An Entire Town Painted Itself Purple Overnight for the Sweetest Reason

When a rare muscle cancer took the life of a young girl, her town responded—in a big way.

purplebowThom Friend/ShutterstockIn 2009, when doctors first found the cancer, Lyla started nearly a year of treatment. “You realize how fragile your life is,” says her dad, Bill Bogardus. “You go from being a normal family to one thrown in the world of cancer.”

Her age group had an 81 percent will beat cancer for at least five years without a relapse, according to the NIH. A year of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation was successful—until 2011, when another tumor was found. Remission cut down Lyla’s chance of survival to 10 percent, says Bogardus.

The North Branford, Connecticut, girl went through more treatment. “We did a cutting-edge treatment, and it seemed to have worked,” says Bogardus. For two years, Lyla “did all the things a normal kid would do,” like joining Girl Scouts and playing basketball, he says.

But on Lyla’s last day of first grade, the cancer came back again.

“She’s looking forward to summer and is getting off the bus, and we told her that day because we had to immediately get set up for surgery,” says her dad. “It basically rips your summer away.”

The entire town was devastated about the news of the rising second grader’s diagnosis. At the high school’s 2014 homecoming football game, a parade of kids marched the field and fireworks went off in honor of Lyla. The school district and the Girl Scouts put on raffle fundraisers to raise money for Lyla’s treatment. Find more loving ways to support someone with cancer.

Meanwhile, because Lyla couldn’t make it to school very often, her second-grade teacher put a stuffed cheetah in her seat. Her friends would take the cheetah everywhere, treating it like a classmate, says Bogardus. “When [Lyla] came in, she would hang out with the cheetah, and it was her connection to her class,” he says.

Treatment was tough, but Lyla stayed strong. “She could tolerate treatment pretty much without complaining,” says her dad, even though “she would throw up three times a day every day for a month.”

Sadly, Lyla passed away on Christmas in 2016 at nine years old.

The mourning color of Lyla’s funeral was unique: purple. “She would have hated black,” says her dad.

Even the town wore purple in Lyla’s honor. Loved ones gave away free bows for residents to display. “Literally every telephone pole from our house to the funeral home had a purple bow on it,” says Bogardus.

Throughout the month after Lyla’s death, residents continued showing their support with purple ribbons on mailboxes, lamp posts, trees, and more. Windows glowed purple with colored bulbs the school district sold. The town Christmas tree put on purple lights. The high school hockey team played a “purple out” game, encouraging guests to dress in Lyla’s favorite color. Loved ones swapped their Facebook pictures out with a “Love for Lyla” image.

“As much as cancer is a terrible thing, the silver lining is you get to feel the love and support of people,” says Bogardus. “It’s not a thing a lot of people will feel in their life.”

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.