Legacy: a term referring to a gift or something special left behind by someone of the past. Past: a term referring to a time that is now behind us. Who are these people? These people in the past? Leaving legacies for the living? Ancestors? Elderly people? Yes. But not always.
Nitalia Conti: age 12. She has a legacy. Along with thousands of other children that all leave behind legacies much sooner than they should. This is not a sad story about a child. This is a happy tribute to a brave girl: a daughter, a sister, an inspiration. A story about how one girl put on a brave face during the hardest of times and paved the way for hundreds of other children to fight the same fight with help and hope.
The Purple Society was born out of love and strength from one family. After Nitalia Conti was diagnosed with brain cancer, she became a warrior. At age 12, she spent much of her life in hospitals receiving harsh treatments and undergoing many surgeries. This was a healthy, developing, exceling 12-year-old, who came home from school with a headache that soon turned her life around.
Anthony Conti, Nitalia’s father, spoke so lovingly of his oldest daughter. “My wife and I are so proud of Nitalia. She exceled at life in every way. She was great in school, she played the violin and she had a heart of gold. At first we thought her headaches were from studying too hard. No one ever thinks their kid is going to have cancer.”
“We were regular parents who didn’t know anything about cancer,” Anthony said. “Through our experience with Nitalia, we quickly understood how broken our healthcare system is for children. We spent countless hours every day researching her disease and trying to find the right course of treatment. We had no help. We had no idea where to start or what to do. This journey took our breath away.”
After much personal research, the Contis found who they thought to be the greatest possible neurosurgeons for Nitalia at Barrow’s Neurological Institute in Phoenix. She also spent time at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Tennessee, which is currently the only non-profit hospital for children to receive treatment without being charged a dime for their care.
“There are hundreds of cancer foundations out there and we researched them all, but nothing gave us all the research we needed when we had nothing,” Anthony shared. “When your child is on life support and time is ticking, it’s impossible to write letters for grants and wait for responses of approval. During this period with Nitalia, our world stopped. Our world was condensed into a ten by ten room. Our world was stopped here, but the rest of the world was not. There were still bills to pay and other daughters to care for. We couldn’t hit pause to take care of our child. And this is the unfortunate reality for hundreds of thousands of other families. At that time, we were only focused on keeping our daughter alive. But through her, we soon realized that we needed to fix this for the other kids fighting just like her.”
Nitalia succumbed to her cancer three years after she was diagnosed and given a two month sentence on life. During those three years, she showed strength and courage every day. Half her body was paralyzed but she worked hard to play her violin again. She became a trailblazer in her quest to help other kids fight their battles too.
“She lived an amazing life,” her father shared. “She wanted to travel the world and we took her to Italy to see the Coliseum in Rome. She was so weak, I asked if she wanted me to carry her up all the stairs and she said, ‘No Dad, I can do it.’ We called her our purple gladiator since that was her favorite color and she was so tough fighting her own battle where the Roman gladiators once stood.
“Nitalia always wanted to see the other children at her hospitals and learn about their battles. That’s what created our foundation. The Purple Society is a place where families can get all the research they need without road blocks. They can have financial assistance. Because of Nitalia, we can give them hope. We wanted to name the society after her but she didn’t want to use her name because she said ‘Cancer is not about me. It’s about all the kids.’ We wanted our society to focus specifically on brain cancer, but she did not want us to exclude any child’s battles. With our marching orders from Nitalia, The Purple Society became a reality.”
While Nitalia was in her hospitals, she decided she wanted to get soft blankets for all the kids at St. Jude’s so they didn’t have to use the rough ones the hospital provided. Her family set out to gather up blankets and Nitalia handed them out to all the kids. This became her first project called Nitalia’s Blankets. The Purple Society has since given thousands of blankets to hospitals across the country for young cancer patients.
The Purple Society now features various programs offering all kinds of unique assistance to families in need, such as an extensive cancer research database, a worldwide clinical trial map, long-term apartments for families staying away from home, food deliveries and a special drug research application that Anthony created himself that even the doctors use!
“We can always use volunteers,” Anthony said. “There is always someone that needs help. We want to give other families the shoulder they need during the hardest time of their lives. I can still see Nitalia’s big beautiful brown eyes. I know she’d be proud of the legacy she left behind and the hundreds of kids she’s helped because of it.”
To learn more about The Purple Society, visit werpurple.org.
Written by: Rebecca Zaner
Rebecca Zaner has written many stories throughout the valley and enjoys having the ability to share community news, journeys and achievements. Holding a Bachelor of Music, Rebecca’s favorite place to be is the stage. Having been a singer all her life, Rebecca is now in pursuit of a professional performing career, singing opera and musical theatre (rebeccazaner.com). Also an avid photographer, Rebecca owns a photography business, Rebecca Kaye Photography (rebeccakayephoto.wix.com/rebeccakaye). She enjoys the natural beauty of Arizona and can be found spending her free time exploring and traveling with her family.