LEWISTON — Mary Dempsey, sister of actor Patrick Dempsey, has left the cancer center she helped found.

Dempsey left last month, just before the center formally separated from Central Maine Healthcare to become its own nonprofit. She had been serving as community services coordinator.

Dempsey said Thursday that when the center was about to become independent, she “paused to reflect.”

“I had an opportunity to make a decision in my future,” she said.

She decided that future would mean stepping away from the Dempsey Center.

“You can’t create an incredible place like the Dempsey Center without wanting it to continue to excel and do well,” she said. “It will always be in my heart and soul.”

On Friday, she said leaving her beloved center has been a “grieving process.”

Patrick Dempsey released a statement through the center Thursday.

“The Dempsey Center is here to serve the community, both locally and statewide, and that truly takes a team effort — the work we do is bigger than me, or any member of my family,” he said. “We need to honor the (c)enter’s history, which Mary is a big part of, and we thank her for her 10 years of service.”

Founded in 2008, the Dempsey Center — then called The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing — was created in partnership with Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to help cancer patients and their families. Patrick Dempsey and his siblings, who grew up in Buckfield, helped found the center in honor of their mother.

Amanda Dempsey was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, and battled the disease for 17 years. She died in 2014 at age 79.

The center provides free cancer support, education and complimentary therapies, such as massage, regardless of where patients and families live and regardless of where patients receive treatment.

As of last summer, the Dempsey Center had an annual budget of about $2.2 million, employed 20 people and served more than 4,000 people a year.

In July, center leaders announced the Dempsey Center would leave the Central Maine hospital system to become its own nonprofit. It also planned to merge with Cancer Community Center, a 19-year-old South Portland nonprofit that also provides free support to cancer patients and their families.

The Dempsey Center officially became independent on Jan. 1, 2018. Tardif said the merger will be finalized in the coming months.

The center is now hiring a client services specialist to replace Dempsey.

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.

In 2012, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cancer Center honored her as one of 100 people advancing the fight against cancer. In 2014, she testified at a U.S. Senate hearing on cancer research. In 2015, Saint Joseph’s College in Standish presented her with an honorary doctor of public service degree.

Dempsey worked at Central Maine Medical Center for almost 30 years before helping to found the Dempsey Center at the hospital. She left the hospital system as well as the center.

Dempsey is now looking for another career in which she can support the community.   

In the meantime, she also plans to focus some attention on another passion: Laughter Yoga.

She became interested in Laughter Yoga — which combines movement and laughter — while on a trip to Italy to speak about the Dempsey Center. Intrigued, she traveled to India in November to train with Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga.

She is now a certified Laughter Yoga instructor. 

Dempsey plans to start her Laughter Yoga work with veterans. She does not plan to leave the area. 

“This is my home,” she said.

Wendy Tardif, executive director of the Dempsey Center, said Mary Dempsey will remain part of the committee that reviews applications for the center’s annual Amanda Dempsey Award, and is expected to stay involved with the survivor walk held every year during Dempsey Challenge, the center’s largest fundraiser. 

Patrick Dempsey maintains his seat on the center’s board.

“I’m excited about the work we’re doing, our shared vision for the future and the tremendous support this community has for the (c)enter and one another,” he said in his statement. “I remain as positive and committed as ever to this community’s wellness and prosperity.”

This story was edited on Jan. 26, 2018 to reflect additional information about Mary Dempsey’s decision to leave the center.

Managing Editor Mark Mogensen contributed to this story.

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Patrick Dempsey poses with his sisters Mary, left, and Alicia in “Amanda’s Garden,” a room at the Dempsey Center in Lewiston that was dedicated to their mother in September 2014. (Sun Journal file photo)

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