Paula Pert proudly recalls one special day when she was nine years old and growing up in Sault Ste. Marie. She and her family were driving along Hwy. 17 when they came up behind Terry Fox running his Marathon of Hope.
“Dad sped up and let us out of the car, so that my brother and I could run with him a bit and cheer him on – just us and Terry Fox,” she says. “Then we got back in the car and raced into the Soo, so that we could cheer him on once again, but this time with hundreds of people lining the streets.”
Little did Paula know that one day she and Terry Fox would have something in common: cancer in the leg.
In December 2011, Paula was diagnosed with a malignant cancer in her right leg. A self-professed sports nut, Paula says she was the type of mother who played everything under the sun with her two daughters.
“The tumour was roughly the size of a milk bag,” she says. “It needed to be removed immediately.”
During an almost 17-hour surgery at The Ottawa Hospital, doctors removed the femur bone and most of her quadricep muscles and replaced the bone with a metal femur. When Terry Fox had his surgery, she explains, doctors had to amputate, and his prosthesis was fully visible, whereas hers is completely inside her leg, known as a salvage surgery.
Twelve days after the surgery, Paula says it took four people to get her out of bed and to stand. The next day, she took her first few steps. Rehabilitation and chemotherapy were constant companions during her recovery. For six months, she wore a brace to support her body and to help keep her leg in place while it healed.
While Paula will always walk with a cane, she is grateful to be able to canoe, walk, swim and bike with her daughters.
“The money people donate is going to help researchers and surgeons continue to create new techniques for removing tumours instead of limbs,” says Paula, who will return to teaching physical education in September.