I know what you’re thinking. What does Patrick Dempsey and a cancer walk have to do with someone from San Antonio?
Hang on, I’ll get to it.
In September 2012, Seana, my best friend in the world, heard the worst four words one can hear after having cancer preventative surgery: You already have it. Stage 3 Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, to be exact.
Now here are two more words: That sucked.
Worse yet, she lived over 1,800 miles away in Rockport, Maine, and I was here in San Antonio.
How could I help her? What could I do to make this fight easier? Better? Stronger?
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“Don’t go anywhere,” she replied.
“Where would I go?”
“You’d be surprised how many people lose friends, family connections when cancer becomes part of the normal vocabulary.”
Seriously? People bail?
All the time.
It was a sad fact that families and friendships fall by the wayside when a patient is diagnosed, but I refused to be one of those sad statistics. I took on the role of long distance caregiver, with a fierceness like no one had ever seen! I constantly called. I emailed and messaged her. On chemo Thursdays, she’d text me during her treatment and after the Benadryl went in (her IV), she’d apologize when her words made no sense. I kept writing, anyway.
Since she’s a native Texan (Clark graduate), I sent her Texas-shaped tortilla chips, corn husks, and tortilla mix (because Mainers haven’t fully embraced the idea of having such staples in their stores), chicken enchilada soup mixes, and Spurs memorabilia (thanks, HEB). We even wrote an article for ModernMom.com about what not to say when someone is diagnosed with cancer and ways to help.
I thought I’d covered everything I could have until one brief moment, she said something that I hadn’t anticipated: “I’m going to a support group.”
For a micro-second, I was jealous. JEALOUS! Why? Because for a sliver of time, I heard “you aren’t doing enough.”
But as soon as she talked about the women in her cancer survivor support group, jealousy dissipated and never returned. In fact, gratitude replaced envy. Even with all my care-giving energy and kept promises, one of the things I didn’t appreciate about cancer patients was how wide their support circle needs to be.
Family and friends simply aren’t enough.
They need survivors. Cancer survivors. Cancer soldiers who mentor and guide others through a minefield that no one ever wants to navigate. Support groups embody the reality of “you’re not alone.” These warriors explain how you can live a good quality and quantity of life since the word cancer entered your regular vocabulary.
My bestie needed this badly. As much as I could offer her with our lifelong friendship (seriously, we were put in the same playpen) and encouraging words, I couldn’t offer her what survivors could: Hope. These people could look her in the eye and say, “Been there. Done that. Kicked cancer’s butt and you can too.”
At this point, you’re thinking, “That’s great and helpful, but where’s McDreamy figure into all this?” I’m glad you asked.
In 1997, Amanda Dempsey, mom to Mary, Alicia, and Patrick, received an ovarian cancer diagnosis. During that time, they noticed the great lack of support services for cancer patients and their families in the Maine area.
To address this issue, in 2008, they opened The Dempsey Center for Hope and Healing, a place where patients and their families could get everything
from support groups (for cancer patients and caregivers), massage therapy, makeup and hair/wig tips and tutoring, nutrition classes, and a host of other services all for free.
Yes, free. Whether the patient or family has insurance or not, it’s free.
Everything. Is. Free.
Throughout 17 years and multiple re-occurrences, Mrs. Dempsey fought ovarian cancer and gave hope to so many, including my bestie, Seana. Because of the classes, survivor support groups, and other services provided by The Dempsey Center for Hope and Healing, Seana has not only survived but found ways to give back to the community through education and awareness.
Now, each year I fly up to Lewiston, Maine, and participate in the Dempsey Challenge.
Yes, I get to see McDreamy, but I also get to meet the people who’ve been there for Seana when I physically couldn’t be. Those who offer her hope and strength, like the powerhouse that is Mary Dempsey, who’s famous for her radiant smile and fantastic hugs.
With Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month having just passed in September and Breast Cancer Awareness Month taking place now in October, know that those who are affected by cancer do need friends and family, but they also need the survivors. And those survivors need all of us cheering them on.