Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s VP of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, will today unveil a new cancer charity, The Follicular Lymphoma Foundation, after being diagnosed with the incurable disease three years ago.
Mendelsohn aims to help the foundation raise $20 million in its first three years to support research, raise awareness and help patient communities establish support networks for the disease, which she describes as “very underfunded.” Follicular Lymphoma is estimated to affect more than 19,000 people in the U.K. and more than 170,000 in the U.S., although there are no worldwide figures.
Launching on the third anniversary of her diagnosis, the charity is backed by a campaign including billboards in Times Square and London’s Piccadilly Circus, created with photographer Rankin and agency The&Partnership. Mendelsohn herself plays a prominent role—a close-up of her face is used to show the a portion of the lymphatic system, depicted in purple veins.
The campaign takes inspiration from the purple dye used to view cancer cells under a microscope, and includes a bespoke shade of purple that has been recognized by Pantone.
“The campaign takes the selfie idea and makes it part of something as opposed to an entitled act of narcissism,” says Rankin. “Nicola is someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, so for her to do it literally is incredibly evocative and for me it really brings home the idea that anyone can be struck by anything at any time.”
As part of the campaign, people will be able to apply an Instagram filter to show the purple veins on their own faces and help create awareness of the disease. The filter was created by Myreality.design, a Paris-based company specializing in building engaging AR experiences on social media.
The idea is to “reveal” what can often be a hidden condition. “One of the challenges of the disease is that it’s invisible—you look well,” Mendelsohn explains. “For example I had chemotherapy but I didn’t lose my hair, so people don’t always believe that you are that ill.”
“Launching a charity was the last thing on my mind when I was diagnosed with this,” she adds. “At first people told me not to worry and that they would find a cure and, being an optimist, I believed them. However, the more I learned about it, it became clear that the disease was very underfunded. People just hadn’t heard of it, even in the science communities. If you’re a medical researcher, why would you devote your career to something you’ve never heard of?”
At the moment, information about the disease is “hidden away at the bottom of websites about cancer,” says Mendelsohn, who received treatment last year, and later revealed that her tumors have shrunk.
Mendelsohn, a former Ad Age Woman to Watch, worked for agencies including Karmarama, Grey and BBH before joining Facebook in 2013, Mendelsohn describes the moment she decided to put her own expertise into helping with the disease: “I was at a lymphoma conference in New York and was told it just needs more money and more fame. I have spent my life in marketing, and I thought, maybe I can use the connections that I have?”
The charity will have a scientific advisory board and will aim to advance new treatments with funding. It also aims to help those with the disease “live well.” There is no cure for Follicular Lymphoma, although some patients can live up to 20 years with the disease.