” said Robinson.

“My surgeon said it himself. If this was 10 years ago, I would have lost my leg. There was no doubt about it,” Harding said.

To Harding, it’s a perfect example of how fundraisers like the Terry Fox Run can have a direct effect.

“The money that’s being donated, it’s going somewhere. It’s being used. Because of the money that’s donated, I’m able to still have both of my legs. The more money that’s donated, the further the research will go and the more things that people will be able to accomplish,” she said.

Cassandra is now in remission. However weeks after she completed her chemo earlier this year, her 18-year-old sister, Caitlin, started undergoing treatment for the same form of cancer. Cassandra feels this makes speaking out even more important.

“I am incredibly proud of my two girls in the face of what they’re going through right now. I’m speechless,” said Christopher Harding, their father.

John Rennie’s Terry Fox Run happens this Friday, Sept. 15. The John Rennie community will join Cassandra to march through the streets of Pointe Claire. Their goal this year is to raise $10,000.

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John Rennie High School has raised over $390,000 since it began organizing Terry Fox Runs.

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