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Project Martina

Since 1999, Lions in Italy have conducted cancer awareness and education seminars for teenagers.

Since 1999, Lions in Italy have conducted cancer awareness and education seminars for teenagers.

Project Martina

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Touchstone Story #77

For more than 15 years, Lions in Italy have been fighting cancer by helping the nation’s youth take steps to reduce their risk of cancer and understand the importance of early diagnosis and care.

In 1999, Lions in Padua, Italy, who were also doctors, began offering cancer education seminars at local high schools at the request of a local cancer awareness association. They taught warning signs and shared with the teenagers that living a healthy lifestyle—following a proper diet, avoiding smoking and being more physically active—can help reduce the risk of cancer.

The Lions knew without a doubt that the health education sessions had to continue once they heard the wish of Martina, a young woman with breast cancer. Martina’s fervent desire was simple: “that teenagers be precisely informed and educated about caring for their own health.”

Students and parents agreed. Each year, Lions, who were medical professionals participated in the cancer awareness seminars—called Project Martina—and improved and expanded the educational materials. Realizing they had developed something special, the Lions of District 108 TA3 in Northern Italy put their materials online, including slides, posters, handouts and questionnaires, so that Lions across Italy could implement the program in their schools as well.

By 2006, Project Martina was gaining recognition from the local government. By 2008, it had spread throughout Italy to other Lions districts. Italy’s education and health ministries endorsed the effort. And from 2011 to 2012, Lions in Italy designated Project Martina their national service project.

Through a series of lessons, Project Martina teaches how to prevent and fight cancer, and highlights specific forms such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, thyroid cancer and lymphoma. Cancers likely to be found in young adults, such as melanoma and testicular cancer, also have dedicated lessons. The seminars are always coordinated by a Lion, but other organizations and doctors who are not Lions recognize its value and sometimes partner with Lions clubs to implement Project Martina. A committee of science professionals periodically updates the lessons and slides.

Participant questionnaires are monitored for ways to improve the program, and the responses to the questionnaires continue to be overwhelmingly positive with nine out of 10 students saying they would recommend Project Martina to their peers. Some of the comments from the surveys include: “Thanks for opening up our eyes.” “Make these meetings mandatory.” “Being a smoker, I will think many times before I light the cigarette.” “Viva il Lions Club!”

Knowledge is key to early detection. Prompt diagnosis and treatment, as well as preventative care, can save lives today and for years to come. Leos are translating the materials so that Lions and Leos in other countries can implement the program as well. As of 2014, Project Martina could be found in Albania, China, Croatia and Slovenia.

Italy’s Lions and Leos are doing their part to spread the word about cancer awareness and prevention. But they are also creating new advocates. “I talked with my family,” one student shared. “My mother has decided to get her first mammogram.”

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