Gold Medal Award Recipient - Roohy Thandi

Roohy Thandi (left) is congratulated by Registrar/Executive Director of Enrollment, Rummana Khan Hemani (right), as being the recipient of this year's SFU Terry Fox Gold Medal award (2016).

Roohy Thandi's story

When I was 11 years old I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma. My only symptom was abdominal pain, which became progressively worse over the course of 2 weeks. The pain got so bad one day that my mom took me to the emergency room at BC Children’s Hospital. Within two days of being admitted I had a surgery to remove a large tumor from my abdomen, and by the end of the second day I had begun a rigorous round of chemotherapy. In an unbelievably short amount of time my life had been completely changed. I underwent a year of intense chemotherapy riddled with many complications. I spent months at a time in the hospital, had needles put into my spine, tubes down my nose, spent days vomiting until there was nothing left, endured over 12 rounds of chemotherapy and lost my hair countless times. I will never fully be able to put into words what cancer treatment is like. Some days the pain was manageable, but more often than not it wasn’t. But, I got better and nine years later I’m incredibly proud to say that I am a cancer survivor.

With each passing year the scars fade a bit more and cancer becomes a distant memory; but that’s not the case for so many others. While in the hospital, I saw kids going through treatments much harder than mine, kids with cancers so much more deadly and those who were reaching the ends of their lives. It wasn’t fair and it made me sick to my stomach that I couldn’t do anything to help. After I finished treatment I promised myself that I would give back to the people and organizations that have helped me while I was sick. I owe my life to cancer research and without the social support services provided by BC Children’s Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society; I would be a different person.

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtimes is quite possibly one of the most magical places on earth. Camp allowed me to be a kid again; I felt normal for the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer. For seven years I attended Camp Goodtimes as a camper, and upon turning 19 I applied to become a volunteer. I was coming back full circle to where I began and I can’t express in words how special it was for me to be a part of someone else’s camp journey. The next year I joined the Camp Goodtimes’ Leadership Team as the Media Specialist. This was a new role created to capture, in film and photograph, the magic of camp. Over the course of two years I edited and created about 20 short films and took over 10,000 pictures. Some of my videos went on to be shown at fundraisers to raise thousands of dollars for Camp Goodtimes and the rest were sent out to the families for their enjoyment. In my own small way, I hope to have made an impact on each child and family I met by capturing their happiness, while they underwent one of the hardest challenges of their life.  

For the past 3 years I have also been involved in SFU’s Club for the Cure. I initially joined as a general executive and became the Balding for Dollars coordinator in Fall 2015. I had the huge task of planning, organizing and managing SFU’s Balding for Dollars event, which was held on March 16, 2016. This one-day event brings SFU students together to donate their hair to be made into wigs for kids with cancer and also raise money for the oncology ward at Children’s hospital. Our team spent many hours planning this event and were able to raise $5,000! We also had over 20 people donate their hair! This coming year I will be the Club for the Cure’s new President. I hope to continue raising awareness and funds for cancer right here at SFU. I am excited to help plan Balding for Dollars next year and also coordinate new initiatives right here on campus.

Among other things, I have volunteered as a playroom assistant in the Pediatrics Ward at Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH). I received many check-ups and tests at the oncology clinic at SMH, so it was incredible to have the opportunity to give back as a playroom volunteer. I also volunteer at the BC Cancer Agency, Make-A-Wish BC and as a support crew member for the Cops for Cancer- Tour de Valley, all of which are organizations that have given me an incredible amount of support in the past.

I am so lucky to be alive today, to have good health and no major side effects from chemotherapy. But so many others are not so lucky. I decided a long time ago that I want to be a pediatric oncologist one day. I don’t want to stay on the sidelines and watch any more kids be diagnosed with cancer. I’m tired of cancer taking people away from me and it breaks my heart every time one of my friends gains their angel wings. I want to live in a world free of cancer and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to make that a reality.     

I’ve learned a lot from having cancer. I’ve learned that life is incredibly temporary, that each day is a gift, and that to be alive on this beautiful planet is in itself an enormous privilege and adventure. But the hardest and most refreshing lesson that I’ve ever learned is that life has very little to do with you. You don’t always have the starring role. And you don’t always get the guarantee of having more time. Life is about people; it’s about touching lives and being part of something bigger than just you.

It is such an honour to be chosen for this award. Terry Fox is one of my personal hero’s so to be honoured with the 2016 Terry Fox Gold Medal and Prize in his name is incredibly humbling. I am infinitely grateful for the immense amount of support and promise to continue fighting for a world free from cancer.

~ Roohy Thandi


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