Who are you here for?

October 1, 2014

Who are you here for? Those were the words that thousands of participants wore on their shirts at the 6th annual Dempsey Challenge held this past weekend in picturesque Lewiston, Maine. The Dempsey Challenge is sponsored by Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer, a national initiative to increase awareness of important resources available to people affected by cancer. Breakaway from Cancer is a partnership of four nonprofit organizations dedicated to empowering patients with education, resources and hope, wherever they may be in the cancer care continuum.

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As a representative of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, I was joined by colleagues from the Cancer Support Community, Patient Advocate Foundation and National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Together, we met teams of friends, survivors and family members, each generously sharing their stories, struggles and hopes. In return, we shared the resources of our respective organizations.

The two day event kicked off with a walk/run on Saturday, September 27th, followed by a cycling event on Sunday, with riders biking distances ranging from 10 miles to 100 miles in the unseasonably warm 83 degree weather.

DempseyChallenge2More than $1.1 million was raised for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing, created in 2008 by the Grey’s Anatomy actor in honor of his mother, Amanda Dempsey. Amanda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997 and fought the disease until she died in March of this year. Patrick’s entire family was there this year in her honor. It was the first year without his mother, but she was very much present through stories and shared memories.

Like most people at the event, I was there thinking of my loved ones who have been touched by cancer. Some—like my mother and college roommate—lost their battles. Many others have had better outcomes thanks to ever-advancing treatments.

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The entire weekend was moving, but the most emotional moments for me were at a Saturday evening event recognizing the top fundraising teams. The awards were presented by patients of the Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing. Several of the presenters are currently undergoing cancer treatment. They spoke in great detail of being personally welcomed to the Center by Mary Dempsey’s (Amanda’s daughter) warm hugs and finding pain relief in the rooms through a healing massage, yoga class or counseling.

One young man, Daniel, spoke bravely about losing a sibling and then both parents to cancer. For him, the Dempsey Center is a refuge—a safe place where he can relax and feel cared for. Warmth and caring were the consistent messages from each of the speakers. And in the faces of each of Amanda Dempsey’s children, I saw warmth, caring and gratitude that the place they created has helped so many and will continue to do so for years to come; a wonderful legacy to their mother.

I was incredibly proud to be there representing the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

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