Despite years of fighting, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death in Luxembourg. Overall, about one third of annual deaths are due to cancer. The fight against the disease continues. Investing in research, providing financial and psychological support to those affected and as well as their relatives, and developing information campaigns, Fondation Cancer is committed to ending the taboo on cancer and improving the lives of the sick.
In 2019 Banque Raiffeisen will once again take part in Relais pour la Vie. In addition to this, it will launch a solidarity and fundraising action at its headquarters in Leudelange.
This year, Fondation Cancer celebrates its 25th anniversary. Reason enough to invite Ms. Lucienne Thommes, director of Fondation Cancer for an interview.
Why was Fondation Cancer founded and what is its purpose?
“Our main goal is that less and less people in Luxembourg suffer from cancer. In addition, we want to increase the quality of life of people with cancer as much as possible. For this reason, our activities are divided into three main tasks:
Inform: We want to make the public aware of the problem and help them to reduce their cancer risk (for example through information campaigns). We also want to provide those affected with the information they need (for example, information about medicines and their side effects).
Help: We have 4 psycho-oncologists and a nurse who take care of the psychological care of affected persons and their relatives. The goal is that these people learn to deal with their illness and the general situation after their diagnosis. We also help with practical problems when a person has problems for example with health insurance or wants to get a wig. We also help when it comes to financial matters.
Research: Cancer research is very important to us. Since the organization was founded we have invested more than €12 million in research. This includes both the research here in Luxembourg but also the financial support of Luxembourg scientists abroad. For example, we are currently funding scholarships from 3 postdoctoral researchers specializing in clinical research.”
How can I participate?
“Without our volunteers, we would not be able to carry out all our actions. This is why we are always very happy when volunteers sign up. We differentiate between 4 types of volunteers:
"Administrative" volunteer: This is the "simplest form" of volunteering. You can participate by carrying out pure administrative work (enveloping or preparing the mailing, etc.).
"Project" volunteer: When it comes to this type of voluntary work, the volunteer helps during the planning and carrying out of a specific project. People who sign up for this are subject to internal training depending on the topic and then join us in the various projects. (for example Mission Nichtrauchen, Foodlab, ...)
"Patient" volunteer: This is definetly the type of voluntary work that asks for the most commitment. After training, volunteers visit cancer patients once a week in the hospital, help the cancer patients, or talk to them while they wait for their chemotherapy. This takes about half a day a week, so volunteers have to be committed.
"Relais pour la Vie" volunteer: This includes the entire organization of the project, starting about half a year before the event. This event requires a lot of preparatory work, be it in terms of logistics, animations, reception, workshops or other aspects. We always need people who are committed. An event as like this would not be possible without volunteers.“
How did you come up with the idea of Relais pour la Vie?
“We have been organizing Relais pour la Vie for 14 years now. The original idea comes from the USA from the American Cancer Society. We thought it was a great idea and therefore adopted it. Today it is a global movement with events in the US, Europe and other countries worldwide.”
How does Relais pour la Vie work?
“The most important thing is certainly the date of enrollment (about three months prior to the event). In total, 375 teams can enroll and most of the places are taken after a few minutes.
The captain of the team gradually receives more information, which he then passes on to his team.
There will be an opening ceremony on the day itself. In addition to a few speeches, cancer patients, ex-patients and so called caregivers are also given the opportunity to tell their story. For example, last year we had a mother of four who told us how her life changed when her husband got cancer. This is always a very emotional moment with sometimes very personal stories.
Then we start with the Survivor Caregiver round, the first round of the relais. This round is done by (former) cancer patients and the people who take care of them. The whole arena applauds and some tears are shed.
In the following hours, it is the teams turn to run their rounds.
Another very nice and emotional moment is the cérémonie des bougies. During the relais you can buy a candle on which you can leave a message for a cancer patient. These candles are then distributed in the Coque and lit at 17pm. The remaining lighting is then turned off, creating a very special atmosphere. During a minute of silence, all cancer patients are commemorated.”
Can I also come to Relais pour la Vie if I do not participate at running?
“Of course. There are always different events organized around the arena (workshops, information stands, Panneau de Solidarité). This year, we will have an original Cancer Research Lab with the help of University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) and Fond national de recherche (FNR). Here everyone can get an impression of cancer research and get explanations on how it all works directly from scientists.
Someone who has never been to Relais pour la Vie should come by in any case. It is worth it! There is always a very special atmosphere. I can say from experience that you want to be there every year thereafter. It's just a very special event that gives hope, even if it's a sad topic, of course.”
Do you have a special anecdote that you remembered?
“Oh, there are so many. That makes it really difficult to pick just one story. All stories touch you a lot, especially if you can identify well with the person.
For example, there was a young woman in her late 20s who, because of her cancer, cannot have children.
I also always find the survivor caregivers particularly emotional because these people stand up with courage and say "yes I have cancer, but I'm here and I join in!" This shows people that life goes on despite cancer. Life goes on, just different.
All in all, it's nice to know that when you drive to work in the morning, you make a difference and really help people.”
Presentation Lucienne Thommes
Lucienne Thommes is a general practitioner and has been working for Fondation Cancer since 2010. Since 2016 she has the position of director.