OTHER VOICES

A challenge to ease the fear of cancer

Posted Oct. 16, 2012, at 3:53 p.m.

Patrick Dempsey has charisma and charm. He is healthy, good looking and financially secure.

He is everything that cancer is not.

Cancer is pain, sickness, ugliness and — too often — financially destructive.

And, yet, there also is hope. There is faith. There is love and there is acceptance.

Last weekend, amid the galas, art walk, fine dining, music and autograph signing as celebrities, professional athletes, wealthy CEOs and thousands of runners and cyclists were in Lewiston for the Dempsey Challenge, the real beauty of the event was that it raised money for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing.

It’s a good cause organized to fight a fearsome disease.

Maine has one of the highest incidence rates of cancer in the country, ranked 11th among the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, the rate is higher among women than among men.

In Maine, with the exception of leukemias, women have higher cancer rates than the national average among the 10 most-diagnosed cancers. Of those 10 cancers, men are diagnosed at higher rates than the national average for six cancers, and lower for cancers of the colon, skin, kidney and mouth.

Within the state, Waldo County has the highest cancer rate, followed by Androscoggin County, Kennebec, Cumberland, York and Penobscot.

Interestingly, Maine’s death rate from cancer — which is above the national average — is not among the highest in the states.

So, we have more cancer, but statistically more of us survive the disease, a trend matched in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

People who live in Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia have a lower cancer rate than Maine, but a higher death rate. The people of Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi have high incidence rates and high death rates, and residents of Arkansas have one of the lowest cancer rates in the country and one of the highest death rates.

Why these fluctuations in diagnosis numbers exist is not well explained, but the fluctuation in death rates could be linked to the availability of medical care.

In Maine, historical trends indicate that the overall cancer rate in Maine is falling, bringing disease rates more closely in line with national averages. The exceptions are rising rates of esophageal cancer and melanoma in men, brain cancer in women, and liver cancer among both genders.

Even with rising rates among some cancers, the overall mortality rate is definitely declining — iin Maine and across the country. In Maine, the only cancers that show a rising death rate are esophageal, liver, thyroid, pancreatic and melanoma.

No matter how the numbers are parsed, the only fact that really matters is that cancer hurts.

Every year in Maine, according to the CDC, more than 3,100 people die. Thousands more suffer and will die in the years to come.

The weekend Dempsey Challenge is not about pain, though. It’s about progress and awareness and community.

Most Americans know Patrick Dempsey from a distance, through his screen and TV career, but most Americans know cancer through first-hand experience of personal suffering, either of themselves or someone they love.

Cancer is personal.

It’s confusing and profoundly frightening, and there is real science proving that hope can help heal, that caring and sharing is as vital as surgeries and chemotherapy, and that human contact and understanding is critically important to the spiritual health of patients.

That kind of hope and healing care is what the Dempsey Center offers, and it is the mission that is being served by funds raised during the Dempsey Challenge.

We thank all who contributed such positive energy in the fight against cancer.

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