Carey Fitzmaurice first painted her toes teal in 2007 as a way to wear the awareness color at the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s Annual Conference. “I didn’t own as much teal clothing then,” Carey recalls. A few weeks later, Carey painted her toes teal again in preparation for National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. At the school bus stop, other parents noticed the unusual color, sparking a series of conversations about the disease. “By the end of the week, all the moms had teal toes,” says Carey. “I realized this idea had legs.” Within a few months, a new nonprofit called Teal Toes was born.
Teal Toes uses the internet and social media to encourage people to paint their nails teal, with a goal of starting a conversation about ovarian cancer. Carey’s husband gave her the Teal Toes domain name as a Christmas present in 2007, and she joined Facebook in 2008 to further spread the word. She now posts daily on Facebook and Twitter, and recently joined Pinterest, a website that is “tailor-made for something like Teal Toes.” Carey uses the site to share photos of teal nail polishes, nail art and links to ovarian cancer organizations. “People always ask me for polish recommendations—it’s great to have one place where people can go and see what the different colors look like.”
Funds raised by Teal Toes cover the costs of printing and mailing ovarian cancer symptom cards, which the organization provides free of charge. The weeks leading up to September are some of the busiest of the year. “We’ve sent out 10,000 cards in the last three weeks alone,” Carey says. In addition to leaving cards at nail salons, doctors’ offices and gyms, some recipients leave them with the bill in a restaurant or tuck a card into a library book before returning it.
“I’ve heard from at least one bride whose mother had ovarian cancer that bought teal polish and gave it away as a favor at her wedding. Another woman’s son gave polish as a favor at his bar mitzvah.” Teal Toes has also worked with high schools and several sororities to host fundraisers for ovarian cancer. Carey often uses the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s Partner Member network to connect potential fundraisers with ovarian cancer groups in their local community.
One of the reasons Teal Toes became a Partner Member of the Alliance was for “access to high quality vetted expert information. I get a lot of questions about where to go to find out more about ovarian cancer,” says Carey, who often refers people to the Alliance website. She also appreciates the support offered by other Partner Members. “It’s so important to be able to bounce ideas off one another and get advice about how to handle an issue from groups that have dealt with the same problem.”
Five years after founding Teal Toes, Carey sees many people painting their nails, from survivors who want to raise awareness of the disease, to friends and family members who want to show support and solidarity. “Anyone can paint their toes teal,” she notes. “I’ve seen men paint just one toe teal. It’s a pretty color, but it’s nontraditional enough to start a conversation.”