LEWISTON, Maine — For 13 years and counting, Maine's Dempsey Center has been offering free services to cancer patients and their caregivers, as they battle the daunting disease and its aftermath. The Center has helped thousands of Mainers in that time from its locations in Lewiston and South Portland -- and now, its reach has grown.
In March of 2020, the Center began offering services online in response to the pandemic. What was unexpected is how popular these programs would become. Now, that effort has been made into a permanent platform called "Dempsey Connects".
"Ever since the Dempsey Center started, we always knew that we wanted to expand our services to reach as many people as possible," said Katelynn Davis, the marketing and communications manager at the Dempsey Center, noting cancer basically impacts everyone in some way.
Dempsey Connects offers services like counseling and support, nutrition, movement and fitness, complementary therapies, Maine cancer mentors, and education and learning. Davis says right now, the Center has more than 800 active clients -- and 29 of them are from out of state, ranging from locations in Colorado, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Hampshire, etc.
"It's really beautiful to be able to bring people together who are on similar journeys to good connection and avoid isolation," Davis expressed.
Chatting with Patrick Dempsey ahead of the 2021 Global Dempsey Challenge
Gaye Horne of Denver, Colorado is one of those people. Last year, Horne was diagnosed with a rare form of carcinoma. She finished treatments at the end of November -- and remembers that time feeling very difficult.
"Sometimes, you forget who you are," Horne said about the treatment process. "Or, you're a new person."
For her, one moment, in particular, stands out -- surprising to some, she says, since people often assume a big city would have a big cancer support network.
"At the end of my treatment, I was standing outside the radiation and chemo center with nowhere to go," Horne relayed, tearing up.
She learned about the Center through a friend from Lewiston and decided to check out Dempsey Connects. After the platform's orientation, she says she learned important habits, like good eating and exercise. Before treatment, she was diabetic -- and now Horne says she doesn't have to take diabetes, blood pressure, or cholesterol medications.
"Honestly, I have to attribute where I am today (to) them -- and I'm very grateful," Horne said.
Perhaps the aspect she's most thankful for, though, is finding people who can relate to and understand her journey.
"It's not just a job for them," Horne said about the volunteers who have changed her life. "They're committed to us. They're invested in us. They feel like family."
The 13th annual Dempsey Challenge to raise money for the Center is happening the week of September 25 and 26 in-person and virtually, and there's still time to register. You can do so here.