The sister of nationally renowned actor and Maine native Patrick Dempsey is expected to testify Wednesday at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on cancer research.

Mary Dempsey, assistant director and co-founder of The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Lewiston, in partnership with Central Maine Medical Center, was invited to speak by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Aging Committee.

The Dempseys’ mother, Amanda, died in March following a 17-year battle with ovarian cancer, during which the cancer returned a dozen times.

Mary Dempsey was expected to tell the committee that, “as my family navigated the first two recurrences, we realized the necessity for emotional and community support that patients and families need when going through this unknown experience.”

She and Patrick Dempsey joined with an experienced oncology social worker at CMMC to develop the concept for a local cancer support center that was “caring, warm and provided opportunities for healing and would be accessible to anyone” affected by cancer, she was expected to tell the committee in prepared remarks.

Mary Dempsey served as her mother’s primary caregiver and, in that full-time role, experienced the effect it had on every part of life as she attempted to navigate resources, understand the medical aspects and cope with the “profound changes” a cancer diagnosis brings, she’s expected to say.


Doctors treat the disease and do it well, but patients and their families need more, she believes.

She is expected to outline the extensive resources provided cancer patients and their families at the Patrick Dempsey Center, including education and ancillary support services. She also will highlight the center’s major source of outside funding, the Dempsey Challenge, an annual community event that draws thousands of families who walk, run or bicycle to raise money and awareness.

Actress Valerie Harper also is expected to address the committee on Wednesday.

Harper, who was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago, is expected to liken cancer to one who engages in her craft.

“Cancer reminds me of a very bad but tenacious performer, who although no one wants to see, insists on doing an encore, having a return engagement, making a comeback and worst of all, going on tour,” according to her prepared remarks.

Collins is expected to praise the many medical breakthroughs in cancer diagnosis and treatment, but draw attention to its growing pervasiveness, especially among elderly populations.


She’s expected to point out that the American Cancer Society estimates as many as 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year, including more than 9,200 in Maine.

Despite an increase in survival rates, cancer continues to be the second-leading cause of death in the United States, she wrote in prepared remarks.

Cancer is often more difficult to treat in elderly populations, whose family support may have eroded, especially for those who live in rural areas.

“Moreover, people with cancer over age 65 have been significantly under-represented in cancer clinical trials, even though they represent the majority of patients. Fortunately, I understand that this is beginning to change, just as it is changing for women and minorities,” Collins wrote in prepared remarks.

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