Two weeks ago I was able to represent NCCS at the Dempsey Challenge with the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer partners. Breakaway from Cancer (BFC) is a national initiative founded in 2005 by Amgen which seeks to increase awareness of the important resources available to people affected by cancer—from prevention to education and support to financial assistance and survivorship. One of the events sponsored by BFC is the Dempsey Challenge located in Lewiston, ME. The Dempsey Challenge is the primary fundraiser for The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing (Dempsey Center) which was founded by actor Patrick Dempsey whose mother lived with ovarian cancer for 17 years and recently died in March.

DC2014FB2Over the course of the two-day event, which raised approximately $1.3 million, more than 3,000 people participated in a 5k run/walk, survivor walk, bike race, live entertainment, health and wellness expo, and much more. While representing NCCS at the Amgen BFC tent, I spoke to many members of the community who had directly benefitted from the services provided by the Dempsey Center. Their stories were full of heartache, loss, triumphs, and most importantly hope.

Hope was a major theme throughout the events. Not only is it in the name of the center, but it is interwoven in this community and it was the theme that connected every story delivered at the Dempsey Champions for Hope Celebration. At the celebration, cancer survivors told powerful stories that demonstrated the value of the services provided, free of charge, by the Dempsey Center. We heard how family therapy sessions assisted families addressing the complicated emotions spurred by a cancer diagnosis, how cooking classes help survivors establish healthy nutrition habits, and how massage has both physical and therapeutic effects after a chemotherapy treatment. At NCCS, we have always recognized the power of hope, but to hear it articulated from survivors has a lasting impact.

One story in particular followed me home from Maine. At the BFC tent, we were visited by a woman who is living with cancer, as is her twin sister. While they have the same form of cancer, her sister’s is more aggressive which requires that she be treated at a hospital about 120 miles from home. Her sister has not been able to sustain employment during her diagnosis and therefore cannot afford the transportation expense. As a result, she has been financially assisting her sister while also financially supporting her own cancer care. This situation is incredibly burdensome for both.

Another story came from an older adult who, after receiving treatment, was unable to tie her shoes, a function that most take for granted. She said the free yoga classes that were provided by the Dempsey Center were pivotal in helping her regain the strength to tie her shoes and therefore begin the process of re-establishing her independence.

All of these stories, whether stories of struggle or triumph, inform our work and policy priorities at NCCS as we advocate for quality cancer care. It is important for us that we keep our pulse on the cancer survivor community so our work stays relevant and in sync with the needs of the approximately 14.4 million Americans living today who have a history of cancer.

Thank you to the Lewiston community for sharing your stories with us.

Post by Kelsey Nepote