“His friends were his family. His friends were his life.”
Asked why her son, Christopher Cayford, decided to stay in Richmond while she moved to the Interior, Claire Conde was in no doubt what kept her son tied so tightly to his home town while living.
Being a grad of General Currie elementary in 1998 and Palmer secondary in 2003 and playing local minor hockey and local men’s hockey from age six onwards, Cayford’s roots were firmly entrenched into Richmond soil.
For five years he battled Ewing Sarcoma cancer - a rare type of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones - before he found out he was terminally ill in January 2017. He died in March 2018, age 32.
But it is those aforementioned, deep connections forged in life that Conde hopes people closest to her son will remember the most when it comes to honouring Cayford’s memory at the upcoming second annual gala in his name.
Raising money for the Forward Foundation – which Cayford set up with his mom to offer end-of-life experiences for terminally ill people aged 18-39 – the gala is arguably the third renewal.
The unofficial, inaugural event was a few months after he was told his cancer was terminal, with the irrepressible Cayford hosting and starring in his own celebration of life, along with 350 of his closest friends and family.
On Oct. 19, Conde is hoping for a similar turnout to keep alive her son’s dying wish to help young people less fortunate than himself.
“His skill was connecting people,” Conde told the Richmond News.
“Referring to his amazing friends, he said to me, ‘I’ve got a village, I don’t want for anything. But not everyone has a village like I have.’
“He volunteered for kids’ charities and he realized it was a lot easier to get donations and help for such organizations, but the opposite was true for youth aged 18 and over.”
One of Cayford’s last acts was to set up the foundation for his mom to run, including recruiting a volunteer board of directors and corporate lawyer.
Recipients of the foundation’s “experience,” once nominated, have to provide a signed form from a doctor, saying they are terminally ill.
The experience that’s then requested, explained Conde, has to “more than just for yourself. For example, ‘my brother and I have always wanted to skydive together’ or ‘plant a forest of trees together,’ that kind of thing.”
Asked what emotions she might feel at next month’s gala, Conde reflected on her son’s celebration of life two years previous.
“I had him when I was 15; I didn’t know a life without him really. We were incredibly close,” she said of Cayford, who worked at the Olympic Oval, was a recruitment officer and had passed his firefighter training.
“But he prepared us well for a life without him. (The celebration of life) was surreal. He always said he wanted to go to his own funeral.
“But he said, ‘Mom, I’m not afraid of dying. But the one thing I’m scared of is hurting the people I love, by dying.’ So if I go through life crying into a puddle, I’m not serving him well.
“The foundation and the gala give me a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that I’m serving Christopher well.
“So by the time the gala came last year, he had given us focus (with the foundation). So we’re keeping him present in our brains.”
The gala itself is being held at the South Hall Banquet Palace on Ross Street in Vancouver, with award-winning musician Nikita Afonso entertaining throughout the cocktail hour.
“It’s going to be one hell of a night out,” said Conde.
“We have a big band for the dance, as well as a DJ, a full buffet and a chocolate fountain.
“And at midnight, we will be bringing in 350 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, (as per the tradition started at Cayford’s celebration of life).
“There will be giveaways and one or two of the recipients of the foundation experience will be there.
“Last year there were 320 people, but at the moment, we have only sold 80 tickets. We know there will be the usual last-minute decisions, Vancouver style, but we are in a little bit of panic mode right now.
“We will get the core group coming, but the sales need to pick up a bit.”
Tickets - $150 each, $1,200 for a table of 10 and $75 for youth – are available online at ForwardFoundation.TicketSpice.com/2019-cayford-gala.
More information about the event is available on the foundation’s Facebook page.