LEWISTON — Carrie Whitmore of Auburn was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2015, and her first thought was how she would break the news to her daughters, ages 5 and 7 at the time.
“Once we had a plan and knew what we were doing, we went straight to the Dempsey Center,” Whitmore said.
The Dempsey Center, founded in 2008 by actor Patrick Dempsey, works to provide support to those battling cancer.
At the center, Whitmore and her husband were able to sit down with their girls, and a staff member named “Tookie,” who guided them through the difficult conversation.
“When I was told I had cancer, my first focus was (my girls),” Whitmore said.
Then she began her treatments: a mastectomy in December 2015, chemotherapy from January to June 2016, and radiation July to August. She did not begin visiting the Dempsey Center until April 2016, late into her treatments, and she fiercely regrets it.
“I wish I had started going sooner,” she said. “I really kick myself. But all I can do now is encourage everyone else to do it sooner. I encourage anyone to go right from their diagnosis.”
The Dempsey Center offers a variety of services for families dealing with cancer: private consultations for wigs, nutrition and wellness; extensive counseling to maintain mental well-being, including support groups and individual therapy. The Dempsey Center also focuses on physical well-being, offering massages, Reiki, acupuncture and yoga.
“They don’t treat you medically; they treat the mind, body, everything,” Whitmore said. “And they provide support for the whole family.” Whitmore attended a women’s support group and would receive hand and foot massages while getting her chemo treatments. One of her daughters enjoyed a few massages, too.
It was the women’s support group that made the most difference for Whitmore.
“It was nice to be able to talk to people as you’re going through (treatment),” she said. “It gives you peace of mind, and as I got near the end, more people were starting (their treatments), so it was nice to be a resource for them as well.”
“Before I started going, I thought it would just be a bunch of women sitting around, crying about having cancer, but it’s not,” she said. “We laugh, we make jokes, and we talk. I’ve made friends.”
Now Whitmore is in remission, having completed her treatment last August. Since then, she’s been determined to give back, and has volunteered at the Dempsey Challenge fundraising event for several years. Last year was her first year on a team, and together they raised over $10,000.
This year, her team of about 20 people, KCA Carrie, standing for Kicking Cancer’s “you-know-what,” went for bigger and better, and is just shy of achieving its $20,000 goal.
“We’re just so lucky to have a place like (the Dempsey Center) in our community,” Whitmore said. “The whole world should know about it. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
The Dempsey Center offers free quality-of-life services to help people manage a cancer impact emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. It is at 29 Lovell St. on the fifth floor, in Lewiston.