Friends and family of Amanda Dempsey gathered yesterday to celebrate her life, her love and the legacy she leaves behind.

Tomorrow, and for decades to come, her presence will continue to be felt at the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Lewiston. Thousands of people, some of whom may have known Amanda, but most who never did, will benefit from her life, her grace and her strength as they each face their own cancer diagnosis.

Amanda Dempsey died on Monday after fighting ovarian cancer for nearly two decades. That fight, and her need to embrace hope in healing, inspired two of her children, Patrick Dempsey and Mary Dempsey, to establish the center in 2008. Since then, the center — with Amanda’s steady touch —has become a place where cancer patients and their families can find support and strength together.

The center offers a variety of services and support, at no cost to patients, including a reference library, nutrition classes and massage treatments. And, what may be the most important service is one that helps children cope with their parents’ illness.

The entire place is a testament to the influence mothers have on their children, and the great things children can accomplish when supported by love and respect.

The influence of our mothers is a much-studied phenomenon, and researchers have found that our mothers have a profound influence on our decisions about physical activity, health, religion, politics, education, our sense of security, social views, buying habits and thousands of other things.

In 1964, research published in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that in homes where mothers often complained about aches and pains or worried excessively that children may get sick or be injured playing sports, that their children developed these same habits.

The Journal of Marriage and Family, in 1978, published a report disputing the notion that fathers have more influence over children. It is a mother’s influence that seems to be greater on both sons and daughters, particularly when it comes to religion and politics.

In 2002, a study published in the international journal Quality & Quantity titled “Do Mothers Matter?” also confirmed a mother’s influence is predictably higher than a father, concluding specifically that “the influence of the mother’s education and occupational status on children’s educational attainment is substantive.”

Of course, following that logic, a mother’s bad influence has also been found to create antisocial behaviors in children, and there are plenty of published studies that define that link.

What these various studies show us is that while mothers live with their personal decisions in setting the course of their lives, their children also live with those decisions and learn to make their own decisions based on the examples of their mothers.

The concept that every child is a mother’s legacy is quite true.

Amanda Dempsey’s legacy, though, is much more than her children, Patrick, Mary and Alicia.

A longtime secretary at the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, she commanded the front office at that school and influenced the lives of thousands of schoolchildren who passed through there with a steady hand and ready smile.

She was a regular and welcome presence in her church and in her community, and nurtured a warm circle of friends.

When she entered treatment for recurring cancer at Central Maine Medical Center in 2007, which was 10 years after her initial diagnosis, Amanda found she wanted and needed more support and more information than were available to her.

That need inspired her children to found the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing. That center, and the comfort it now brings to cancer patients, is Amanda’s greatest legacy. She was uniquely positioned to see the need for services, had the desire to make it happen and the financial ability — through her famous son — to make the center a reality.

She could have stopped there, passing the center’s work off to others so she could concentrate on her own health. But, she didn’t.

She continued to be a regular presence there, supporting staff and patients, and demonstrating that cancer — as frightful as it can be — does not always define a person’s life. Every day she demonstrated that determination and hope, along with support and purpose, can help manage a diagnosis and boost physical and emotional healing.

Amanda Dempsey brought that message to this community, and her children have helped spread that message at the center and through the center’s annual flagship Dempsey Challenge run, walk and cycle event. This year, it will be held Sept. 27-28; all of the proceeds from the event benefit the Dempsey Center.

Amanda has been a significant presence at Challenge events, leading the survivor’s walk each year. Her absence this year will be clear and poignant, but the hope she leaves behind and the gift she has given this community in the form of the Dempsey Center are cherished.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

A collaboration to fight cancer

During a Maine Center for Creativity event in Portland on March 26, representatives of The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Lewiston and The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor jointly pledged to forge a new collaboration for cancer treatment.  In November, Patrick Dempsey and The Jackson Laboratory will be honored with the MCC Maine Creative Industries Award, a biennial award recognizing exceptional people and organizations that enrich Maine’s reputation as a state of innovation and creativity. In 2012, the award was given to David Shaw, founder of IDEXX, and his wife, actress Glenn Close.

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