It all began with the personal efforts of Joan Hunt, a British pensioner who lives on the Costa del Sol, but the Fundación Cuidados del Cáncer (Cudeca) has become one of the most important charitable projects in Andalucía. With nearly 1,000 volunteers and more than 1,300 patients a year, its manager and medical director, Marisa Martín, says Cudeca is "doing well" at the moment with healthy accounts and the imminent opening of a training centre for palliative care.
As a professional, what do you need to treat patients with a terminal illness?
The first thing you need is vocation, and also competence. You have to prepare yourself. Palliative care is not a secondary area of medicine; it is a new discipline which requires constant training. You do need something special. When you start being interested in health as a possible profession you imagine yourself curing people, but here there is no cure. We try to improve people's day-to-day life and control the problems that arise, but the illness is irreversible.
Cudeca began because of the love between the founder, Joan Hunt, and her husband, didn't it?
Yes, it did. Joan is a very special person. Even while suffering the pain of losing her husband and being left on her own, she turned that pain into something positive, into a tribute to him. Despite being over 60, she decided to work with people who are suffering from terminal illness. I looked after her husband, which is why she asked me to become involved in the project. I told her it would be very difficult to obtain all the resources needed for something like this, but Joan has always had every faith in people's generosity and commitment.
How did she convince you?
She always used to tell me that people would support us if we made them believe in the project, that we had to do everything well so they knew that Cudeca could be a reality and would help a great many people.
It's not an easy road.
The greatest successes are usually associated with difficult personal stories, and Joan's is certainly that. She suffered an illness as a child and had to spend a great deal of time in hospital, and in a way that made her strong when problems occurred in her life. She lived through the Second World War and had to look after the family when she was a young girl because her mother died. We didn't even know about some of these stories, we only found out when we persuaded her to let us publish a biography about her. She doesn't like talking about herself. I'm telling you all this to show that things don't happen by accident.
Are you aware that Cudeca has become one of the most important solidarity projects in Andalucía?
I believe that is because we insist on transparency. People's solidarity has to be backed by clarity in the associations. We always say that Cudeca has the soul of an NGO but the structure of a company. It has to, to ensure that everything works as it should.
Now that, sadly, doubts have been raised again about some charitable initatives, what guarantees should this type of project offer?
As many as possible. As a foundation, we come under the umbrella of the Junta de Andalucía. We present our accounts every year. We also have a board of sponsors who monitor our work and we provide them with reports. We do two audits a year, on finances and on good practice and transparency in management. All the information is available on our website for anyone who is interested, and of course our volunteers can access it whenever they like. Cudeca has an open-door policy. And the employees and volunteers, who see how Cudeca works on a daily basis, are guarantors for our way of operating.
What role do the volunteers play in the foundation?
They are everything. Cudecawouldn't exist without them. We have different types of volunteer: they can accompany patients, or they can help us with administrative tasks or trying to raise the funds we need to pay our expenses. Our main source of income is from the second-hand shops, and each one of those needs on average between 30 and 40 volunteers.
Supporting patients' families is also important for Cudeca.
The patients often accept their situation before their families, and the pain of seeing a loved one suffer is even worse than their own suffering. Families need to be supported, because in the end it is they who look after the patient most. They need practical advice, monitoring, emotional assistance... patients often want to die at home, but it is difficult if the family isn't given proper advice. That's why the home assistance teams are important.
What is Cudeca's next challenge?
Every year we start from zero. In 2016 we were able to pay for everything, but now we have to raise funds again in order to finance the assistance we provide this year. Everyone who would like to help us can do so in their own way. Unlike some charities, Cudeca isn't funded by a few large donations, but by small amounts of money from a great many people.