Cancer is a scary word.

It’s frightening for a patient to hear it, and can often be more frightening for loved ones to accept it.

There is an immediate sense that you’ve lost control, then there’s real worry about how your family might manage without you, and then the ultimate fear: life’s end.

But, for many people who face a cancer diagnosis, there is also hope.

Hope for healing and for peace of mind.

That’s what the Dempsey Center delivers. Hope and peace.

There will be thousands of people in Lewiston next weekend for the annual Dempsey Challenge. There will be an awards gala Friday night, a walk/run in the downtown on Saturday and various-distance bike rides on Sunday, all organized to raise money for the Dempsey Center.

There will be music, food, laughter, exercise, tears of loss and smiles of accomplishment. It’s designed to be a celebratory weekend and it offers a lot of fun.

It also raises a lot of money for the important work of the Dempsey Center, work that has grown steadily since it opened in 2009.

The center offers consultations in person and by phone, including referring people to cancer resources closer to where they live. There are classes and a lending library, cooking lessons and spa treatments. But, mostly, there is support and understanding. Calm and patience.

That’s a real counterbalance to a cancer diagnosis, which in Maine happens at a higher rate than elsewhere across the country.

Of the types of cancers catalogued by the National Cancer Institute by rate, more than two-thirds have higher rates in Maine. That includes bladder, breast, lung, skin, oral, thyroid and uterine cancers, along with all childhood cancers and leukemia.

Maine diagnosis rates are higher for all genders and all ages.

The death rates are also higher in Maine than elsewhere.

Cancer is the leading cause of death here.

So, while all the fun of the weekend-long Dempsey Challenge should be acknowledged and embraced, the real attention belongs on the always-free wellness activities at the center on Lowell Street, and the possibility the center may open satellite locations to expand its message and its offerings to reach more people.

Most of the people who seek services from the center live relatively close by, but that’s changing as the center’s reputation climbs.

Shannon Thompson, whose 5-year-old niece died from brain cancer in 2011 and whose 73-year-old father was recently treated for breast cancer, told the Sun Journal she doesn’t consider the drive from her home in Camden to Lewiston a burden because the Dempsey Center offers such tremendous support.

“They are really providing first-rate services with unconditional love,” she said, acknowledging that sounds corny. But, her experience has been that the center’s staff really cares about “every person who walks through their doors.”

People who walk into the Dempsey Center are carrying all their fears and worries with them, and the immediate sense of caring is instant therapy. And, the long-term support is emotionally and spiritually healing.

The battle against cancer is more than treating the disease and the pain.

There’s empowerment in learning about nutrition and exercise to help relieve symptoms, there’s inspiration in helping families learn about prevention, and there’s solace in knowing you’re not alone.

What the Dempsey Center does best is make cancer a little less frightening. A little less daunting. A little more manageable.

Not everyone who steps through the center’s front door will recover, and everyone who seeks services will suffer while battling their disease. But, hope is a powerful advocate.

Hope does heal. 

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