Culture December 1st, 2016

Overcoming Cancer Through Mind, Body And Sole

Every day our paths cross the blurred faces of strangers. We see them only for a second and then carry on with our lives.

With the birth of Zappos’ #ImNotABox campaign in 2015, we started challenging ourselves to look at the world and people with a new perspective. We want to stop seeing individuals as “boxes” or whatever labels we were creating for them in our mind. We wanted to start recognizing people, specifically our customers, for their incredible stories that make them who they are in the world. Everybody has a story to share — each one so unique.

This particular story is one that is full of life, love, loss, community and more. Sometimes the most powerful stories are the hardest to tell, so it’s best that we break this one into parts.

Their Story

On Valentine’s Day of 2015, Luis Aguilar passed away from a four-year battle with bone cancer. He was only 22.

Luis was known for his passion for life and people, his love of music, his giving heart and his loving relationship with a girl named McKendree.

Everybody knew Luis for the positivity and spirit he carried with him at all times, no matter the conditions of his health. Unfortunately, his cancer had reached a severity that was beyond medical help in his native country. Born, raised and living in Honduras, Luis was soon transferred to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis to seek treatment.

It was here where Luis met McKendree, who was also a patient at St. Jude’s fighting thyroid cancer. They shared a deep love for life and music and, together, they built an incredible friendship and relationship as they fought their battles.

They would play guitar and sing in hospital rooms, sharing their talents and positivity with the other children who were fighting similar struggles. They even went on to perform regularly at hospital events where they touched the lives of the people around them.

Luis had always adored a pair of red Lacoste sneakers. When he had first arrived in Memphis, he had spotted them at the mall and wanted them so badly. But his family couldn’t afford to get them at the time due to medical costs.

During his treatment, doctors had found a tumor in his leg that had to be removed, and possibly the leg itself. On the day of surgery, Luis’ family surprised him with a pair of those red Lacoste shoes that meant so much to him, even if he could only wear one.

Miraculously, Luis was able to keep his leg after the surgery. From that day forward, he never went anywhere without those shoes. He even wore them hang gliding during his Make-A-Wish request.

While the world has lost an incredible young man, Luis is more alive than ever. He always said, “Where there is a pulse, there is a purpose.” It’s very clear and apparent that his life has left a permanent impact on the community around him. There’s still so much to learn from Luis and the legacy that he continues to leave behind.

Despite the emotional and physical battles that McKendree has fought for the last year, she has fortunately survived her thyroid cancer. To be medically cleared, however, she must be in remission for five years. With each passing day, she is on her way to a cancer-free life.

Upon graduating high school in 2015, McKendree has kicked off her next chapter in life at Rhodes College in Memphis where she’s studying to be premed. She continues to share the story of Luis with others and to lead an inspiring and positive life with those around her.


Our connection here at Zappos began with one simple phone call made by McKendree’s mother, Susan. She had called to place an order for several pairs of red sneakers for friends and family to wear at Luis’ funeral.

A day later, Teri, a Customer Loyalty Team member, randomly selected the call while conducting quality checks. Overhearing Susan’s situation resonated deeply with Teri, and she felt like we could do more to help. Teri made a call to Susan letting her know that her order would receive expedited shipping and that Zappos would cover the full cost of the shoes.

Susan was blown away by Teri’s phone call and customer service, and the two have made an everlasting connection since.

Meanwhile, we had just begun our journey on the THINK team, focusing on experiential campaigns. Whether it’s looking at our literal Zappos box, our customers or our company as a whole, we wanted to start thinking more creatively and humanely. As a first step, we knew we wanted to learn more about our customers.

We soon set up a meeting with one of the call center supervisors and quickly learned about Teri’s call with Susan. She elaborated a little bit more on the background of Susan, McKendree and Luis. As soon as we heard the story, we were blown away. We knew we had to do something, whether or not it served our new team’s purpose.

We learned as much as we could about this ill-fated story. The more we uncovered, the more our hearts fell in love with this family. After months of preparation and building a foundation of trust, we brainstormed several ideas to surprise them. We knew that we wanted to celebrate Luis’ life with the family, thank them for their spirit and positivity through everything, celebrate and congratulate McKendree for her graduation, and to reignite her passion for music. Whether that was flying to Memphis or bringing the family here to Las Vegas, it was happening.

The Surprise

During Father’s Day weekend we decided to fly Susan, McKendree and more than ten of her family members and friends to Las Vegas for a worry-free vacation, completely covered by Zappos. (Unfortunately, Luis' immediate family members were unable to attend.) We had them stay on the Strip, visit the High Roller, see LOVE by Cirque du Soleil, and left spaces in their itinerary to relax and enjoy their time.

On the Tuesday night of their trip, we put together a small event to celebrate the life of Luis with McKendree and her guests. The group had such a bonded community in Memphis that a few more of their friends, including the CIO of St. Jude’s, decided to pay for their own plane tickets to fly out and support them in honor of Luis.

The purpose of the event wasn’t to only celebrate Luis but to show McKendree how big of a positive impact she’s had on our company and local community.

We kicked off the night with a drum circle, stomp team and tap dancers, and put on a surprise open mic event with some performances that related to pieces of Luis and McKendree’s story.

For instance, we learned when the two first met they had to do the chicken dance, so we had a mariachi band from a nearby high school perform that very song. We also had our Zappos dance team learn the Honduran Punta dance.

Because we were moved by the couple's passion for music, we donated a collection of red instruments for McKendree to give to the St. Jude’s hospital in Honduras. We also were able to get in touch with one of her favorite bands, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, from Tennessee to send over a video dedicated to McKendree, as well as a signed guitar to continue pursuing her passion for music.

It was an emotional yet remarkable night and week getting to celebrate Luis. Whether his pulse lives on through music, his story, McKendree or those red Lacoste shoes, Luis brings a great purpose to those who are blessed to know his story.

#OperationRedShoes has continued to unfold over the last few years. Luis and McKendree's story have triggered a pulse in both their community and ours. In an effort to raise awareness about finding hope and positivity in childhood pediatric cancer, we wear red shoes in honor of Luis. Join us or follow the pulse at #OperationRedShoes.