The Living for Liz organization has accomplished a lot since its inception in 2012. We’ve donated over $65,000 to lung cancer research, awareness and patient assistance programs. We’ve partnered with Gundersen and Mayo Health Systems in lung cancer initiatives. We’ve also co- sponsored the La Crosse area “Shine A Light on Lung Cancer” and have hosted three of our own fundraisers per year. Yet our greatest success lies in our ability to fuel the movement. We are proud to be a part of the growing number of organizations going against the grain to bring light to a disease that has been overlooked for far too long; organizations that are boldly speaking out to stop the stigma associated with lung cancer. We fight to bring equal awareness, education and funding to this disease, every day. This movement, the fight to be heard, is our greatest and on-going achievement.
And of course, it all started with one person, Elizabeth Melde. In September 2011 when Elizabeth was diagnosed, she quickly became an advocate for the disease. She became a voice of strength for others who, like her, knew “this isn’t ok.” And as she began her fight, an entire community gathered around her to take part. With the creation of the “Team Elizabeth” Facebook page, almost immediately hundreds of people gathered online to cheer her on – some posting pictures from all over the world wearing t-shirts that read “Cancer Schmancer” and “Livin’ for Liz”. By the end of the year, thousands of people had posted messages of love and hope. The Elizabeth Melde Benefit, thrown in support of Elizabeth and her husband Matt, had over 1,000 people in attendance and boasted both silent and live auctions, a wine tasting, ice sculptures, live music and more. Since the time of her diagnosis, it seemed every community member, news channel and local business had jumped in, ready to help without hesitation. And without even knowing it, we were laying the groundwork for the organization we are now. Shortly after Elizabeth passed, we adopted the Living For Liz name, and the heart emblem, designed for The Elizabeth Melde Benefit by Elizabeth’s cousin Kelly Morrison Shaw, became our organization’s identifying symbol.
“My first design attempts for the Living For Liz emblem were quite literal. Every design began and ended with a set of lungs. But none of those designs came close to capturing the overwhelming and continuous support that was pouring in from the surrounding communities, and in fact, from around the world. Families whose lives had never been touched by lung cancer still identified with Elizabeth’s strength and bravery while undergoing treatment. They saw in her something universal, something families had seen during their own bouts with disease – a fight, THE fight, to stay alive. Our family was going through this tremendous upheaval. And the response and subsequent mobilization of an entire community that was brought on by Elizabeth’s diagnosis was truly awe-inspiring. Elizabeth had started a movement by simply being herself. And I started to think about who she was, and how funny and kind and caring she was, and decided that her lungs were not what represented her. So then the question became: how could we represent both Elizabeth the individual and Elizabeth “the story”? Well, for one, she was all heart. And what is more universal than a heart?” Said Shaw when asked about her design.
And so off we went! And our heart emblem came with us, everywhere: T-shirts, websites, tattoos, billboards… the list goes on. To us, the heart was just as important as our name. It represented who we were and what we stood for. It represented Elizabeth and the fight we continued for her. It was our battle banner. However, as we continued to grow, we found it increasingly important to better identify ourselves with the lung cancer community as a whole. So, once created as a representation of Elizabeth and her fight with lung cancer, we have taken our beloved heart emblem and transformed it into a lung-focused logo with the tagline, “Living For Every Breath” in hopes of honoring the fight for every family and every patient whose lives have been uprooted by lung cancer.
“I never realized the impact the heart would have; how much it would come to mean for so many people.” Said Shaw. And neither did we. Our beloved heart has become more than a symbol. It has become synonymous with our movement. So we are even more proud to announce that we have turned our heart emblem into a keepsake necklace with the help of Designing Jewelers, with a portion of the proceeds going to lung cancer research and awareness. We approached Designing Jewelers to sponsor one of our events and learned that an owner lost a loved one at a young age to lung cancer as well. Our mission is close to their hearts, and we are able to continue producing the necklace because of Designing Jeweler’s shared commitment to this mission.
It is an exciting time for the Living For Liz organization as we refocus our local message to that of a national one. We are so proud of where we came from and how we started, and we are so excited for the journey ahead. And of course, as always, we thank the entire La Crosse and La Crescent communities for making this all possible. It was you who backed Team Elizabeth and then The Elizabeth Melde Benefit, and of course it is you currently supporting the Living For Liz organization. It was Elizabeth’s wish that we keep fighting the fight that she could no longer win and to be the advocates for this disease that she was not able to be. As we grow, we hope to continue to make our community and Elizabeth proud, and we will humbly remember our roots in the heart.
Please consider supporting the Living For Liz Organization by purchasing a heart keepsake necklace. The necklace is made of Sterling Silver and will we available soon. We are taking pre-orders now. Our hope is for the heart keepsake necklace sales to be a successful way to keep Elizabeth’s memory alive and to raise research funds for years to come.