Patrick Dempsey: Cancer Caregiver


A decade before Grey’s Anatomy was even imagined, Patrick Dempsey — the actor who catapulted to fame as “Dr. McDreamy” in the hit medical drama — was already working on his bedside manner. No, he wasn’t preparing for a part. He had traveled back to rural Maine, where he’d been raised, to help his mother, Amanda, take on the fight of her life: a second bout with ovarian cancer.

Her cancer, first caught in stage IV in 1996, returned in 1999, and Dempsey and his family were there to give her crucial support. With the help of her son and his two older sisters, a grueling six-week course of Yoga is great for everybody,” the actor says. “It improves flexibility and immunity and adds to free services and programs for people living with cancer.

For example, Breakaway has raised more than $1.5 million since 2005 to support The Wellness Community, a nonprofit organization that sponsors free professionally led support groups, educational workshops, nutrition and exercise programs, and mind/body classes. “Support groups can be so important for people living with cancer,” Dempsey says.

Since 2006, the initiative has also supported the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the oldest survivor-led cancer advocacy organization in the country.

“The greatest thing about the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship is that it offers a toolbox on its web site that shows you how to navigate through paperwork and bills when dealing with cancer,” Dempsey says.

“This is a big stumbling block. When you or someone you love has cancer, you want to make their life as simple as possible, and when you are thrown curveballs from hospitals or individual doctors in regard to bills, it’s very difficult.”

Breakaway also sponsors cycling events to benefit cancer care. It’s the perfect fit for Dempsey, who tells WebMD he rides “at least 25 miles a day” when not putting in long hours on Grey’s Anatomy.

As part of his involvement with this initiative, Dempsey is now researching how to give back to the Maine community where his mother was treated. “We are trying to find out what Lewiston needs,” he says. “If it’s a wellness center, great, but if that is not what they need, we want to find out what their need is and fill it.”

One possibility is a hotline to help guide Lewiston’s senior citizens through the medical milieu. “They can be put into contact with the right doctors and followed,” the actor says. “We are moving forward and working with a local hospital.” — Denise Mann

Originally published in the September/October 2007 issue of WebMD the Magazine.