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Interview with Michaela Fridrichová, President of the League Against Cancer Prague

Sponsors Are Afraid to Be Associated With Cancer

Our society is healthy and aware of the need to help others, yet, according to Michaela Fridrichová, it is necessary to address the public repeatedly and by new means. What does the League do, and what issues is it focusing on right now?

Dear President, the League Against Cancer was one of the first non-profit organizations founded in our modern history. Most people associate it with its symbolic yellow flowers. Are the flowers still the main symbol of the League?

The League Against Cancer Prague has a logo in the shape of a shamrock, symbolizing the three main pillars of our activities. One leaf symbolizes science and research, the second one represents the lives of oncological patients, and the third leaf stands for the promotion of the prevention of oncological diseases. Below the leaves you can see our name – The League Against Cancer Prague. The truth is that for many people, the main symbol of the League is a yellow flower of Marigold, which represents the fund-raising campaign on the Czech Day Against Cancer. I am glad that as a helping organization we are connected to a healing plant.

Every year, you focus on one area during May Day. This year, you decided on oncological diseases of reproduction organs. Why?

Every year, we concentrate on the promotion of possible prevention of one oncological disease. Of course, we choose the diseases which are preventable. I mean those diseases which may be caused by a certain life-style or behavior. What we promote is a timely secondary prevention, because the primary prevention – e.g. vaccination – is possible only for a few diseases. For this year, we decided on the issue of oncological diseases of reproduction organs. It is quite a big issue, so we limited the topic to cervix tumors and other tumors of the vagina, and we briefly mentioned tumors of the ovaries. Regarding men, we focused on testicle tumors, which is not such a common disease, but affects mainly young men between the ages of 18-40. A questionnaire survey conducted by a very capable young female student from Liberec revealed that out of 300 young men, as many as 71% never heard about this disease, and never read any informational materials about it. The rest of the data was similarly sad. It is a disease curable in 95% of people, but it may be fatal as well. Ectocervix tumors are mostly diagnosed in young women.

How can it be prevented?

In this case, real primary prevention means the vaccination of young girls and women against certain types of human papillomaviruses. These papillomaviruses are proved to be able to induce cancer, and vaccination against them can decrease the occurrence of disease by 70%. The ideal time for vaccination is before the first contact between the cervical mucous membrane and virus; it is suitable for young girls aged 13-14. This vaccination is covered by health insurance. Internationally, it is recommended to vaccinate young boys against the same viruses, with the aim of reducing the risk of spreading disease to their partners. The protection of young people is very important, maybe the most important of all our efforts. Children are our hope for the future, and without them there is no future for families or communities.

Was there ever a moment during the 25-year history of the League when you considered quitting these activities? After all, newer organizations have come.

I don´t think non-profit organizations compete much, they rather cooperate. If they are not supported by a really big foundation, their work is very difficult, and getting new voluntary workers is harder than you may think. I can´t speak for the Professor, but in my case there was never a moment during those 5 years when I thought of quitting. The number of oncological patients is growing, people need the information. We are not alone, our organization belongs among the World and European leagues against cancer, although we don´t have any state support, nor any big foundation sponsoring our activities. However, through our work over many years, we have kind of cultivated our own public space, so that it is generally accepted that we do common voluntary work, and our charitable activities are normal.

How much did the work of charities in our country change after DMS, i.e. donors sms messages, were introduced?

I don´t see any difference in the work of charities. For many people DMS is a very comfortable and easy way of contributing.

There are many organizations in the Czech Republic which focus on the support of oncological patients. How can we know if they are trustworthy?

I think that Good Angel and similar organizations are trustworthy. Moreover, every organization has their annual report with an overview of their income, expenditures, donors, and contributors. There you can easily see how the organization works.

Is today´s society more inclined to help than at the time of the League´s foundation?

I am afraid that society is inundated with fund-raising organizations, and real or fake volunteers, who stop passers-by for one good thing or another. Society is tired of this, stressed by the international situation, local conditions, and the never ending pressure for “charity”, which often plays a role of a substitute for our health system, as well as state and other institutions. Generally, our society is healthy, it is aware of the need to help others. I don´t think the situation is getting worse, but the financial possibilities of people are changing.

The League concentrates in three areas. First, there is the prevention of oncological diseases, and education about healthy lifestyles. Are strong stories still helping to educate people, or do you have to come up with new ways of education?

We are not necessarily looking for strong stories; it is really tricky to tell the story of a patient and his or her family. Of course, we try to address society repeatedly and by new means, but we also respect the privacy of patients. We prefer working with friendly media, and with their help we try new ways of prevention and education about healthy lifestyles.

Another area you focus on is in improving the quality of life of oncological patients. What concretely can you do in this respect?

We try to provide patients with various information, organize and co-finance rehabilitation and re-fitness stays for 4 or more days, we help our patients raise funds, and we run a “tumor” phone hotline – an information service for patients and family members or other people to discuss their problems with oncological professionals. Of course, we reply to email enquiries and have our webpage for the public, as well as our Facebook page, etc. Social networks are the future of our projects, as you are not able to address the young generation anywhere else. We miss more helping hands.

The last area is the support for oncological research and equipment for oncological centers. These must be the most costly, right?

Every year we use our funds to support various projects of research centers that apply for co-financing from the League. If the project is interesting from an oncological research standpoint, or a basic research point of view, we try to grant a request. Unfortunately, there is not enough money for all projects, as we are not able to provide 2-3 million CZK and thus substitute the role of the Grant Agency. We strive to help health care institutions with purchasing special aids for radiotherapy, or for example the pumps for chemotherapy. We always choose such things that make the lives of oncological patients easier, or improve the conditions of treatments and so on. We also try to help hospices, and if their requests are reasonable we help. We may not provide money for salaries. There is never enough money but we try to minimize the cost of the League´s operations as much as possible, and we account for every single crown.

What projects is the League preparing right now?

Currently, we have started a Travelling Exhibition to seven Czech and Moravian towns. Every year we try to visit new towns and interactively bring the parents and children to read the information and take part in our competitions, and thus teach them something in an interesting way. New panels bring updated information on the main oncological diagnoses, and at least one day we provide the visitors with dermatology services, where they can get their skin checked, and if necessary get advice on how to further proceed for treatment. At the beginning of autumn, a patients´ assembly will take place, this time for two days. It is possible to meet the representatives of patients´ clubs, and exchange our experience and ideas. For December, we are preparing a Christmas concert.

Do you appreciate higher donations than the minimum of 20 CZK for your flowers?

Well, we set the minimum price per flower, not the maximum (laughter). We have sponsors who contribute regularly, we have donation agreements, you can deduct donations from your tax, and we never refuse good cooperation!

Is it complicated to win favor with bigger donors? What is the most difficult part of it?

The biggest problem is addressing potential sponsors. They are mostly not interested in our issues, or they are afraid of them. For them, it is neither an honour nor a pleasure to sponsor the League´s activities, as they are afraid to be connected (although just verbally) with cancer. This is the difference when compared to other European countries where sponsoring of such activities is common among big companies.

What do you enjoy most in your work as a head of the League?

Cooperation with a great small creative team of people, who work to make the League run like clockwork, even 26 years after its foundation.

Who do you think is a true leader?

This is actually a very difficult question. For me, the international leader is Pope Francis. If only one-half of humankind used the same common sense, there would be no wars or poverty. If the other half of humankind had his heart, the world would become a paradise. In our country, I see a leader in the incredible but neglected personality of Professor Erazim Kohák. For him, the same holds true as for the Pope. His view of the world, of history, of moral principles, and his wide scope, deep knowledge, common sense and all-understanding of humanity make him an astounding personality! It is a pity that we don´t have more opportunities to hear his opinions.      

By: Jaroslav Kramer in cooperation with Czech Leaders Magazine  


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