A Day to Remember and an Experience of a Lifetime
My family and I had the most memorable experience when a good friend of ours for many years, Shelly Cates, asked if we could make it to the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) sports car race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 4th. Shelly’s husband Greg is Team Manager for Dempsey Racing, a top sports car racing team owned by none other than the actor Patrick Dempsey who happens to be a pretty good race car driver too.
The idea of having a fun day at the track and hopefully meeting “McDreamy” himself would have been just fine but then Shelly also asked if I would do the honors of being the Grand Marshal for the day! After a lot of thought - about .005 seconds - I screamed "YES!"
I had never been to an ALMS or IndyCar race before so we really didn't know what was in store for us, but we were excited to share the day with Shelly. We kicked the day off with a golf cart ride to the paddock and a pace car lap in an impressive Porsche Panamera. Pattie Mayer was our driver and is an accomplished professional race car driver and, needless to say, she was very comfortable on the track. My husband, Tony, and my dad were in the backseat, sliding all over the place, and I was in the front, eyes glued to the road and the speedometer, as Pattie reached 130 mph on the back straight. Talk about a rush!
When we got out of the pace car, we had the biggest smiles on our faces! Those smiles lasted the entire day, and I'll tell you why. After the lap, Shelly took us to the Dempsey racing team transporter and garage area and showed us around. Greg explained the differences in the two race cars the team runs in ALMS while a large group of people began to line up for an autograph session that was scheduled to start 30 minutes from then. It was warm that day, but the fans didn't care.
First we met Joe Foster, Patrick’s co-driver and racing business partner. Joe is such a sincere and genuine person and a champion race car driver too. He made me and my family feel so welcome!
Duncan Ende, Henri Richard and Dane Cameron were next for us to meet and they were all just great guys and, as we would see later that day, great drivers too. We had met Duncan's fiancé, Terri, earlier that day and she is just a sweetheart. Tony and Duncan even got to talk motorcycles for a little bit.
Obviously there is still a driver that I haven't mentioned yet, the guy whose name is on the transporter, Patrick Dempsey, and I won't lie, I was pretty excited to meet him because I love Grey's Anatomy. I refrained from mentioning the show, but within the first five seconds of my mother meeting him, she couldn't contain herself. "I watch you EVERY week!!"
We quickly got onto the subject of cancer when Patrick told us about his mom. I didn't realize she had faced ovarian cancer five times. WOW. Now you may think "what a morbid topic to discuss with Patrick Dempsey," but I can promise you, it was not. It was an extremely hopeful and inspiring conversation. I have been fighting cancer for almost two years, with the help of my husband, our families, friends, and our incredible doctors. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 28. It is very tough to wrap my head around sometimes, but I am constantly using diet and exercise (along with treatment) to push me through.
The diagnosis was extremely shocking to us. We were shocked for obvious reasons: I am young, appear to be healthy and have no family history. We were especially shocked because about a year and a half prior, I had been proactive when I felt a lump in my breast. It didn’t feel right to me so I immediately went to get it checked out. After a quick ultrasound, they told me it was nothing. I went back a few months later when I found another lump, and again, I was told it was nothing.
A year passed and Tony and I were ready to start a family. We decided to get a second opinion, and are so blessed that we did. Within a week of getting a second opinion I had an ultrasound, a mammogram, 16 biopsies and a pathology report that had cancer written all over it. I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
We decided to freeze embryos before I started chemo and are now in the process of using a surrogate to carry our baby (or maybe two!). It has been a challenging couple of years with surgeries, treatments, radiation, etc., but we have maintained a positive attitude and our faith and are moving right along! I am always willing to share my story to raise awareness in younger women, promote early detection and second opinions, and stress the impact that diet and exercise can have on a cancer prognosis!
I feel like I am the poster child for the slogan "cancer doesn't discriminate." If you're not a cancer survivor yourself, you know someone who had cancer, is living with cancer, or lost their courageous battle to cancer. Keep fighting!
OK, that's my story, and Patrick is really in touch with what it is like to fight cancer. He told us that he understood the ups, downs, scans, tests, surgeries and treatments. Any cancer diagnosis manages to strap us all into the same emotional roller coaster. We learned that Patrick had opened a center in his home state of Maine, The Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing. We learned that his passion is creating a wellness center for patients (or non patients) who are interested in learning how to better improve their outcomes with treatments such as acupuncture, diet, massage therapy, exercise, etc. We were thrilled to learn that he was making a difference in this way and blown away by our similar goals. So add "Cancer Center Founder" to the list of things that Patrick does, along with husband, father of three, “brain surgeon” and race car driver! I thought I was busy! I hope to visit the Dempsey Center someday and learn about all that they have to offer.
It was refreshing to meet such a humble group of drivers, Patrick included. We are honored to have met them and even spend some time getting to know them.
As the team sat down to start autographs, we headed to the grid for pre-race ceremonies. We suited up in our fashionable Dempsey Racing fire suits and stood on the track during the National Anthem and pre-race festivities. I did a short interview to raise breast cancer awareness and then yelled the famous line: "Gentlemen! Start! Your! Engines!" I will never forget that!
I was immediately pulled back into the Porsche Panamera and we took off for the real pace laps for the race. Since we were in the safety car, it was suggested that we wait to see if we get any action and have to go out on the track! Sitting in the air-conditioned Panamera was action enough for me but sure enough, after about 20 minutes into the race, a caution flag was flown and we had to roll to slow the field down. Pattie gunned it onto the track and caught up with the first place car while her co-driver, Allison Altzman, was directing all the cars with hand signals from the passenger seat. Both Pattie and Allison were on radios too, talking to the control tower, and it was an intense experience! We took about 10 laps as the pace car and it was unreal to look out the back window and see all of the race cars behind us, waiting eagerly to resume the race. It was pretty sick.
We ended the day presenting trophies to all the race winners in victory lane, which was another fun part of my Grand Marshal duties! The Mid-Ohio people run victory lane with ALMS and I have to thank Shelly’s friend Mary Weir and everybody at the track and ALMS too for being so awesome.
We then made a quick stop back to the Dempsey transporter to say goodbye to the guys and thank everyone for such an incredible experience. There’s no doubt a cancer diagnosis can bring challenging times but there are also days like this that create great memories that will never be forgotten. Rock on Dempsey Racing, Patrick, Joe, Henri, Duncan, Dane, Greg, everybody on the team, and the biggest rock star, Shelly!
Now, we want to go to another race so bad! If I am lucky enough to get to one, say hello if you have a chance, particularly if you or someone you know has a story like mine or Patrick’s mother. Together we can all beat this and that will be the biggest victory!