LEWISTON – It took a near-death experience to bring Fran Stanhope to life.

Top fundraiser Fran Stanhope of Raymond brings this orange dragon with her to every Dempsey Challenge. The leader of Orange Dragons Against Cancer, Nina Houghton Brown, gave Stanhope the dragon at her first captain’s meeting in 2019. Brown went out of her way to make Stanhope and her husband feel welcome. “It just touched me,” Stanhope says. “She just was very energetic, and we didn’t know anybody, so we were quite. Just the fact that she came over was very heartwarming.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“Cancer is a knock on the door of your life. It says: ‘Hello? You know, there is an end date,’” Stanhope said. “It really makes you wake up to that in a way that I think you don’t if you haven’t faced (cancer).”

In 2016, Stanhope was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer and an aggressive form of small cell carcinoma. She beat the cancer after undergoing chemotherapy and intensive surgery.

A little more than a year later, Stanhope’s cancer returned. Again, she beat it, and has been in remission for two years.

Recovering has been the most challenging part of her cancer journey.

“When you’re in treatment, you’re so focused on that, you’re just getting through it,” Stanhope said. “You’re not, it sounds weird, but you’re not focused on the other things. When all of that is over, you’re sort of in limbo because you’re different and you don’t really know what to do with that.”


During her recovery, Stanhope attended the Dempsey Center’s free fitness classes.

“They literally got me back on my feet,” she said. “I really needed that then. When I got out of surgery, I could barely walk out my driveway.”

Most important, Stanhope said she found a community of fellow survivors.

“I had no idea how important that was going to be,” she said. “As loving as all of your people are, your friends think it’s over because you’re no longer in treatment so everything goes back to normal around you. But you’re different. And so the other survivors get that. They get that you’re not the same person and it’s not over. It’s still there.”

The Dempsey Center supported Stanhope through one of the most challenging experiences of her life. In return, she participates in the Dempsey Challenge year after year.

“There’s so much emotion here, and there’s so much love and connectedness,” she said. “There’s unity here. It’s a community that comes together and everyone is a family.


“I come alive here with Dempsey, with the Dempsey Challenge. It brings me alive.”

Fran Stanhope, right, and her husband, Bob Stanhope, left, pose for a photograph Saturday with Patrick Dempsey after the award ceremony. Fran Stanhope was the top fundraiser for the 2021 Dempsey Challenge. Submitted Photo

Stanhope said she never thought she would be a top fundraiser of the event. In 2021, however, she accomplished exactly that.

She managed to collect more than $23,500 for the Dempsey Center, $5,000 more than the second-highest fundraiser.

Fran’s Army, her Dempsey Challenge team, was also the top noncorporate team. It raised more than $83,000.

“It’s helping the next person who is going to have cancer and not know what to do when it’s over,” Stanhope said. “Dempsey Center is not treatment, it’s healing from treatment. And you really need that.”

Stanhope’s team was bolstered by a single generous friend who contributed $54,000 to the cause.

“I want to take a humble stance on this, because it’s not what I did,” she said. “It’s really Fran’s Army. It’s so much bigger. And it’s more than just Fran’s Army. It’s Dempsey Challenge. It’s Dempsey Center. It’s so much a bigger whole.”

If Stanhope could pass on one thing she learned from her cancer journey, it would be that “knock on the door.”

“Listen to the knock now,” she said. “Grab life and just seize the day. Go after your dreams and make it happen.”

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