Fighting Lung Cancer One Purple Pedicure at a Time

4 years ago

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.

The timing was perfect. November was National Lung Cancer Awareness Month. We wanted to execute quickly in order to kick off the campaign during it. Leveraging social media was the best way for us to gain traction at a grassroots level.

ALCF immediately went into action. They decided to launch Purple Toes at their Annual Gala Fundraiser. They featured the campaign in the gala program. It was exciting to work with their designer Sheila to create the full-page promotion. Seeing the campaign come to life literally gave me chills. Sharing all the details with Valerie and Ralph was even more significant. We were creating a way to make a difference, bringing a simple gesture by a husband to his wife to life.

Bonnie decided to do even more, creating a “Pedicure Party with Bonnie” as one of the silent auction offerings. For $100, winning bidders would enjoy a pedicure at Bonnie’s home (with wine and hor d'oeuvres, of course!) and receive a bottle of Purple with a Purpose polish. All 25 available sold! $2,500 more raised!

The next surprise was ALCF deciding to invest in their website to create campaign specific donation pages. This decision was a big investment. They knew they wanted to do it. The Purple Toes Campaign was the reason to do it now! And ALCF made it happen fast. Talk about big smiles for Valerie.

The site went live Monday 11/7. We launched the campaign at a grass roots level reaching out to family, friends and colleagues that day. Leveraging the power of social media was key to quickly getting the word out. We asked everyone we know to share Facebook posts and retweet tweets.  We sent out emails to our networks, including details on how to help, how to donate and facts about lung cancer.

Traction has been building and this week, ALCF is launching their outreach program to their network with their PR firm further expanding the campaign.

Based on response to date, I’m confident that we’re going to blow through our $10,000 goal. We’re helping to educate people about the truth about lung cancer. We’re making a difference. And we’re having fun.

I hope everyone who reads this post will participate. It’s easy. Donate $25. Get a bottle of Purple with a Purpose nail polish. Send us a picture of your painted toes so we can include you in the Smiles for Valerie Living Mural. We’ve given new meaning to “being on your toes.” Please support my Valerie – and help yours.


Finding out that a family member, friend or colleague has been diagnosed with cancer is a harsh reality to come to terms with. It’s compounded by the first question that almost everyone asks: Is he/she a smoker? People with lung cancer are routinely blamed as responsible for their condition.

The truth is that nearly 80% of new lung cancer cases are former (at least 10 years) (60%) and never smokers (17.9%).1 Only 20.9% of new cases are current smokers. It’s time to make people aware that lung cancer is not only a smoker’s disease. We need your help to educate as many people as possible.
The facts about lung cancer cannot continue to go unnoticed:

  • Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined, and it accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths.
  • It is the leading cancer killer in every ethnic group.  Since 1987, lung cancer has killed more women every year than breast cancer.
  • One in 14 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetimes.
  • Yet the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 15.9 percent, and it has changed little in the past 40 years.
  • This staggering loss of life has gone unnoticed too long, and the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation is on a mission to change that.
  • The ALCF funds clinical research that leads to life-saving discoveries and treatments and provides critical support services and educational programs to empower patients, power progress and create hope.

The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF) is one of the largest philanthropies (patient-founded, patient-focused, and patient-driven) devoted exclusively to eradicating lung cancer through research, early detection, education, and treatment. The Foundation works with a diverse group of physicians, organizations, industry partners, individuals, survivors, and their families to identify solutions and make timely and meaningful change. The ALCF was established on March 1, 2006 as a 501c(3) non-profit organization and has raised more than $10 million for lung cancer research and patient services.

  If you, or someone you know, have lung cancer, please reach out to the Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. They have a wealth of knowledge and resources to assist anyone that needs support. Their amazing team is here to help.

1 Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2011.

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