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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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Patrick Dempsey: Cancer Caregiver

You may know him as 'Dr. McDreamy,' but the real Patrick Dempsey is a supportive son who has twice helped his mother face down ovarian cancer.


“The five-year survival rate for stage III or IV ovarian cancer can be 10% to 60%, depending on how a woman responds to therapy, her age, and how extensive the disease is,” Chi says. “You can have stage IV and have long-term survival, but the odds aren’t great.” Typically, only about 20% of cases are found early. Survival rates outside this early stage can be as low as 30% in five years. Fortunately for the Dempsey clan, their matriarch, now 72, seems to have beaten those odds.

Ten years later, they’ve only begun to exhale. “There is the anxiety of, if it will come back again, how my mother would feel,” the 41-year-old actor tells WebMD. “She is not the same person that she was, emotionally and physically, before the cancer. And every time it comes back, it’s another emotional setback.”

Patrick Dempsey: Caregiver in Action

Making sense of a sometimes complicated diagnosis, choosing the best medical facility, sorting through reams of information -- much of it frightening -- and determining the best treatment options can be extremely challenging, Dempsey admits.

But it’s all part of being the very best advocate you can be for your loved one, whose energy should be focused on getting well, he says.

“You are in an incredibly vulnerable position [as a caregiver] because you feel beholden to people who you think have all the information,” he says. Although his Grey’s Anatomy alter ego, Dr. Derek Shepherd, often seems infallible, “just because someone is a doctor doesn’t mean they have all the answers. Be relentless, question information, and double check it,” Dempsey urges. “Get a second opinion. Do your research.”

It helped that the actor had someone on the inside to turn to. “My sister works in a hospital and is very well-connected. She gave us information and helped us break it down. There is just so much to take in that it’s overwhelming,” he says. And he offers this bit of advice: “Bring a tape recorder -- because you can’t remember everything.”

Advocating for the best possible treatment in the hospital is not a caretaker’s only job, Dempsey says. “When [a loved one] is going through chemotherapy, it’s very hard for them to stay motivated. But if you are a caretaker you need to get them off the couch and moving.”

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