Carter Holdsworth left his mark on many people. These are the words Kelvin High School teacher Derek Kun used in his introduction at the CancerCare event, A Concert for Carter, held March 12 at the Park Theatre in Carter’s memory.
The 19-year-old died just over a year ago from a rare form of cancer, Ewing sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or in the soft tissue around bones — often the legs, pelvis, ribs, arms or spine.
Yet despite the circumstances, Kun’s comment may have drawn a few chuckles from those who remembered other “battles” Carter had won – in the hockey arena. That’s why Carter’s dad, Mark Holdsworth, wasn’t overly concerned when he complained about a sore shoulder after a hockey game in late 2012.
All that changed when Holdsworth got a closer look at the “bump” that had grown significantly in size in the weeks since Carter’s first complaint.
He immediately brought Carter to the Pan Am Clinic and his worst suspicions were confirmed when the doctor had the 18-year-old rushed into further examinations and tests. The cancer diagnosis was fast and ruthless: at the outset Carter’s chances of survival were a low 56%.
Like his life, Carter’s battle against cancer was way too short.
Within months, he went from being the life of the party who was looking forward to attending his high school grad with the love of his life to a cancer patient fighting for every day of the time he had left.
Numerous therapies including radiation and chemotherapy weren’t successful although there were relapses that shone brief glimmers of hope on the hard battle Carter was fighting. After being told he was cancer-free in November 2013, he and his large cheering squad of friends and family were devastated when the cancer returned in December 2013 with a tumour so large it was inoperable.
By February 2014 it had spread to his lungs and brain at which point his chances of winning the fight were less than 30%. It wasn’t enough.
Carter died in the early hours of his 19th birthday in his girlfriend, Niki Taylor’s arms, with his dad and mom by his side. Somehow in those last hours he’d found the strength to wait for Taylor to return from a brief trip to Vancouver. In typical Carter form, he was wisecracking until the end, telling Taylor as she helped him stand that he didn’t think they’d be doing any dancing.
Holdsworth said that in his last days, Carter wasn’t as much afraid of dying as he was of not being remembered. His friends and family were hell-bent on ensuring that didn’t happen.
Music was important to Carter, Taylor and many of their friends and family so it was a natural to draw on a plethora of local musical talent for a concert in Carter’s name to raise funds for CancerCare Manitoba.
With no time to waste, Taylor pulled together good friends to form a new band, “The Worthy” (honouring the Holds”worth” name) that would kick off the evening. Local bands Sapphire Empire and Sebastian Owl were also added to the bill making for a great night of local talent.
Kun, a teacher and friend of Carter, was honoured to be asked to host the evening. He said, “Carter would have loved this gathering of family and friends in music. It’s like a Kelvin High School Coffee House at a whole new level!”
As plans unfolded, Carter’s mark on the world became apparent as offers to help, silent auction prizes and other donations poured in.
Months in the making, there was clearly a lot of love in the room as the Park Theatre and Café doors swung open to a sold out crowd.
“We knew that we’d sold all the tickets but were still worried if everyone would show up,” Taylor said. But then the guests started arriving and soon the theatre was full.
“It was amazing to see how many people were there. It was crazy to play our first live show ever in Carter’s memory and see 300 plus people in the room.” Taylor giggled, “Some were people we’d played for in our basement earlier in our lives. It was perfect.”
The Worthy kicked off the night with a unique folk blues blend of original songs and covers including Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan. Yes Black Sabbath performed by a folk band because as lead vocalist Taylor said, “It wouldn’t be a night for Carter without some Sabbath!”
Angela Fournier joined Taylor with bold bluesy vocals. Other band members included Mark Carlson on electric guitar, Lucas Redekopp on bass and George Bajer-Koulak on drums. All attended Kelvin High School with Carter.
Next up was Sapphire Empire whose eclectic, jazz inspired fusion mix was a hit with the crowd of all ages. Selci Cardenas’ high-powered vocals seemed to rise right up to the rafters, carrying the energized crowd through the second set.
Sebastian Owl is a great band and didn’t disappoint. Their poignant opener, James Taylor’s Fire and Rain was dedicated to Carter and brought the room to its feet. From smooth ballads to more energized “stomp romps” the lads – Blair Atkinson, Ian Russell, Ian Clements and Kieran West – seemed to know exactly what the crowd needed and delivered it for the entire set.
The bands did their sets amidst chatter by a diverse crowd that was all there for a united purpose. To remember Carter and raise funds to fight cancer. With over 350 tickets sold and just under $9,000 raised for CancerCare Manitoba these goals were clearly accomplished.
And how did Carter’s closest friends feel about that?
Stewart Morrow, Carter’s best pal, just shook his head. “He should never have been worried about us forgetting him. That’s never going to happen.”
Lauren Hammond added, “It’s just so great that all of these people cared enough to show up. But still, it’s hard not having Carter here with us.”
Knowing what was coming, Carter had given Lilianne Tran two clear instructions: Look after Niki and remember me. She glanced around the crowded room where Taylor darted between groups of Carter’s friends and family while hundreds of other guests shared stories and memories. Nobody wanted the night to end.
“It has been so worth it,” she said.
Taylor was thrilled the event raised even more than they’d hoped and that the money will make a difference in the ongoing search for a cure. “I know it will be difficult to find a cure for the rare form of cancer that took Carter, but I’d be happy to see the money go toward helping find a cure for any cancer. I know that’s what Carter would want too.”
There are plans to make this an annual event in support of CancerCare Manitoba. Watch for details – around the same time, same place – next year!