Fighting Lung Cancer One Purple Pedicure at a Time

Fighting Lung Cancer One Purple Pedicure at a Time

How many of you know someone who’s had or has lung cancer? My good friend Valerie was diagnosed in August with stage 4 lung cancer.  The first question people ask when I tell them about Valerie is always, “Does she smoke?”

The answer is no.

Valerie has always lived a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She eats right, exercises regularly and has been proactive about her health. For the past three years, Valerie has suffered from a persistent cough. She saw numerous specialists, had endless tests and had just finished a year of an antibiotic cocktail to rid herself of a lung infection when she received the diagnosis.

Valerie, her husband Ralph and the doctors were all shocked when the CAT scan to confirm the infection was gone, now showed she had lung cancer. Stage 4. Terminal.  Truly a “WTF” moment for all of us who love and care for her.

I was in disbelief – shocked, angry, scared and sad – all rolled up into a big lump in my throat. I vividly remember a conversation Valerie and I had well over a year ago that “lung cancer was off the table.” How could the cancer have been missed?

Valerie and Ralph’s world turned upside down and a “new normal” began. More tests, medical consultations and making life altering decisions became their reality.

Ralph, an amazing photographer, decided to do something fun for Valerie with the primary goal of putting a smile on her face.  Get friends to paint our toes purple (Val’s favorite color) and send pictures to make her smile. The pictures quickly came in – female toes, male toes, kid toes and pet toes – even two horses’ hoofs were painted purple.

And fun we have had, laughing at the wonderful photos people have shared. Trying to identify which toes belonged to which friend. And the pets. Amazing.


Image: Ralph Kapostins

For each picture that was sent, Ralph made a donation to the Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF). He quickly raised $1,000.  The decision to support ALCF was an easy one. Valerie, introduced to the ALCF by a friend of a friend, immediately benefited from the available resources and network. It was through ALCF that she connected with the leading team of doctors at UC Davis now managing her case.

I started thinking about how we could take Ralph’s idea to a new level – a Purple Toes Campaign. How could we get lots of people paint their toes purple? How could we raise money for ALCF? And how could we get the truth out that lung cancer isn’t only a smoker’s disease? And how could we create more smile moments for Valerie?

Without telling Ralph and Valerie, I contacted OPI Products Inc., one of the most recognized and popular nail polish brands. Why not? The worst case was being told no. OPI’s response was just the opposite! The corporate person connected me with OPI’s PR firm. I was quickly directed to the right team member to discuss the Purple Toes idea.

The answer was YES! OPI does donate nail polish to support fundraising for good causes. All I needed to do was submit a proposal outlining the campaign and they would review it.

I reached out to ALCF to discuss the details of the campaign I envisioned. They loved the idea. What a fun way to raise money and build awareness about lung cancer. Bonnie Addario decided to personally get involved. Along with her team, we developed the plan to bring the Purple Toes Campaign – Smiles for Valerie program to life.

I submitted the proposal to OPI. With a $25 donation (or more), we would send a bottle of polish and ask people to submit a picture of their purple toes to be included in the living mural that Ralph was creating. We instinctively knew that this program would be fun and easy for people to support. Most everyone can afford $25. It would appeal to people – women and men - of all ages.

Within days the proposal was approved. OPI agreed to donate 500 bottles of Purple with a Purpose nail polish. Delight! I called Valerie and Ralph to share the news. BIG SMILES for Valerie! We were going to raise at least $10,000 for ALCF.


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