Staff offers salty support amid Patterson's cancer battle

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
L. Brooks Patterson is surrounded by his staffers as they show support for the ailing Oakland County executive.

Tack an 'S' to the end of "pancreas," and you have a pretty good indication of how L. Brooks Patterson feels about his inoperable cancer.

That made for the perfect T-shirt sentiment when staffers surprised the salty Oakland County Executive with a show of support at his office Tuesday — and raised a few dollars for his favorite charity.

"Family Doesn't Fight Alone," the shirts said on the front, with the hashtag #TEAMBROOKS. That's the part that made Patterson misty, said ringleader Stephen Huber.

On the back, in defiant white-on-purple, was the part that made him laugh:

"Kiss My Pancreass."

"It's been in the works for a few weeks to get the shirts and get everybody on board," said Huber, the marketing and communications officer for the economic development department.

Then word came that Patterson was headed to work. There was quick scramble — Find your shirt! Quick, head to the conference room — and 23 members of his executive team were on hand when an assistant made up a reason that Patterson's nurse needed to wheel him into a detour.

"There was this sea of purple," Patterson said. "All I saw was the 'Family' side. Then one-by-one, they started to turn around."

His reaction: "I was dying," he said. But only figuratively.

A bust of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson models one of the shirts his staffers made for him to support his cancer battle.

Patterson, 80, was diagnosed in early March with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The frequently controversial and occasionally confrontational county executive revealed his condition March 26 and said he would not be running for an eighth term next year.

He's undergoing chemotherapy every other Wednesday, he said, and making it to the office as much as he can.

The day after treatment, "sometimes you're not quite sure where you are. I feel ebullient. I'm all over the place," he said, catching up on postponed phone calls and appointments.

"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who's also dealing with pancreatic cancer, "said that when he gets to Friday, he's on the floor writhing," Patterson said. "I know what he means. If I wasn't in a wheelchair, I'd be right on the floor with him.

"Thank God the pain really kicks in over the weekend so I don't miss too much work."

In an upbeat Detroit News column last week, the first in a series, Patterson complained that doctors were forcing him to go through chemotherapy treatments every Wednesday while simultaneously prohibiting him from drinking.

"Who says cancer is not a tough disease?" he asked.

The T-shirts, Huber said, were a reminder that at least he's not fighting it by himself.

The inspiration was a T-shirt order years ago at the office where Huber's wife works, designed to perk up an ailing child.

As for the message, "I want to say that line is mine," he said, but in fact it was discovered somewhere on the internet by graphic designer Pam Tremble.

The shirts are available to the public at; enter the ID number kmpa2019. The cost is $20, and about half of the money winds up with the Rainbow Connection, the wish-granting children's non-profit Patterson founded in 1985.

Huber ordered 35 shirts, raised about $340, and presented Patterson with a slightly understated $300 check for the nonprofit.

The Rainbow Connection grants about 150 wishes per year, said executive director George Miller, at an average cost of $5,000.

"Every little bit helps," he said, and laughs don't hurt any, either.

The T-shirts, he said, are "just perfect. They're absolutely in line with Brooks."

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