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CUDECA Cancer Care Charity History

CUDECA - Costa del sol Cancer Care Charity

by Tony Bryant

The characteristic yellow sunflower has become synonymous with one of the Costa del Sol’s most pioneering charities. The Cudeca cancer charity adopted this symbol soon after its inception, seeing as it is the international symbol for palliative care. It represents vitality, positive encouragement, love and admiration in the face of adversity, the same qualities possessed by the English woman who founded the charity nearly 30 years ago.

Cudeca (Cuidados del Cáncer - Cancer Care) was legally established as a charity in 1992 and began by providing care and support for the terminally ill and their families in their own homes. Founded by Joan Hunt OBE, whose vision was to change the process of dying to a process of living, while adding a quality of life to days through its ‘special kind of caring’, the charity has become a pioneering Hospice Centre where specialist palliative nursing is offered to patients, as well as caring support for families and loved ones.

Without speaking the language and with few resources, but with determination and drive, this exceptional woman and hundreds of Cudeca volunteers of all nationalities has since made a difference to thousands of cancer patients in southern Spain.

The hospice arose from the courage and dedication of Joan, who, after her husband Fred died of cancer a few years after arriving on the Costa del Sol, decided to dedicate her life to improving care for patients with cancer and other advanced illnesses. Joan found valuable help from of Marisa Martín, the doctor who had helped to care for Joan’s husband when he was ill; and from current Cudeca president Ricardo Urdiales, a lawyer who was Joan and Fred’s neighbour.

The cancer charity opened its first second-hand shop in Fuengirola in June 1992 in order to raise funds to get the project off the ground. Cudeca now has 25 shops and furniture outlets in most of the main towns on the Costa del Sol. These establishments, run by teams of volunteers, are one of Cudeca’s main sources of income.

Another important source of income comes from Cudeca’s extensive fundraising schemes, the first of which took place in the Salón Varietés theatre in September 1992. Today, along with donations, legacies, grants, contracts with the Junta de Andalucía and a constant calendar of inspirational initiatives organised by the public, the charity also holds an annual Walkathon, a golf championship, numerous charity gala nights and a special Christmas concert held at the Cervantes Theatre in Málaga, to name just a few.

Cudeca opened its first centre in Fuengirola in 1993, and just a few months later, the first volunteer support group was formed. Next followed an army of tireless volunteers whose aim was to raise money to help keep Joan’s dream alive. One of these initiatives is the ongoing collection tin campaign.

This campaign is run by volunteers known as the ‘tin army’. The tins raise an average of 50,000 euros every year, so they are another important part of the charity’s annual income. Around 1,100 Cudeca Hospice collection tins, sponsored by SUR in English, are placed in bars, restaurants, shops and people’s homes throughout the province of Malaga and as far as Sotogrande in the province of Cádiz. There are also tins at the departure exits at Málaga airport.

In 1994, Cudeca began collaborating with the Red Cross (Cruz Roja), and several months later, the first Home Care team was established. Comprising a doctor, nurse, psychologist and social worker, who are specialists in palliative care, the home-care teams look after an average of 250 patients a year in their homes. The first home care programme contract with the Junta de Andalucía was signed in 2006, which enabled Cudeca to employ three specialist home care teams. The cars used by these teams are supplied by initiatives organised by local associations and charitable enterprises.

Joan’s dream of setting up a hospice came closer in February 1995, when Benalmádena town hall donated a plot of land on which the hospice was constructed. The first stone was laid in January 1997, and the charity then launched its ‘Help Build Our Hospice’ campaign, which culminated with the opening of the day care centre in 2001. The project was fully realised in 2005, when the in-patient unit was opened.

A major turning point in Cudeca’s history came with the constitution of the Cudeca Foundation in 1999. It was formed with the vision of becoming a reference in taking care of patients and their families by providing palliative care through a comprehensive programme of information, education and training services. The foundation developed holistic and innovative models, providing relief to suffering through clinical control of symptoms, physical rehabilitation, and complementary therapies of physical care, psychological, social, spiritual and family support, while seeking the highest comfort for patients and their family.

Cudeca soon began to attract the attention of celebrities, sports personalities and world-famous medical professionals. These included Dr Yusaf Hamied, the billionaire businessman renowned for his life-long work with AIDs and cancer patients. Forming a special bond with Cudeca following his first visit to the hospice in 2008, the Indian scientist pledged to donate an annual contribution of 100,000 euros.

In 2011, Cudeca signed its first agreement with La Fundación Unicaja. 

With this agreement, the bank supports the development of the Home Care Program, In-Patient Unit, Day Care Centre and other multidisciplinary activities coordinated by the Hospice via sponsorship of cultural fundraising events. The agreement is part of the support of Unicaja to biomedicine and health care in general, in their interest to promote research work and collaborate in the development of initiatives and social welfare.

Hollywood actor, Antonio Banderas, one of Malaga’s favourite sons, offered his to support the Cudeca Foundation by becoming an honorary trustee in 2013.

The foundation continued with its extensive promotional programme to gain awareness for the charity by launching initiatives like the Cudeca Documentary (2013), and the book, Days to Life: conversations with Joan Hunt (2015), for which Banderas wrote the preface.

Another important fundraising arm is the Cudeca Goldies, which, as the name may suggest, is run by a group of senior citizens who organise concerts, fashion shows, horse racing nights and an array of other activities to help raise the 3 million euros needed each year to run the hospice.

In order to acknowledge the achievements of its staff, volunteers and supporters, the annual Golden Pin Award, an annual honour given for outstanding commitment to Cudeca, was launched.

Another popular fundraising project is the 'Light a Light' campaign in memory of loved ones, an event when the Christmas lights decorating the hospice are turned on. Those who wish to light a light for a loved one can do so by making a ten-euro donation.

Handing over the reins to Ricardo Urdiales in 2014, Joan officially retired as president of Cudeca and took on the title of honorary president. Although she had officially stepped down from her duties, Joan continued to brighten the lives of the patients, staff and volunteers, and was a regular attendee at fundraising events and activities.

Another milestone came in 2018, when the foundation announced the Education and Training Centre project. Cudeca had long been pioneers in the development of training and research programmes in coordination with other research centres of excellence that contribute to extend palliative care that assures a constant improvement. Since its inception in 1992, Cudeca has participated in the training of over 3,000 professionals, including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and psychologists. In addition, every year postgraduate students from countries such as Sweden, Norway, Mexico, the UK and several cities in Spain visit the hospice to engage in courses and lectures concerning palliative care.

The new research and education centre will cost an estimated two million euros and will be funded by Dr Hamied, because, as he said during the cornerstone ceremony in 2018, he believes that Cudeca could become innovators within the world of palliative care research. 

The two-storey research centre, which will be the first of its kind in Spain, will train professionals of all levels in quality palliative care, as well as to develop innovative models of intervention and research. In addition, it will generate a source of income that will help deal with the constant increase in the number of patients Cudeca treats every year.

It was hoped that the centre would be finished by December 2020, but the construction was hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, although the foundation is hopeful that it will be ready by the end of 2022.

The charity has been true to its name for nearly thirty years now, attending to an average of 1,500 patients every year. What started as a vision of founder Joan Hunt, who passed away in June 2021, has become the most pioneering palliative care foundation in Sothern Spain.

If you would like further information on patient care, both in the centre and home care, or if you would like to join the team of volunteers in fundraising events or at one of the 25 charity shops, see the Cudeca website.


Fundación Cudeca
Centro de Cuidados Paliativos
Avda del Cosmos s/n
29631 Arroyo de la Miel
Benalmadena (Málaga)

Tel: 952 564 910
Website: www.cudeca.org