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Dempsey Center initiative seeks to ease burden of scars for cancer survivors

The Dempsey Center, responding to a growing need among cancer survivors in Maine, has launched a statewide initiative to help those who suffer from chronic pain and restrictions caused by surgical scars.

The effort includes three key components: Public workshops for cancer survivors to learn self-massage techniques for scars; Expanded scar therapy at the Dempsey Center in Lewiston and South Portland; And Trainings for massage therapists and other wellness providers from around Maine, so they can bring these scar therapy techniques back to their communities.

Kathleen Wing, manager of complementary therapies at the Dempsey Center, said the statewide initiative is timely, as more Mainers are living longer after a cancer diagnosis, thanks largely to early detection and advances in treatments. The number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1975 and will continue to grow, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Of the estimated 125,000 cancer survivors in Maine, many face difficult long term effects.

“Massage therapy has always been one of our most popular services, and we hear from clients that scars are a big issue. The physical limitations and pain from scars can sometimes prevent people from doing the activities they enjoy,” Wing said.

The Dempsey Center initiative teaches ScarWork, a collection of techniques developed by practitioner Sharon Wheeler of Seattle. It’s an individualized approach toward integrating scar tissue back into the surrounding healthy tissue.

At a clinic on November 16, a dozen practitioners who attended a previous Dempsey Center training on ScarWork will provide one-on-one therapy to cancer survivors at the South Portland location. Separate workshops on December 10 and January 28 are designed for survivors who want to learn self-massage.

“When people think about scars and massage, they might think it’s going to hurt. ScarWork techniques are different. They are gentle, rarely painful, and the improvements in appearance and mobility can be profound, even after one session,” said Maggie Miller, an oncology massage therapist at the Dempsey Center who has more than 30 years of experience in the field.

“The ScarWork initiative is all about collaboration,” Miller said. “We’re increasing our capacity to treat clients directly at the Dempsey Center, but the need is far greater than what we can provide. So, one of the goals here is to connect with the network of massage therapists and structural integration folks throughout Maine and have them bring this service to their clients.”

The November 16 clinic is full, but there are openings available at the December 10 and January 28 self-massage workshops. To register or to learn more about the Dempsey Center’s ScarWork initiative, email, or visit

Journalists are invited to visit the Dempsey Center, 778 Main St., South Portland, between 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 to speak with clients and practitioners about the ScarWork clinic. Please contact Nancy Audet to make arrangements at, (207) 774-2200 or 1-877-336-7287.

The Dempsey Center is committed to making life better for people managing the impact of cancer. With locations in South Portland and Lewiston, Dempsey Center services help individuals and families maintain physical and emotional wellness as they deal with a cancer diagnosis. Understanding that cancer impacts the whole family, the Dempsey Center provides specialized services for children and teens and their families. All services are provided at no charge.

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