A lot of tears were shed over the 100 miles of the Dempsey Challenge to support the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center and I’m not ashamed to admit some of them were mine.

There’s a good reason cancer is often called “the thief in the night.” Eighteen months ago it stole my husband.

In the four months between the diagnosis of malignant melanoma and his passing, I learned a lot about courage, determination, humility and — the hardest lesson of all — that sometimes loving someone is not enough to save them.

An optimist to the end, my husband, Patrick, fought hard against the disease, undergoing major surgery, radiation treatments and countless tests, scans and exams.

All that time he was convinced he’d beat it and promised me almost daily he would emerge cancer-free.

In our 26 years together it was the only promise he failed to live up to — certainly not for lack of trying.

Continuing the search for effective cancer treatments or a cure was among the goals of the ride, and that’s why I signed on for the grueling 50-mile trek that ultimately raised close to $1 million for the Dempsey Center.

Dempsey, himself a cyclist and Maine native, wanted to establish a fundraising event for the center, which provides support and resources for cancer patients and their families.

His mother is a cancer survivor, which made the event very personal for the actor best known for his role on TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“I learned a lot during my mother’s illness,” Dempsey said in a prepared statement. “I found out how important it is to have access to good, reliable resources to help the patient, family members and caretakers [and] I knew I that I wanted to make a difference.”

The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing provides education, support and wellness services to enhance the quality of life for individuals and their families touched by cancer.

In addition to the CMMC facility in Lewiston, the center has clinics in Bridgton and Rumford.

Dempsey was joined in the ride by professional cyclists George Hincapie and Dave Zabriskie, who rolled out of Lewiston at the head of a pack of 1,800 riders and 1,600 runners and walkers.

The cyclists had the option of completing 10-, 25-, 50- or 100-mile rides winding through central Maine.

Along the way were plenty of steep climbs and fast descents.

“This ride fit the name ‘challenge,’” Carin D’Abrosca of Nottingham, N.H., said at mile 30. “This is a really hard ride.”

D’Abrosca, whose husband is a cancer survivor, was taking part in the 50-mile ride with friends Sue Leavitt and Audrey Caswell, also of New Hampshire.

“Carin’s the one who got us into this,” Leavitt said with a laugh. “But this is a great and well-organized ride.”

Marie Ridley flew all the way from Palo Alto, Calif., to take part in the 50-mile ride.

“This is a really good cause,” Ridley said. “A center for hope and healing is such a great thing for cancer patients and their families [and] it’s a great thing for [Dempsey] to be supporting.”

Ridley, who has family in the central Maine area, was dedicating her ride to friend and cancer survivor Collette Ayer of New Hampshire.

“She is really where my heart is today,” Ridley said.

There were countless stories like that along the route with just about every rider having been touched by cancer in one form or another.

For 50 miles handmade signs celebrated cancer survivors, memorialized its victims and thanked the riders.

Often it was that simple sentiment of gratitude coupled with the realization of how my struggle to make it up one more hill paled in comparison to the daily trials faced by cancer patients that kept me going.

In the five hours it took me to complete the course I thought a lot about the uphill battle fought by cancer patients and of the one waged — and lost — by Patrick.

I thought of the number of people who supported us during that struggle and of the community of strangers coming together for a giant bicycle ride so others could receive that needed support.

And as we neared the top of yet another hill, I swear I could hear Patrick — a man who always favored mechanized transportation — laughing.

Information on the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing is at www.dempseycenter.org.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.