Fighting cancer one plastic flower at a time

IMG_0314Each year on May 13, the people of Prague bloom with yellow daisy-like flowers and white ribbons. In the subway stations, organizations like Junák, the Czech Boy Scout equivalent, sell faux yellow flowers pinned against white ribbons to passersby for 20 CZK, or less than $1, each. Before noon, it seems at least one in every 10 people has the quarter-sized yellow blossoms pinned onto a shirt, jacket or purse.

The spontaneous appearance of the yellow flowers is the result of the efforts of the League Against Cancer Prague. Founded in April 1990, the League has a 25-year history of, according to its website, “a reduction in deaths from malignant tumors in the Czech Republic.”

The League acts against cancer mainly by aiming to prevent it, and it does so through multiple awareness-based events that border on the size of festivals. Each day in autumn, the League visits eight or nine towns in the Czech Republic, such as Kolín, Mladá Boleslav or Hodonín. The people who live in those towns, according to League vice chairman Iva Kurcová, see and enjoy performances by local musicians and dancers. Dermatologists and oncologists are on site for check-ups and to answer questions, and there are also games for children and quizzes for adults to make learning about cancer prevention as engaging as possible. “With the quizzes and the games, there are prizes for everyone who participates,” Kurcová said. “That way, everyone wins.”

The League funds these awareness events primarily through sales of the daisy-like yellow flowers, which are calendulas. “In places like Australia they have a day against cancer, where they use daffodils,” Kurcová said, “but we wanted to change it.” She said that the Czech League Against Cancer chose calendulas because they were native to Europe and because of their historical use as a medicinal and dermatological herb.

Today, not unlike in times of old, the people of the Czech Republic eat up these little yellow flowers. In 2014 alone, flower sales earned the League 14 million CZK, or $583,000, according to its 2015 “Chronicle, Brief History and Overview.” The League has raised approximately $10 million since it began the tradition of selling calendulas 25 years ago.

Major fundraising events such as its calendula sales and festivals allow the League to fight IMG_0492cancer through a variety of services. One program offers patients convalescent stays after cancer treatments. The number of patients increased from 100 participants in 2012 to 152 in 2013, according to the League’s 2012 and 2013 annual reports, and the growth is due to an increase in patient stays. “A proof of this is a large number of letters of thanks sent to us as well as verbal praise,” the 2013 report states, “which is the real reward for our effort to create a comfortable ambience for the participants.”

Every year on World Day Against Cancer, the League coordinates with the Czech Medical Association J.E. Purkyně and the Society of General Practice to organize a specialized symposium. Each symposium has a different focus — in 2013, the topic was “Prevention of Colorectal Cancer.” Previous symposium topics included kidney tumor disease, the possibility of active cancer prevention, and prostate cancer.

The leadership within the League is pleased with its work so far, which includes awareness exhibitions, symposiums and cancer hot-lines, but add there is still more to be done. “If not for lack of funds, we would give more grants to cancer research institutions and hospitals,” Kurcová said. In 2013, the League gave research grants to two institutions, according to its 2013 annual report: the General University Hospital in Prague and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Mendel University in Brno.

Nearly 300 people out of 100,000 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2015 in the
Czech Republic, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International, and that statistic places the Czech Republic 14th out of 50 countries in the number of cancer cases. The Czech League Against Cancer has enjoyed fundraising success during the course of 25 years by using a little yellow flower as its philanthropic symbol. The League leadership hopes that the sales of the bright, plastic calendulas will one day move the Czech Republic out of the top 15 countries on the list of the nation’s with the highest numbers of cancer sufferers.