LEWISTON (NEWS CENTER Maine) A Lewiston woman, who beat cancer — twice — and lost her mother to the disease, is getting ready for her second Dempsey Challenge.
Mary Bunnell says in so many ways cancer has changed her life, as has the Dempsey Center.
Cancer is a disease Mary and her family are all too familiar with. In 2014, Mary was diagnosed with stage one kidney cancer. She beat it. At the same time, her mother Ellen was going through radiation treatments for lung cancer. She, too, won her fight.
And life marched on. Mary welcomed her first grandchild in 2016.
Last year, at the urging of her niece, Mary decided to start training her first 5K. But as Mary puts it, "the girls got in the way." So Mary had breast reduction surgery.
Then, four weeks into recovery, she got a phone call from her doctor: Mary had stage zero breast cancer. For Mary, that meant medication and radiation, every day for four weeks.
But during her last week of treatment, Mary received another dose of difficult news: Her mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.
"Mom was given the choice of treatment, surgery, but she opted to just take the journey and that was hard," Mary said.
She kept running.
"The running for me, as Mom got closer, was a stress reliever," she said. "It got me through some hard times." As has the Dempsey Center. It’s a place of refuge for anyone impacted by cancer.
"They are so welcoming when you come through and they put you at ease," she said. "When you talk to someone, it’s, 'What are you going through? What do you need?'"
Mary participated in counseling, yoga, received nutritional guidance and was connected to the center's personal training program through the YMCA. Not long after the death of her mother Ellen, Mary ran the 5K at the Dempsey Challenge. Along with her sister Lori, niece Jesse and her friend Donna, also a cancer survivor, they formed Team Ellen.
"I just remember coming through the finish line with Lori, like we did it Mom, and the emotion – it was good. She was watching us."
Team Ellen will be back for this year's Dempsey Challenge. And Mary has already raised more than $1,500 in donations.
Meanwhile, Mary's ongoing fight is to stay healthy for herself and her family, especially her two granddaughters, Aubrey and Sienna. She says she wants to stay healthy for her family and be an inspiration to those little girls.
"My Nana does that. I want to be like my Nana," they said.
Mary is a nana who is strong, steadfast, resilient and cancer free. And ready to keep fighting.
"I'm signed up next year for all the 5K's and I'm ready to go and just keep battling," Mary said. She's forever grateful to the Dempsey Center, the staff and volunteer, who see the person, not the disease.
"It's not about treating the cancer, it's treating what you're going through, what your family is going through, what do you need," Mary said. "It's an amazing place."
This year's Dempsey Challenge is being held Sept. 29-30 in Lewiston.