Mary Dempsey is the new executive director of the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine in Norway. She previously worked for the Dempsey Center, founded by her family, including brother Patrick Dempsey. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
NORWAY — Less than six months after she left the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, Mary Dempsey has become the head of a similar, fledgling center 45 minutes away.
Dempsey, 59, is the executive director of the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine.
“While taking time off to pause and reflect, I wanted to make sure that I always found a way to give back and make a difference in the world,” she said. “This certainly is a way to do that.”
Founded in 2015, the Norway center — like the Dempsey Center — provides free support, education, wellness programs and resources to anyone affected by cancer. Although it is located on the campus of Stephens Memorial Hospital, it is an independent nonprofit not formally affiliated with the hospital.
The small center runs largely through the efforts of volunteers. Dempsey is one of two employees at the center and the only one working full time.
“It reminds me of the days of, one, when I was a kid growing up in a small town in Turner and, two, of our small Dempsey Center in the very beginning days,” she said. “I really liked the ability to have the small, quaint, cozy side of things but yet help people.”
Dempsey, sister of actor Patrick Dempsey, left the Dempsey Center in December, just before it formally separated from Central Maine Healthcare to become its own nonprofit and as it moved forward with plans to add a second location. She’d helped found the center and had worked there for years, most recently as community services coordinator.
Although her brother has been the celebrity face of the center, Dempsey was more often its voice. She regularly welcomed new people to the center, worked with volunteers and attended fundraisers.
Dempsey said soon after she left that the center’s shift to independence had given her “an opportunity to make a decision on my future.”
She’d decided that future would mean stepping away from the Dempsey Center.
She had planned to look for another career in which she could support the community. She also had planned to focus some attention on another passion: laughter yoga, which involves laughing with short breaks of yogic breathing to boost your immune system and your mood.
Dempsey had contacted the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine earlier this year to ask about volunteering.
“I was thinking perhaps I could sew or stuff some pillows,” Dempsey said.
Board President Barbara Deschenes had another idea.
“She asked me to come in to meet with some key board members and we discussed the opportunity of my coming on board as their executive director,” Dempsey said.
Board Vice President Judy Stone said the board was happy to have her.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to have someone who has the depth of understanding of not only the need, but the kind of services and the kind of compassion that goes into creating a center that contributes to healing,” Stone said.
Dempsey started about three weeks ago.
“My heart will always be with the Dempsey Center because that’s what I helped create for our mom, but I also have room in my heart for another center here in Western Maine and I’m really thrilled about being here,” she said.
Dempsey said her family is happy she’s found a new position helping cancer patients. She doesn’t expect there will be any competition between the two centers.
“I don’t feel that competition belongs in the arena with cancer,” she said. “My brother did reach out and said, ‘Congratulations, well done … the community is very fortunate to have you and I look forward to hearing more.'”
Dempsey plans to do laughter yoga and energy work on the side.
“But my focus now is here at the center,” she said. “What I’ve found is another love to add to my heart.”