After “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Patrick Dempsey’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, he knew she was getting good medical care — but she needed more support.
That inspired Dempsey and his siblings to create the Dempsey Center, a place that could provide relief, comfort, community, and resources to anyone affected by cancer.
“That’s why the center exists. And whether you are a cancer patient, survivor, care partner, or loved one, the Dempsey Center provides wrap-around, personalized support — all at no cost,” said Dempsey, 56, who co-founded the organization as part of the Central Maine Medical Center in 2009.
Giving back and helping others
Dempsey, who was born in Lewiston, Maine, recalled a piece of advice he received when he left his home state: “to never forget where I came from. That, combined with the importance of giving back and helping others, which my mother instilled in me, is one of the main reasons the Dempsey Center exists,” Dempsey said.
In 2017, the Dempsey Center became a certified nonprofit and expanded to a space in Lewiston, said Dempsey Center CEO and president Cara Valentino. The following year, the center merged with another cancer support center in South Portland, Maine.
In 2021, the Dempsey Center served people with more than 25 different types of cancer diagnoses, with nearly 12,000 visits by about 1,550 people ages 5-80.
“A cancer diagnosis causes a ripple effect, and affects not only the life of the patient, but also their care partner, family members, and friends,” Valentino said. “That’s why we include all those individuals in our services.”
Those services include mental health counseling, nutrition support and workshops, support groups, integrative approaches, fitness classes, and well-being services like headwear and wig consultations, comfort items, and pet therapy. Licensed clinical social workers, licensed massage therapists, and other certified professionals provide these services free of charge, thanks to donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals who give to the center.
Providing care where it’s needed
Maine is an appropriate place for such a cancer care center. Valentino pointed out cancer is the leading cause of death in Maine. Each year in the state, over 8,500 people are diagnosed with cancer and over 3,000 die from cancer, while about 128,000 cancer survivors live in Maine.
“Maine is a rural state and often, patients and their families have to travel hundreds of miles to access life-saving treatments. The burden of the cost of gas and a hotel stay on top of treatment fees can feel insurmountable,” Valentino said.
The center’s most recent initiative involves a certified healthcare hospitality home in Portland, called Clayton’s House, which offers free lodging for patients and their care partners who must travel 30 miles or more for cancer treatment.
For those who cannot travel, certain services are available virtually to clients via their digital platform, Dempsey Connects.
“Our goal is that by 2031, the Dempsey Center is an integral part of the accepted standard of oncology care globally,” Valentino said.
More immediately, the Dempsey Center is hosting its annual fundraising event, the Dempsey Challenge, with Amgen Oncology. They center aimed to raise $1.6 million at a walk, cycle, and run event last weekend in Lewiston, Maine.
Focusing on actions
Dempsey’s mother, Amanda M. Dempsey, died in 2014 at age 79 after multiple recurrences of cancer. Her daughter, Mary, was her primary caregiver.
Patrick Dempsey remembers his mother for her love of creative hobbies like home renovation and quilting, as well as gardening, hunting, walking, and volunteering. She was also a resilient and courageous person, especially during her journey with cancer.
“She would say, ’What can we do about it?’” Dempsey recalled, “and try to focus on actions we could take to find a solution.”
“To her, actions were important,” he added, ”more so than words, which I think she passed on to me and is a trait of hers I’m very honored to carry forward.”
For those interested in seeking services with the Dempsey Center, check out their website or call (877) 336-7287 for more information or to schedule your first visit.