In 2006, I lost my 28-year-old sister, Liz, to a brutal form of Breast Cancer. She had found a lump in her breast at the age of 23, but was told by doctors that she was too young and had nothing to worry about. Fast forward to when she was 26 and woke up one day to find she could no longer walk; the lump she had been told not to worry about had metastasized to her bones, which as doctors told us, is the most pain a human being can be in. It took over a week and two oncology teams to give us a diagnosis: stage IV terminal Breast Cancer. She would end up being seen by the renowned tumor board at Stanford hospital and put on a clinical trial to minimize her pain and extend her life as much as possible. Her doctors said she was one of the worst cases they had ever seen; she spent the next two and half years in and out of hospitals, unable to finish college, knowing she would never marry, have children or live to see 30.
My sister was a bright light—incredibly intelligent, probably a genius and the funniest person I’ve ever known. She was only two years younger than me, and we shared a room our entire lives, so to say I was devastated by her death is the biggest understatement of my life. I was in a very bad place after she was gone and everything I was doing felt meaningless—especially my work. I had left a very demanding and stressful marketing job right before she died to start my own business, which had been a dream of mine since college. One of the last things my sister did for me was help to name my business (Type A Solutions) and had a friend design my birthday cake as a business card. She died five weeks later.
Although my sister was proud that I was starting my own business, I felt very lost and wanted to do something to make a difference in people’s lives. I had worked for a nonprofit after school program for disadvantaged children and became heavily involved in the Breast Cancer community, but I wanted to do more. And one day while on a run, the idea came to me to create an online marketplace where people could literally “shop for a cause.” On what would have been my sister’s thirtieth birthday (7-17-07), I launched Uptown Liz—a website where people could search by the cause they cared about or the product category and go directly to the seller’s website to make a purchase. This was meant to be a part-time endeavor, but within three weeks I had national press coverage and it took off from there. Small one-man companies to large corporations such as Gap and Sephora were involved with hundreds of articles in the media, thousands of dollars raised for charity, products created in my sister’s memory and over 300,000 people per month using the website, from almost every country in the world. It made a difference and created the legacy for her I so desperately wanted (and this was before social media).
I learned that even through the worst time in my life, and even though there were many setbacks with situations and people who let us down, really good things could happen. Starting and running that company in no way diminished my pain or my grief, but helping others and sharing her story gave me direction, purpose and a reason to get up in the morning. I look at what is happening now with COVID-19 and how people are coming together to support one another during what is a very dark time for people losing loved ones and their livelihood. Some are making and giving away masks, others are shopping for those who can’t and many are supporting local businesses by purchasing food to feed our first responders. And incredibly, companies who are hurting are going as far as to donate meals and in turn, those generous companies are getting attention on social media and in the press for their good deeds.
I had my own experience with this when I went to order food to feed our local police station on Easter. The local Mexican restaurant I wanted to use refused to let me pay, despite my many pleas. They didn’t do it for a pat on the back or any kind of attention—they just wanted to. In turn, the Sacramento Police Department took photos and did social media posts on all of their accounts,, including Next Door, thanking the family-owned business for their generosity. There were also two news stories by local outlets who were happy to cover the story. This has in no doubt inspired others to do the same, and in my own community residents have been continuing to feed our first responders with food from local establishments.
This is cause marketing and I can’t think of a better time for it. People making a difference. People supporting others. People giving even when it’s not convenient. I know what it’s like to be in a situation where no matter how many people are praying for you, no matter how much hope you have, you don’t get what you want. But it is the goodness of others that somehow pulls you through your darkest days and you never forget who they are and what they did.
(Here is a piece I wrote for Fox News in 2008 on creating a business to help others while managing the grief from losing my sister.)