LEWISTON — Blair Daugherty knows the value of the Dempsey Center perhaps better than anyone: Where he comes from, they don’t have anything quite like it.

In July, the Greenville, S.C., man lost his wife of 51 years to ovarian cancer. It was only later that he learned about The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing. Among the services offered at the center are support groups, counseling, massage, Reiki, yoga, meditation and educational workshops.

“Boy, do I wish we had something like this in Greenville, S.C.,” Daugherty said Friday, after taking a tour of the Dempsey Center in Lewiston. “It’s just an amazing group here, just a phenomenal group of people to be associated with.”

Daugherty’s wife, Patricia, battled cancer for 12 years before she succumbed. According to Blair, it wasn’t that his wife needed much help during her struggle, but he could have used some.

“I’d never been through it before,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

Daugherty was in Lewiston on Friday with his three daughters and three sons-in-law to celebrate the launch of this year’s Dempsey Challenge, a fundraiser for the Dempsey Center. They learned about the Dempsey Center through the Challenge to Conquer Cancer Foundation. The more they heard, the better it sounded. Daugherty’s son-in-law decided he wanted to ride in the Challenge. His daughter came along to serve as a medic for the event.

“And I said, ‘I want to drive a van for it,'” Daugherty said.

When dozens of bicyclists crossed Longley Bridge between Lewiston and Auburn on Friday afternoon, Daugherty was among them, driving the van as part of the support team and thinking about his wife.

“I just wanted to do something for her memory,” he said.

Patricia Daugherty was 76 when she died. Her husband said she underwent two surgeries and perhaps 500 chemotherapy treatments.

“My wife never complained,” Daugherty said. “I never saw her cry. There was never any pity party or anything like that. She was a true warrior, a tower of strength for her friends who also suffered from cancer. She used to tell them, ‘You know what? We have cancer. Get dressed, put on your lipstick and let’s deal with it.’

“She was just unbelievable,” Daugherty said, wiping back tears. “She really set the standard for her friends and for me.”

He thinks the Dempsey Center itself is pretty unbelievable, too. After cruising into Lewiston alongside the bikers, he was given a tour of the facility. He went room to room, discovering all of the services they offer, reading the memorials on the wall, meeting people whose lives had been affected by cancer.

“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, everybody’s here riding for somebody,'” Daugherty said.

One of his daughters walked up to give him a hug. A moment later, both of them were crying but mostly in a happy way.

“It’s so emotional,” Daugherty said. “Oh, God, is it emotional.”

The event started a few weeks late this year to accommodate actor Patrick Dempsey’s filming schedule. As it turns out, mid-October looked pretty good on the Challenge. Cheeks were a bit redder and the wind blew a bit harder, but at the end of the inaugural ride, dozens packed Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston to greet the riders. Some said the multicolored backdrop of autumn foliage enhanced the experience.

And as always, the Dempsey Center was packed with people for the launch of the weekend event. Some were here for the first time; others have been participating for many years.

American Paralympic skier and cancer survivor Monica Bascio was making her first appearance at the event, and at the Dempsey Center.

“I’m just very impressed,” she said. “It’s amazing how extensive it is, and how it’s available for anyone battling cancer.”

“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Dr. James Campbell, a New Hampshire dermatologist and cancer survivor, “to be here with people who actually get it.”

Professional bicyclist Alison Tetrick said seeing so many people who had lost loved ones or who had battled cancer themselves helped put things in perspective.

“Winning bike races is fun,” she said, “but there are also a lot more important things out there.”

Blair Daugherty knows all about those important things. He’ll be around all weekend, he said, enjoying the event with his three daughters, their husbands and the memory of his wife.

“It’s going to be a real family affair,” Daugherty said.

Dempsey Challenge Oct. 17-18

Thousands of cyclists, runners, walkers and supporters will descend on Lewiston for a weekend of hope and inspiration. Participants will hit the streets in the 5k/10K run/walk on Saturday, cycle distances of 10, 25, 50, 70 or 100 miles on Sunday, or take part in the new Two-Day Ride which takes place both days. The Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Survivor Walk takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday. Events will begin and end at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston.

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