Patterson: Enduring endless chemo is a journey to the unknown

Brooks Patterson
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is given an IV by nurse Denise Turner for his cancer treatment at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Farmington Hills.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer earlier this year, and announced he would not seek election to an eighth term next fall. This is the second of periodic columns Patterson will write about his battle with the disease. 

When I last left you, I was boldly headed into the unknown, fueled by a recent dosage of chemo, and having no idea of where I was actually going. Soon after, on a Wednesday, I had my second infusion of chemo.

The chemo confused me. Saturday morning it felt as if I got in line to board a ship to Mars, but instead found myself headed out to Neptune. Neptune is a nice place. It’s like Belle Isle, without the coneys.

Thursday and Friday, and for that matter, Saturday and Sunday, of the chemo week were a total loss. Stuck in painful confusion, I felt I had put my shoes on the wrong feet. Not a biggie, it just means you keep going back to where you’ve been.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is evaluated by Lynette Guziatek-Trojniak, nurse practitioner, as Patterson continues his cancer treatment at the Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center, Karmanos Cancer Institute, in Farmington Hills on May 15.

But then, of course, Monday rolls around with all the promise of a new week, especially the big promise of no chemo treatment that week. My doctor, and probably your doctor, requires treatment on a pace of every other week.

The treatment takes between one and three hours. Some ask, “What do you do during that time?”

I feel as if I'm hanging on to the edge of a cliff.

Karmanos does give you a couple of “minor distraction” toys to help pass the time.

One that I particularly like are animal crackers. I try to decide what breed of animal it is that I’m eating. I don’t want to say the Karmanos animal cracker supply is getting old, but this morning I ate a Tyrannosaurus Rex, three Raptors and finally a Triceratops.

I sailed through that non-chemo week, trying to put bad memories behind me.

But then there it loomed, like a horror movie gone bad, “chemo treatment No. 3” standing in the doorway.

You know, I’d like to say my third chemo treatment was like a walk in the park. But it was more like a hike through Highland Park.

After three treatments, you are starting to move a little bit down the recovery highway. You really won’t know how you’re doing until you have a definitive CAT scan that identifies any foreign object in your system, especially an uninvited cancer.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson

My first CAT scan was very positive. I’m delighted to say the X-rays showed an improvement in my condition. That’s not to say that the fight is over, I still have a long way to go. But the good news is the encouragement from the doctors was there in a chorus of support.

As you fight a life-and-death disease, your mind can’t help but focus on the latter. You start to review your life’s contributions, the good, the bad, and the ugly. At this point in our lives we hope not too much ugly.

I was raised to walk a pretty straight path of Christian behavior. If I were to succumb to this awful disease and God offered me some options, I would consider the following:

Option 1: Straight to heaven.

Option 2: Straight to hell for two minutes and find the son-of-a-bitch that invented chemo and kick him in the family jewels, and then go to heaven for all eternity.

Bringing you up to date, my latest chemo treatment was this Wednesday. Try not to call me in the coming days since I will be negotiating a contract for the first coney island on Neptune.

All of this is an attempt to shake a nasty illness called pancreatic cancer.

One of my staff members summed it up well when he wore a T-shirt to the office recently that said: “Kiss My PancreASS!”

L. Brooks Patterson is the executive of Oakland County.