When cancer hit home, she went on the run

Judy Bieman has always led a busy life. She has raised five children, driven 18-wheelers since 1982, often to as far away as the Northwest Territories, and she even runs an accounting business out of her home. And for the past 14 years, she has also been the head organizer of the Terry Fox Run […]

Last updated on May 04, 23

Posted on Sep 24, 10

4 min read

Judy Bieman has always led a busy life. She has raised five children, driven 18-wheelers since 1982, often to as far away as the Northwest Territories, and she even runs an accounting business out of her home.

And for the past 14 years, she has also been the head organizer of the Terry Fox Run in Elmira. Recently, however, she decided this year would be her last.

“I’m tired,” she said while sitting at the dining room table of her Linwood home, the wall behind her covered in family portraits. “I’ll be 65 in July, and I want to drop some of the things I’m doing because it’s too much.”

TOGETHER FOR A CAUSE Judy Bieman and her son Todd Martin (front) along with Aaron Reese, Alisha Bieman, Dennis Leth, Mark Martin, and Sara Boht at this year’s Terry Fox run.

Bieman has been instrumental in organizing the run each year. Unlike runners, who can just show up and register the day of the race, she spends months of preparation behind the scenes. Sponsors need to be found, flyers need to be distributed, and donations need to be collected.

“It does take up a fair amount of time,” she said with a laugh, “I have it down to a fine art though.”

Bieman relies not only on her training as an accountant to make sure every year goes smoothly, but on a small army of volunteers as well. Her children Ron, Cathy, Mark, and Todd all help out on the big day, and her husband, Leonard Martin, is responsible for most of the heavy lifting.

“Everything is volunteer, everything is donated. We don’t have a budget, period. It’s great that everyone can help; it makes for a better day.”

Originally from St. Clements, Bieman settled in Linwood in 1991 after spending a year in Edmonton. Her involvement with the Terry Fox Run began in 1996, the year her life changed forever; the year she lost her son Jeff to cancer.

Jeff had visited a doctor in December 1994, which led to the discovery of what was thought to be a cyst. But when he became ill in January and ended up in hospital, doctors told him that he had testicular cancer.

“It was devastating, as you can imagine,” said Bieman. “But doctors said it had a high cure rate, 75 to 80 per cent.”
Jeff underwent chemotherapy, but when the cancer spread to his bowel, the treatments were stepped up. They removed one tumor and tried to shrink the other with chemo.

That summer, after performing more tests, doctors found the cancer had spread to his lungs. Jeff endured more chemotherapy until Christmas, and by then he had gone into remission.

The disease returned, however, and with a vengeance.

“By January [1996] it was back, and he died in March.”

Despite her busy schedule, which included running a business that Jeff and her daughter Cathy had started to deliver vegetables, meat and cheese to Northern Ontario, she decided she wanted to volunteer for the Terry Fox Run after Jeff’s battle with cancer.

“It’s been gratifying because it feels like you’re doing something to help,” she said. “I’m hoping nobody has to go through what we’ve gone through. It’s always in your mind. Even now.”

Judy may be retiring from the run, but she knows it is in good hands. Kathy Bowman has been a volunteer for several years, and each year her husband and her four kids help with the run as well.

“We help out because we’ve had so many family members either succumb to cancer, or fight the fight and win it,” Bowman explained. “This year it means a lot because we have a cousin who just went through her second battle with a dangerous cancer and she won again.”

For Bieman, it was very important that someone as capable as Bowman took over the planning of the run before she would retire.

“It was always the thing that kind of held me back,” she explained. “But when she [Kathy] volunteered, I thought that was great. She’s very enthusiastic, and I think it needed some changes, some new blood. I’m sure she’ll have lots of good ideas.”

It isn’t just her age that is keeping her from working on the run anymore, either. Judy has grown frustrated over the years with the way the Woolwich council has been unwilling to support the event, refusing to shut down South Field Drive and New Jerusalem Road, where the run takes place in Elmira.

“For years I’ve tried to get the road closed, and they’ve always refused. I’m not sure why,” she said, citing the fact that the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island – the only land crossing to the entire island – was the site of a run this year.

Her days as the head organizer of the run may be over, but don’t count on Bieman staying away for very long. She intends to continue to help with the finances on the day of the run and in the days following it, to ensure all the money gets handled properly. She is a part-time accountant, after all.

Together with other volunteers around the region, Bieman has helped to raise nearly $160,000 for cancer research. This year alone, the run featured 42 participants and raised $12,801, with more donations to come in the next few days.

It’s been 30 years since Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope by dipping his toes into the Atlantic Ocean, and Bieman said she hopes that Canadians never forget what he did for his country, and for cancer research around the world.

“When you think of Terry Fox, I mean, what a hero. Nobody I know has done what he’s done. He ran a marathon a day for 143 days. His parents must be so proud.”

The memory of her own son, Jeff, and the affect he had on all of their lives will never be forgotten either.
“I’m really proud of Jeff, he did a lot of things before he died that were important to him. He made a skating rink in the yard for his younger brother. He knew he was dying, but still made the extra effort. He left a legacy in our own family.”

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