Bill Laitner Detroit Free Press
Published 7:41 PM EDT May 23, 2019
Two months after announcing he was fighting fourth-stage pancreatic cancer, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson got a warm surprise at his office in Waterford this week, along with a little salty language.
A flock of grinning staffers gathered in secret after donning T-shirts with warm and fuzzy wording on one side: “Family doesn’t fight alone,” along with “Team Brooks.”
On the back, though, was a quip that neatly echoes Patterson’s often salty style: “Kiss my PancreASS.”
“He got a big laugh out of it,” said Steve Huber, a county spokesman for economic development and community affairs.
“I’d love to take credit for kiss my pancre-ass, but we swiped that from somebody,” Huber said. The phrase is widely used on the internet on websites and Facebook pages about pancreatic cancer, which although rare — comprising just 3 percent of all cancer cases — has struck celebrities including television’s “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek.
More: Patterson’s first question after diagnosis: ‘How much time do I have?’
More: Pancreatic cancer on the rise, on track to be 2nd-leading cancer killer by 2020
Long in the planning, Patterson’s T-shirt day happened on Tuesday and on short notice, when “somebody heard he was in the building, so we all got our shirts and gathered in the conference room,” Huber said.
“One of his people said, ‘Hey, you have a meeting in the conference room’ and they wheeled him in,” said Huber, the confessed ringleader of this purple shirt caper. Purple is the internationally recognized color linked to pancreatic cancer.
After the initial laughter, Patterson “got misty,” said Huber, when the group handed him a mock, oversize check showing their donation to Patterson’s favorite charity — the Rainbow Connection, a Rochester-based nonprofit that grants wishes to children with serious illnesses.
“Each shirt cost us $10 to make, but we charged everybody $20 and the extra ten bucks went toward the donation,” said Huber. Others can order the same “Team Brooks” shirts and make a donation to the Rainbow Connection.
Patterson “was very taken with the whole deal,” especially because “we made this a fundraiser,” Huber said.
Shows of support like this T-shirt gesture can make a difference in a cancer patient’s treatment, said Kathleen Hardy, an oncology social worker at Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Center in Farmington Hills, where Patterson receives chemotherapy.
“When patients feel love and support from other people, it helps them build the inner strength to get through cancer treatment,” Hardy said.
“What I love about those T-shirts is not they’re just saying, ‘We’re here to get you through,’ but also the humor. There’s something about laughter that frees you and breaks the stress you might be feeling.
“So, to send this message to Brooks that we’re here for you, we love you, but also to make him laugh — it’s doesn’t get better than that.”
Keeping the humor flowing this week for visitors to county officials, someone yanked a T-shirt over the bust of Patterson on the 5th floor of the L. Brooks Patterson Executive Office Building.
The Team Brooks shirts are priced at $20 each, which also includes a donation to the Rainbow Connection. To order, go to tshirtvault.net and enter the ID as kmpa2019 and then click on “Show me the shirts” to place an order; shipping is free.
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