WHEN Ashley Cain’s daughter Azaylia was battling a rare form of leukaemia, her story captured hearts worldwide and an army of well-wishers chipped in to pay for pioneering treatment in Singapore.
Sadly she never made it, and in April passed away at just eight months old.
Now, however, Azaylia’s memory lives on because Ashley and his partner Safiyya Vorajee have set up a foundation in her name to help other sick children and pay tribute to those who tried to save her life.
In an exclusive interview, former footballer and reality TV personality Ashley, 31, said: “We wanted our daughter’s name to stay alive and to help other children, so we didn’t want to waste a single second.
“We want to be the best parents for Azaylia, so she looks down on us and is proud.”
And the couple, from Nuneaton, Warwicks, will get through Christmas by concentrating on the foundation.
Safiyya, 34, said: “I could just sit at home and hide under a duvet and feel like I’ve got chains and bricks tied to my arms and legs.
“But this foundation got me up this morning. It got me dressed. I don’t have my daughter here on earth, so I look at her foundation as the way I can raise her.
“She’s my hero and I’m going to use the strength she gave me.”
The Azaylia Foundation is already supporting the families of children with cancer, as well as helping to fund revolutionary equipment for hospitals.
It is giving the couple back the hope they had lost after Azaylia Diamond Cain passed away.
Ashley and Safiyya, an aesthetic practitioner — focusing on skin and skin health — were shattered when their baby was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia at eight weeks.
She had tumours on her lungs, stomach and kidneys and was given several rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
But Ashley and Safiyya, whose catchphrase for Azaylia, “Let’s go, champ” became a social media hashtag, refused to give up.
They set up a GoFundMe appeal to raise money to travel to Singapore for pioneering CAR-T therapy, which is not yet available in the UK.
Within days they had received an astonishing £1.6million in donations.
However, the cancer proved too advanced for Azaylia, with a CT scan revealing two large brain tumours. The couple don’t like to use the word “death”.
The funeral in May was “Azaylia’s day”, there is no “grave” but a garden and resting place.
Last week Ashley buried his grandmother next to Azaylia after suffering another tragic loss.
He said: “It means now there will never be a moment where they’re alone,” and he wants his gran to look after his daughter “in heaven”.
On Azaylia’s first birthday in August the couple had a celebration at her garden, with balloons, music and a spectacular cake in the form of Simba, from The Lion King, a reference to her favourite cuddly toy and Likkle Lion nickname.
Safiyya said: “It was kind of strange having a birthday party for her but I believe in the law of attraction, and decorating Azaylia’s garden, that was for her.
"I want to do the same at Christmas and bring light for Azaylia.”
Both say they feel her presence. Safiyya looks for signs everywhere, finding them in white feathers, orange skies and rainbows. And she talks to her all the time.
She said: “I never understood a mother’s instinct before but now I totally get it. I feel she’s attached to me. It makes me feel like I have that strength to continue.
“She lives on in me and I feel her every day.”
Safiyya has been messaged and stopped in the street by women telling her they have named their daughters after Azaylia.
She said: “They say they wanted a name that was strong and courageous so they’ve chosen Azaylia.
“And those babies will be told when they’re older where it came from and about Azaylia’s journey and her foundation, which will continue the legacy. That’s a big, proud moment for me as a mother.”
The foundation has given the couple purpose. They had no idea how to set up a charity but enlisted expert help and now have a CEO and a social team in place.
They have put the £1.6million raised for Azaylia into the foundation to help others.
Ashley and Safiyya are unpaid trustees and will focus on working with the community to raise funds, awareness, and, they hope, eventually take the foundation and Azaylia’s name global.
In partnership with GoFundMe they have already donated tens of thousands of pounds to UK-based children with cancer to help them access treatment not readily available on the NHS.
Ashley will continue to throw himself into various physical challenges and is helping to plan an inaugural Cycle For Azaylia event next June.
Safiyya, who is writing a book, said: “We’re in our infancy, but with the help of the community, who are the heartbeat of the foundation, we can do this. What we have is heart, love and passion.”
She added: “If you’d asked me before I was pregnant where I was going, I’d have said I haven’t got a clue.
“Now I know exactly what I’m doing and who I am.
“I’m loyal, dedicated, passionate and I’m a woman. I can say that, now I’ve experienced pregnancy — I’ll always be a mum.
"I’m so honoured to be Azaylia’s mum, I’m honoured to have learned the lessons I have.”
And any future children will know all about their big sister. She said: “Their hero will be Azaylia. She’ll be the person they grow up aspiring to be like — I know that’s a lot to live up to.”
Former Coventry City winger Ashley says losing Azaylia means he no longer fears death.
He said: “I used to get panic attacks about dying, but since Azaylia passed, the only thing I’m scared of is not doing enough while I’m here to earn my place to be with her in heaven.
“If I’m not a good person I’m never going to get to be with her again. When I’m on my deathbed I want to be happy about where I’m going, so my power now is in being selfless.
“Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, our birthdays, Azaylia’s birthday, Easter, Halloween, Christmas.
"These are all events that we now have to do without her, occasions which are supposed to be happy are now full of sadness.
“I’ve got a big family and Christmas was the best part of my year. But I think coming together and being happy with so many people isn’t possible right now.
"But knowing she is watching down on us will mean we’re able to have a sad, emotional but also a beautiful Christmas Day.”
With that in mind, Safiyya has bought a tree and fairy lights and even an Elf On The Shelf figure.
She said: “I don’t want Christmas. I feel angry at Christmas and I feel pain. But I don’t look around at others and resent their happiness.
“Yes, I struggle to be around it, but I also feel blessed to see it and know that happiness is still available. And one day it will happen again for us.”
- Sign up to join The Azaylia Foundation fundraiser at cycleforazaylia.com
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