One thing Alison Laird delighted in most during her eight-year battle with chordoma was proving her doctors wrong. A woman of amazing strength and spirit, she wasn’t about to let cancer rob her of the things she enjoyed – including traveling, dining and talking with others. As she went through multiple surgeries, long recoveries and hospitalizations, and treatments at home in Calgary, Canada and in California, she channeled that strength and spirit into making the most of life – and showing her doctors, family and friends how much she could still do.
“She was always finding the positives in the situation,” recalls her daughter, Catriona (Cat), who was at her mother’s side through most of her battle. “For instance, she always wanted to travel, so when she had to go to California for treatment, she saw it as a dream come true for her to get to visit there!”
On June 12, 2008, at the age of 60, Alison lost her long battle with chordoma. Cat, her father, Ian, and her mother’s close friend Carolyn Harley decided to plan a fundraising event in Alison’s memory to benefit chordoma research. The inaugural Purple Aster Concert and Silent Auction in Calgary drew more than 100 music lovers and friends to hear professional local musicians and learn more about this insidious form of cancer and the need for research funding. Each year, the event has grown – in 2012 the 4th annual Purple Aster drew 175 participants and raised more than $15,000. A special moment came when Chordoma Foundation board member Dr. Ed Les, also of Calgary and a chordoma survivor who provided a matching gift, told the crowd: “This isn’t just in memory of somebody we’ve lost now; this is a fight for all of us who are still fighting.”
Over the years, “the Aster” raised nearly $55,000 to support the Chordoma Foundation’s work. The event is a team effort. Carolyn, a self-described late bloomer as a musician (the purple aster is a late-blooming flower), arranges the concert. Cat coordinates the silent auction, and Ian manages the finances. Other friends and family also pitch in.
In 2012, the funds raised by the Aster were designated toward a Chordoma Foundation seed grant awarded to Dr. Cheryle Séguin, a musculoskeletal researcher at the University of Western Ontario. Dr. Séguin, who studies spinal disc development, recently made a scientific breakthrough that provided the missing link researchers needed to study the genesis of chordoma. This grant will help Dr. Séguin’s lab take advantage of the opportunity created by this breakthrough. The Aster organizers and participants are especially excited to support chordoma research based in Canada. (To learn about Dr. Séguin’s research, click here.)
Of the Aster event and the work that goes into it, Cat says: “My mother’s spirit drives all of this. She always had this way of surprising people and proving them wrong. We all feel the same way now. Chordoma doesn’t get to win.”