OCEAN CITY – During a vacation, PJ Aldridge’s life turned upside down in a matter of days, but his life-altering encounter has transformed into a successful groundwork for the PJ Aldridge Foundation (PJAF).
In February of 2010, PJ Aldridge was visiting a friend in Costa Rica. His daily activities consisted of surfing and working on his friend’s fishing boat. He had a couple days off where he went further down the coast to visit some other friends from the states and to surf.
“I paddled out and got winded and it was just kind of odd because it wasn’t that far of a paddle,” Aldridge said. “I didn’t really think a lot about it … we had a great day that day.”
During the next day’s surfing trip, Aldridge’s breathing got worse and by the third day he could barely breathe. The following day he was on a plane on his way to San Jose when in mid-flight one of Aldridge’s lungs collapsed.
“I barely made it to San Jose,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge ended up in a hospital in Costa Rica for almost a week where he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
“He was told he had three months to live,” foundation co-founder and loyal friend Vera Taylor said.
When Aldridge returned home, he immediately entered the University of Maryland in Baltimore for treatment. He began on a “chemo drip” while waiting for the test results of whether his cancer was non-small or small cell.
“Fortunately the kind [of cancer] that I have allows me to take a pill [Tarceva] and I have been on that ever since,” Aldridge said.
According to the prescription’s website, Tarceva is prescribed for patients with advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer whose cancer has not spread or grown after initial treatment with certain types of chemotherapy. Tarceva shrinks the tumor until hopefully it is non-existent.
“When we were at the hospital and he was being discharged, one of things they said to us was he can believe he has three months to live and think negatively or he could walk out thinking positive,” Taylor said. “I say 50 percent of attitude and 20 percent of nutrition and exercise, so we own 70 percent of it.”
In May of 2010, Aldridge and Taylor attended a charity event and on the drive home they discussed the possibility of a foundation of their own.
“PJ didn’t want others to have to go through what he had,” Taylor said. “We said we need to do something about this.”
Through research, they found that lung cancer is the highest diagnosed cancer of all and the least funded for research and awareness. Taylor also pointed out that Aldridge’s cancer is not caused from smoking and there are other causes of lung cancer besides smoking. There were different options, such as raising money and donating to other lung cancer foundations, but Taylor found administrative fees are involved in that process.
“I didn’t want to pay someone’s salary I want to pay for lung cancer,” Taylor said. “So we started a foundation and through the amount of people that love and adore him [Aldridge] everyone kind of rallied together.”
The PJAF has recently donated $150,000 to Dr. Martin Edelman, Professor of Medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the Solid Tumor Oncology Greenebaum Cancer Center. Edelman leads the team in research for lung cancer. Less than 2% of the dollars donated go to administrative fees, which PJAF firmly believes is critical.
Later this summer Aldridge and Taylor are heading to California to raise awareness on the west coast. They will attend an in-store event at a retail store called “The Club” and PJAF will be introduced by well-known fashion designer, Robert Graham, which is also Aldridge’s favorite designer and pretty much all he wears. During his time in California, Aldridge will also play golf at Pebble Beach Golf Club with Graham and Ralph Lauren.
One of the most exciting events that has recently happened for the foundation was Aldridge and Taylor were invited to join a filming of a Oprah Winfrey show. The show had responded to a letter Taylor had submitted explaining why Aldridge is a hero. Upon arriving they were surprised to find the theme of that day’s show was “Oprah’s Favorite Things”, which is one of her most famous shows where she gives millions of dollars’ worth of gifts away to her audience.
“I had never won anything in my life except a 50/50 raffle, and I won $7.50 and I donated it back,” Taylor said. “We researched what other people were doing with it [winnings], and we are doing something that nobody has ever done and that is raffling the entire package off.”
To raise money for lung cancer research and awareness, the PJAF is raffling off all of their winnings from the Oprah Winfrey show. The prizes include an iPad, Sparkling UGG boots, $1,000 Nordstorm gift card, Dana Rebecca diamond earrings, a 10-piece Le Creuset collection, and the best of all, a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.
Taylor explained that Oprah had paid all taxes on the prizes so PJAF will pay it forward by doing the same for the raffle winner. They expect to hold their on Aug. 31 and the beetle is expected to arrive by September.
“Our goal was that it would launch and people would buy raffle tickets like crazy,” Taylor said. “We are really trying to figure out how to launch it more … we have gotten what it’s worth but we were hoping to do a lot more with it.”
Aldridge said that through everyone’s prayers and positive thoughts he is certain that “PJ’s Favorite Things from Oprah Raffle” will take off. In first developing PJAF, he and Taylor joked they would be on Oprah one day. It just goes to show the unimaginable is possible.
“There are other things coming our way we just haven’t seen them yet,” Aldridge said. “They’re there, it’s coming, and it’s just a matter of when. If we keep working and trying hard, it’s going to happen.”
Aldridge has not been able to surf since his time spent in Costa Rica but continues to live a normal and inspirational life by building his successful real estate career through Holiday Real Estate and golfing as much as possible. He is currently tumor free and the cancer has not spread.
“This last year has really been a great ride but I told her [Taylor] wherever we go it’s together through thick and thin, it’s been great,” he said. “I am very blessed. My mom helps me and we have a great team at Holiday that helps us out. We are very lucky.”
To support Aldridge and the PJAF you can join his Facebook page, Pray for PJ, which has close to 3,500 followers, or visit www.pjaf.org. The foundations website contains more information on Aldridge’s story, his personal blog, fundraisers, events, and even videos. There is also information about “PJ’s Favorite Things from Oprah Raffle”, including a video of the prizes, and the sale of raffle tickets.