skip to main content

Go Back

The impact of Terry Fox on my career in cancer research

I have been a cancer researcher for almost 50 years. I recently retired from my academic position at the University of Alberta and while I still collaborate on research projects, I no longer have an active cancer research program. But I am still very much involved in cancer research. As the Alberta Node Leader for the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI), I am a member of the TFRI Executive; I am also a member of the Scientific Committee on Research Excellence, the New Investigator Committee and the International Scientific Committee.

Dr. Carol CassDr. Carol Cass, TFRI Alberta Node Leader, was Chair of the 2013 TFRI Annual Scientific Meeting

Why did I choose TFRI as my major retirement cancer research project? When Terry Fox was born in 1958, I was growing up in rural Oklahoma and knew only that cancer is a deadly disease – because my father was a physician, I saw the frustration felt by health care givers when treating cancer patients. While Terry was growing up, I was in university and, inspired by a wonderful professor whose research area was genetics, chose biology as my major. I was fascinated by cellular processes and went to the University of California for graduate training in the newly emerging fields of cell and molecular biology where I saw for the first time how fundamental research discoveries can advance understanding of cancer. When Terry was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma in 1977, I had just begun my independent research career in Alberta in a cancer research group funded by the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC). My interest then (and yet today!) was the role of membrane transport in drug resistance.

In 1979, when Terry asked the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) to support his Marathon of Hope, I was a member of the CCS Board of Directors in Edmonton, having become involved through public speaking on cancer research. I remember our scepticism when we considered Terry’s proposal – an impossible dream, how could a young man with an artificial leg run across a single province, much less the entire country? A year later, after Terry had run over 5,000 kilometres from St John’s to Thunder Bay, we wrote hundreds of receipts for donations from Albertans who were moved by Terry’s courageous efforts. Across the country people donated over $24 million to the first Marathon of Hope. The following year Terry Fox Runs were held across Canada to raise money for cancer research, an extraordinary effort that continues to this day. Cancer researchers like me, also inspired by Terry, rose to the challenge and devoted their best efforts to research in Terry’s name.

I have witnessed the extraordinary impact of Terry’s efforts on cancer research in Canada through my personal research activities, my many years of service on NCIC committees and more recently my involvement with TFRI. Canadian cancer researchers have consistently done their best work in Terry’s name, a remarkable legacy. Of the research awards that I have received over the years, the most important personally was the Terry Fox Cancer Research Scientist Award, and today I am privileged to have the opportunity to continue to contribute to cancer research through my work with TFRI.


Carol E. Cass, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS


More information

TFRI Alberta Node page

Back to Top