A Sarnia couple whose lives were turned upside down by cancer has responded by raising nearly $90,000 for cancer research since 2009, behind a hoard of loving family members, friends and colleagues.
Leo Arts was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, triggering a months-long battle that included 28 radiation treatments. Over the next 15 years, three of his five daughters were diagnosed with breast cancer — two of them in 2017, the same year Leo Arts and Francien Arts’s son-in-law died of the disease.
That year, more than 100 people rallied behind “Team Leo” and raised more than $28,000 for cancer research, the third highest team mark in Ontario. It was the most successful fundraising year for the family since Leo and Francien Arts started attending the annual Terry Fox Run in Sarnia. From 2009 to 2018, the family has raised a staggering $88,287 and won the award for largest team every year since it was first awarded in 2013.
“This is our 11th year,” Leo Arts said. “We get people to sponsor us from London, Exeter, Kitchener and Waterloo, Toronto. … We even had a lady from Edmonton sponsor us. And we have a step-grandson in Saudi Arabia; he sponsored us too. All over the place.”
Three of the five Arts girls will return to the Terry Fox Run this year; one of the others just finished her last round of chemotherapy and is on a cruise to celebrate, Arts said. Leo Arts’s daughters and wife supported the Sarnia man when he first considered fundraising for the run, an idea inspired by article in the daily newspaper.
“I thought ‘I could do that,’ and then I mentioned it to the wife and the daughters. There was no stopping it then,” Leo Arts said, laughing. “That was in ’09.”
At that point, three years after Leo Arts’s last round of chemotherapy, his family was willing to support him however they could – not realizing he would be there to support many of them years later.
“For a while there, I didn’t think he was going to make it,” Francien Arts said. “He was overtired, but they were all there for him. … Our girls have been there for us, 100 per cent.”
This year, the Terry Fox Run takes place Sunday morning at Canatara Park. Registration is open online and will be available at the park pavilion starting at 8 a.m. The run itself starts at 9 a.m., with a special talk from cancer survivor Bob Ferris, who met Terry Fox in 1980.
All are invited to join in the 5-kilometre or 10-kilometre events.
Leo and Francien have another goal this year. Now less than $12,000 away from raising a collective $100,000 as a family, the two have been fundraising near and far to close the gap on the milestone.
“If it’s not, we’re going to be very close,” Francien Arts said. “We’re aiming for it. We’re getting close.”
“I have a feeling we’re going to make it,” Leo Arts added.
The trophy for largest team is up for grabs again, but at this point it’s little more than a formality. Each of the six tiny plaques read “Team Leo.”