When Donna Seymour participates in this year’s Terry Fox Run, it will be in memory of her friend, June Huyck, who died of ovarian cancer.
At the same time, she has other family members, and other reasons for continuing to organize the annual event.
Seymour made a promise to her childhood friend to continue the legacy Huyck had begun in 1992. “We were friends from elementary school and high school,” says Seymour, who attended Merritton High School in St. Catharines.
“But over the years, life happened, and I hadn’t seen her for years.”
She ran into her at the hospital in 1993 — Huyck was finishing her chemotherapy and Seymour was just beginning chemo treatments.
“We reconnected, and we began to get together for lunches and things like that.”
Against odds that were not in her favour, Seymour successfully battled stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her friend was not so lucky with her outcome.
When Huyck was scheduled for tests to see if her cancer had returned, she told her husband she wanted a bottle of ice wine to celebrate if it was good news, and a trip on the Concorde if it was not.
“June had set herself up with a bucket list, before the movie was out and that name was even a thing. Her list included flying to Europe on the Concorde (a supersonic jet no longer in operation). She did that, but she didn’t get the hot air balloon ride that was also on her list. She had it booked three times, but the weather conditions were never right.”
What Huyck did get was a family she didn’t know she had, said Seymour. She had given up a baby girl for adoption, and about 18 months before she died, her daughter contacted her out of the blue. They were able to meet, and for the first time, Huyck not only met her daughter but two grandchildren.
Huyck died in 1996, at the age of 49, but not before completing her last Terry Fox Run, this time riding on a motorcycle driven by a friend, in the pouring rain, recalls Seymour.
In the late stages of her illness, when she knew she wasn’t going to beat the disease, “she asked me to carry on with the team for her,” said Seymour. That wasn’t a request she could refuse, and with Nina Ruzsa, another of Huyck’s friends who was one of the regular participants, Seymour has continued to do so for the last 25 years.
Because most of the team members were from St. Catharines, they continued to participate in the city, but three years ago, with Seymour living in Virgil, she decided to move it to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“I’d been talking about moving it for a number of years. The team has shifts over the years, some members have passed away and some are no longer able to participate,” she said.
With her own family, including a daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren, she decided to move it to Virgil. A number of old friends from the team walk in the NOTL event with her.
“We’ve had maybe 24 to 30 people out at the high points, and maybe 15 to 16 last year.”
Since the first time they organized June’s Dream Team, they have raised more than $240,000, says Seymour.
Both Seymour and Ruzsa have battled breast cancer in the intervening years, and Seymour has had family members face cancer.
She realizes now, given the statistics of surviving stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, how fortunate she is to be here to participate in the run, to spend time with her grandkids and to enjoy this stage of her life.
Her husband Norm Seymour, and daughter Carrie Cherney, son-in-law Mark Cherney and granddaughters Taylor and Morgan all walk with her, and have for years. Taylor, now 12, and Morgan, 16, each participated in their first event as babies in strollers.
When she walks in the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Sunday, Sept. 15, there is no shortage of friends and family members to think about.
“Last year my nephew lost his battle with stomach cancer. He was only 38. He was top of my mind when I walked. I have also lost a very good friend who was there from the beginning.”
One of the first participants in the walk for Huyck, he was also dealing with Multiple Sclerosis, but he never let the disease stand in his way. He and his wife have both since died of cancer, said Seymour. “All of them go through my mind. I can’t help but think of them. But NOTL is so beautiful, the walk is so beautiful. I can’t help but also feel grateful to be here and be part of it.”
Carrie, now 43, also feels gratitude, that she can walk with her mother, as she did for the first time when she was 18, and that her daughters have had the opportunity to know their grandmother and walk with them.
When she walks, she thinks about her mom, she says. “She’s the number one person who brings us all together. I’m thankful we can continue to do this every year as a family. I also really like the sense of community during the event. It’s one thing to write a cheque for cancer research to support a good cause, and another to support a community event like this and see how it brings not only the community together, but families together.”
They both believe in the importance of the run, which has raised more than $750 million internationally.
In Canada, says Seymour, the Terry Fox Foundation gives 82 cents of every dollar to cancer research.
“If I’d had my Hodgkin’s cancer back when Terry Fox was sick, would I have survived? Maybe not. More than 1,314 research projects have been funded in Canada through donations to the foundation.”
Despite her past battles, Seymour says her health has been great in recent years. “It was 11 years ago that I had breast cancer, and I’ve been fine ever since. You learn to appreciate everyone you have, everyday you’re here. You learn to make the most of life and really enjoy it. And I can’t help but think about Terry Fox and what he did, on one leg, in the condition he was in. That just boggles my mind. It makes what we do seem so easy,” says Seymour.
“It makes me think about what a wonder he was, what he took on and what he did for others, with no thought for himself.”
And in his memory, those who walk, run or cycle in the annual Marathon of Hope also do it for others, she says. “Those who participate are doing it for all the right reasons.”
As is walk organizer Joan King, adds Seymour. “She has done an amazing job bringing this run back to life in the community, also for the right reasons.”
This year’s run is Sunday, Sept. 15 in Simcoe Park.