Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson reflects on life, death and faith amid cancer diagnosis

By Devin Scillian - Anchor

Detroit - Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March, calling it "career ending."

At the time of the announcement, Patterson had only had about a month to process the news. Recently, Local 4's Devin Scillian sat down with Patterson at his home to talk about life, death and faith.

"Thy will be done. Every morning, I get up and say, 'If this is your will, I'm not going to fight it. Thy will be done,'" Patterson said.

Patterson has been thinking a lot about faith, about mortality and about what it will take to beat cancer.

"And he (the doctor) said, 'I've got some very bad news for you. In fact, very bad.' I said, 'What's that, doc?' and he said, 'You've got pancreative cancer and we deem it to be stage 4.'"

Patterson has a good sense of humor, that shines during any conversation -- even if that conversation is about government policy, the crash that almost took his life seven years ago or his current cancer fight.

"'The first question I'm going to ask you is probably the first question everyone asks you. How much time do I have?' He said, 'I don't know, only God knows.' I said, 'You gave my health records to Nancy Pelosi?' and he starts laughing and he says, 'That's what I want to see, this attitude. Attitude is up to 90 percent of how we're going to win this fight.'"

Patterson is a man who knows his way around a fight, be it political or personal. But how many times can you beat the odds? The car wreck could have killed him. He was given a 3 percent chance of survival. So again, apply some humor.

Patterson has begun chemotherapy treatment. He said it is, as you imagine, unpleasant, but he does what he must to be among the 11 percent who survive. Understand, no matter what happens from here on out with the cancer, this will not be the worst thing to happen in Patterson's life. That sad distinction will always be the loss of his son, Brooksie, who was killed in a snowmobile crash 12 years ago.

"I've been blessed. I had four, now three beautiful kids. The one I lost, that's where I get myself into a tearful situation. I don't think you ever get over that. I'm looking at his picture right over your shoulder," Patterson said.

Since the diagnosis, Patterson has no problem telling people that he's spending more time thinking about faith. Even calling priests and pastors to talk about the forgiveness of sins and about what happens at the end. Reactionary? Yes, and he's OK with that, too.

"Father gave me absolution, which, if you're not Catholic, you don't quite understand. That eradicates all sins back to the day you had baptism. And I turned 80, I said, 'Father, there's not a hell of a lot of things I can get into at age 80. I appreciate the offer," Patterson laughed.

"At this point in time, facing what I'm facing, I'm going to ask all the questions I was always embarrassed to ask -- about death, about God, what proof do you have. If you don't have proof and so your faith is stronger than mine, but how did you get to that point? because I may have to cross that bridge."

The night the first signs of trouble surfaced with Patterson's cancer he was on his way to see his grandson in a play, which fits at the moment.

County business and political talk was part of this conversation with Patterson, but he is mostly leaning toward conversations about family, friends and the important things.

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