“Everyone has something to do with cancer, we are all doing it for the same objective”

Maastricht students collect more than 100.000 euro for cancer research

28-06-2023 · Background

Students Fight Cancer, led by eight UM students, collected more than 112.000 euro in the last academic year for Maastricht cancer research: almost triple the results of previous years. Observant looks back with the board members. “You put a lot of energy into it, but you get much more in return.”

There were times when the counter on the Students Fight Cancer (SFC) website clocked hundreds of euros every hour, last April. “It almost became an obsession to refresh the page,” board member Dagmar Voerman, third-year student of Health Sciences, laughs. “People from all over the country transferred money.”

It was the weeks leading up to the sponsored Run to Fight Cancer, SFC’s largest event, “which is practically what the whole board year is about,” says chairperson Mart Leempoel, third-year student of Medicine. This is the third edition since the founding of SFC in 2019 (the Covid pandemic prevented the sponsor run from taking place in the first year). For the past two years, they collected about 40.000 euro, but that amount had already been surpassed well before the ‘Run’, the final proceeds being three times higher. “We did not expect that either,” says Leempoel. Of course, you always want the organisation to grow, but we are still only eight students who are doing this voluntarily alongside our studies and our jobs.”

Flyers

How did they manage this? The two feel that it mainly had to do with promotion. Leempoel: “Almost everyone has something to do with this disease, in one way or another. Therefore, a lot of people are prepared to do something, but they do have to know that your initiative exists.” The main objective was therefore to increase awareness, Voerman continues. For example, through smaller initiatives during events for students throughout the year. “There, we also made a lot of headway with groups of people who did not know us well yet, such as international students.”

But it went beyond just students. “We also focussed on other Maastricht citizens, through flyers and posters in supermarkets, among other things,” says Voerman. For the first time, it was also possible to walk a specific route, in addition to running five or ten kilometres. “This was done to make the event more accessible to older people. But we noticed that it also appealed to students who found five kilometres too much,” she laughingly remarks.

Feel powerless

What also helped, Leempoel continues, is that the proceeds are earmarked for a number of Maastricht research projects. “In that way, you see immediately where your money is going and what you are doing it for. We personally spoke to the researchers and their patients. Very impressive to see how people value the support. We can pass on those stories to our benefactors.”

It was also the main reason for the students to devote their time to SFC for a whole year. “A number of board members, including myself, experienced the disease from close by and we know how tough it can be,” says Voerman. “On the one hand, it makes you feel powerless, because you can’t do anything to make that person better. The only thing that is possible, is giving your time to help research, which in turn will help future patients. So that they have a better chance of being cured and do get the life they deserve.”

Release

“We also saw that feeling in the participants of the Run,” says Leempoel. “Everyone has their own story. Ad, for example, who collected four thousand euro all by himself. He lost his father to pancreatic cancer when he was seven, and now fifty years later, he is still giving his time to cancer research.” Also, a group of friends from Weert, who together collected more than 12.000 euro, made a big impression. They ran for their friend Julian, who was terminally ill at the time and has since then passed away. “Those stories make the day very emotional, but they also empower,” says Leempoel. “You notice: we are all doing it for the same objective.”

There was quite a release within the board afterwards. “In the weeks prior, you work really hard on the event,” says Voerman. “At that moment, you see why you did it. A couple of housemates stood watching with tears in their eyes. It was only then that they realised why I had been working on it so much.”

The baton will soon be passed on to a new board, for which a dozen or so people have already put their names down. “Although we would have preferred to continue ourselves,” Leempoel laughs. “You put a lot of energy into it, but you get much more in return.” They would like to see their ‘record’ broken. “We will support the new board as much as possible to bring in even more money next year, the limit has certainly not yet been reached.”

Outside Maastricht

The success of Students Fight Cancer has also been noticed outside Maastricht. Last academic year, a board was set up with eight students from Radboud University in Nijmegen, which collects money for cancer research at the Radboudumc. At the beginning of June, their first edition of Run to Fight Cancer was held in Nijmegen, and a total of more than 35.000 euro was collected.

There is a chance that the initiative will be copied in other Dutch and Belgian cities. “We are now discussing the matter with representatives from a number of cities,” says Philip van Ballegooie from Limburg Cancer Research Fund (Kankeronderzoekfonds Limburg), of which SFC Maastricht is a part. “The idea here is also that the money collected goes to local research.”

Images: SFC/Enrique Meesters 

Tags: sfc,studentsfightcancer,runtofightcancer,cancer,research,students

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