Health & Family

Duke building lights are part of Purple Promise

The Duke Energy building will be lit in purple Monday night to remember a Charlotte woman whose death from skin cancer spurred friends and family members to launch a battle against the disease.

David Hodgkins, president of the Purple Promise Foundation, said he hopes the purple light will illuminate the need for people to protect themselves against the disease that took his daughter’s life six years ago.

“Purple was Jessica’s favorite color, and we made a promise to her that we would work to prevent others from contracting melanoma,” Hodgkins said.

Jessica Hodgkins-Dovi graduated from Providence Day School and then from UNC Chapel Hill in 1999. She married, moved to the Washington area and attended graduate school at Catholic University.

In August 2007, at a family party for her father’s 60th birthday at Hilton Head Island, S.C., Hodgkins-Dovi detected swelling on her neck. A dermatologist found a tumor in the middle of her head.

“It was already stage 3 or 4 melanoma,” David Hodgkins said. “When you get to that level, it’s not good.”

Surgery removed the tumor and more than 140 lymph nodes. “They thought they got it all, but you know how that goes,” her father said. Jessica underwent chemotherapy, but the cancer spread.

Also during the family gathering in 2007, Jessica announced that she was pregnant. Her son, Matthew, was born Dec. 13, 2007, blind and 11 weeks premature. He is now 6 and living with his father in Charlotte.

David Hodgkins and his wife, Donna, started the Purple Promise Foundation in early 2008, and Jessica was the first board member. But Jessica died April 24, 2008, at age 30.

Guy Forcucci, whose daughter Dena was a schoolmate of Jessica’s, was a close friend of David Hodgkins. Forcucci said Hodgkins withdrew from the world for a few months after Jessica died. “I kept calling, but it took a while for him to call back,” Forcucci said.

“There’s nothing worse than losing a child,” Hodgkins said.

But several months after Jessica died, Hodgkins called Forcucci. The two decided to get the foundation growing. They built a board of directors and began holding fundraising events.

“We’re a small foundation, but we’ve been trying to help – to put our money in places where it can have an impact,” Hodgkins said.

They awarded a $25,000 grant to Carolinas Medical Center doctors who say they are making progress on breakthrough treatments of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. But the foundation also concentrates on prevention.

Hodgkins said more than 1.4 million new cases of melanoma are detected each year, and someone dies of the disease every hour in the United States. Using sunscreen and wearing a hat are considered the best ways of protecting yourself from melanoma, but being screened regularly by a dermatologist also is important.

Forcucci said the Purple Promise Foundation recently awarded $25,000 to the Girl Scouts of the Washington, D.C., area to hold a summer sun safety camp. The group would like to do the same in the Charlotte area.

Board members approached Duke Energy officials late last year about having the company bathe the uptown building in purple one night, and Duke approved doing that on May 5.

“A number of friends and family members will gather somewhere, to watch and remember,” Hodgkins said.

“We don’t want anyone else to go through what Dave and Donna did – to find out in the same week that you’re becoming grandparents but also learn you might be losing a child,” Forcucci said.