'Humbled' by support

Windjammer state champion Fitzpatrick takes it 'one day at a time'

Young Midcoast man looks to future after 'tough' battle with liver cancer
By Ken Waltz | Nov 27, 2017
Photo by: Ken Waltz Brian Fitzpatrick, right, sits with his wife, Caitlin, middle, and oldest child, daughter, Carly, 7, during the Windjammer alumni basketball games on Nov. 25 at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport.

Rockport — As high schools recently finished tryouts for their winter athletic teams, Brian Fitzpatrick, in a conversation with Jeff Hart, his Windjammer coach, recalled how difficult — at least it seemed at the time — those initial practices were for the talented, state-championship-driven Camden Hills Regional High School basketball team.

But, given all Fitzpatrick has gone through in recent months, he gladly would toss on a t-shirt and shorts, lace up the sneakers and go back to those "tough," but fondly remembered days of tryouts and preseason practices.

Oh, how he would go back.

That is because the 35-year-old Fitzpatrick, who has a wife and three young children, is dealing with much more challenging issues. Real-life issues. A situation most his age do not have to face as they start their families and forge their careers.

Watch video below.

But that is not the cards Fitzpatrick has been dealt. Instead, he must summon the emotional and physical strength to deal with adversity like he has never faced.

A member of two Windjammer gold ball-winning state Class B championship basketball teams in the late-1990s and early-2000s, Fitzpatrick must deal with the realization he has liver cancer.

At this point, he hopes the key word going forward is — "had."

The young man recently had an operation he and his doctors hope will put him back on the road to full recovery. But Fitzpatrick's ride the past four-plus months has been bumpy and full of potholes he never saw coming.

On Saturday night, Nov. 25, just 13 days after his major surgery, Fitzpatrick was awash in the glow of love and support from the community, friends, family, classmates and teammates at the Windjammer alumni games in the gymnasium — his old stomping grounds — at Camden Hills Regional High School.

Click to read story and watch video from the Windjammer alumni games.

Click for photos from the alumni games.

"This is overwhelming. Humbling," he said after the games in his honor. "I mean, there are numerous words I could rattle off, but, you know, to see a lot of the guys that I played with or even watched play when I was a little kid or then even once I got done, there were kids out there that I went and watched at the [Bangor] Auditorium.

"It is amazing the community we have around here. The support that they have shown, you know, I'm overwhelmed. My wife and I and my kids, you know, it has been a long, tough four months. We have got three little kids, [ages] 7, 4 and 3, and they are going through it too."

Fitzpatrick's family includes wife, Caitlin, a teacher, and children, Carly, 7, Colin, 4 and Brynn, 3. Previously, Fitzpatrick had lived in the Bangor area and was a foreman for a construction company, while his wife taught in the Hampden school system.

Four years ago she got a teaching job in the Midcoast and the Fitzpatricks were excited to move. Fitzpatrick, his dad, Terry "Fitzy," and brother, Russell, work together as general contractors, which includes painting, remodeling and other construction work.

"Thank God my dad and brother are involved because, without them ... They have picked up all the slack since I have been sick," Fitzpatrick said. "I am very fortunate. I have a very supportive family. Very supportive in-laws and a very supportive community. It is unreal."

Fitzpatrick said he and his family moved back "home" four years ago "and we are so happy we did. Of course, this happened. And now as we look back, we say, 'Oh my word. What an amazing community.' " How fortunate we are. And just reminiscing too, that is the other side of this. There is the cancer-side of it that stinks, which is why the community is here [at the alumni games] supporting me and my family. But this place [high school gymnasium] brings back great memories for me."

Fitzpatrick spent his first three years at Camden-Rockport High School and his senior year in the then new Camden Hills Regional High School. He was, in fact, a member of the first graduating class in 2001.

"My senior year was the first year this gym opened up and we won states that year," he said. "We didn't lose a game here."

Fitzpatrick said he "sat the bench" on the 1999 state championship team and got "a lot of garbage time," and them enjoyed a solid junior year, although that squad fell short of its quest for a state crown.

However, as a senior, Fitzpatrick started with teammates such John Knutson and Nick Wilson, among others. That team won the state title and the juniors on that squad also won the state crown the following season.

"We had a great team and those are great memories," Fitzpatrick said. "This gym just brings back so many good memories."

In his high school playing days, the 6-foot 3-inch Fitzpatrick weighed about 185 pounds. He, of course, still has the height, but due to his recent illness and all that he has been through physically, he has lost about 40 or so pounds. And his strength is, of course, not what it used to be — at least for now.

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick said he talked to Hart, his high school hoop coach, about how the Windjammers just finished tryouts and had started preseason practices and games.

"I am sort of thinking back and remember tryouts being tough, but now I look back and think, 'man, I wish I could go through that again.' Good memories," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said it would be easy to feel sorry for himself, a young man with a beautiful wife and three beautiful children, with a bright, unlimited future, and to wonder, why me?

"I do that occasionally," he said. "More so when I'm all alone. When the kids are running around that takes your mind off things. When you come to an event like this [the alumni games] you don't think like that. Those moments went on in the first month or two. You are sort of reeling and not everyone knows what you are going through. You run into a lot of people and let them know. It is tough, you know.

"Then again, I'm sitting over here [in the corner of the gymnasium on the bottom bleacher on Saturday night] talking to Derek O'Brien, one of my old teammates who got into an unfortunate accident and has been in a wheelchair for years. He and I were taking about one day at a time. You have to take it one day at at time."

Fitzpatrick said, like most young fathers, he has changed gears. He has coached his oldest daughter's athletic teams. He started that last year but has been unable to be a part of coaching her this year due to his recent surgery and overall health challenges.

"I am getting healthier," Fitzpatrick said. "I have had a really good month and I'm feeling better and I'm on the mend. I had three rough months, but I'm telling people I've had a really good November. There has been a lot of good news. There is a lot to look forward to."

He added that the alumni games were so much fun to watch, to meet old and new friends. To watch the games. To be on and near the basketball court where he had so much success.

"Tonight, in a nutshell for me, was humbling, overwhelming and I'm just amazed by the support of the community," Fitzpatrick said.

Of course, it took all of Fitzpatrick's willpower to just sit or stand, for short periods of time, at the games, to conserve his energy because he so wanted to be out on the court playing basketball, one of his favorite sports. To once again be one of the guys.

"The instant I walked in and looked out here and saw them shooting around, that is what I thought: man, next year, alumni game. I wish I could have been out there. There is no way I could have, obviously. Definitely wish I could have been out there shooting around."

"Brian is such a warrior," said Hart. "He is strong-minded. He’s a fighter … and he’s going to get through all this. We’re just here to help he and his family a little while he’s 'on the disabled list.' No one in this community is going to just sit back and watch this happen without reaching out to help. And once again, this event shows all that."

In the middle of July, Fitzpatrick's life, and the lives of all who love him, was turned upside down. It was in the summer when he went to the hospital with pain in abdomen. He initially thought it was Crohn's disease-related because that is an affliction he has dealt with with for more than two decades.

"They ran tests, they sent me to Maine Medical Center [in Portland] and it was a pretty invasive, far-along liver cancer ... The issue I had with it is you don't really know you have cancer like that until it is far along. Being a younger person, I didn't really think I had symptoms that were cancer-related. I had general aches and pains and had lost a little bit of weight, but after the tests went on, there really was not a very good initial prognosis, but my oncologist down in Scarborough looked at me and said, 'I think we need to get you to Boston.' "

So Fitzpatrick went to Massachusetts General, which has a highly-regarded liver cancer team. Since August, Fitzpatrick had treatment in Boston. He went through internal radiation treatments in Boston and other treatments in Scarborough. He did those for a few months, and then it was time for a computed tomography (CT) scan.

"I went down to Boston for that and they looked at things and they were shocked at how much things had improved," Fitzpatrick said. "So they said, 'We can get you into surgery in 10 days.' "

So, on Monday, Nov. 13, doctors took out the entire right lobe of Fitzpatrick's liver and part of the left lob. There was concern that doctors would have to deal with veins which would have complicated matters, but things had shrunk enough where they did not have to do that, he said.

Fitzpatrick has been on the mend since and, a few days ago, received a call from his surgeon, who had looked at his pathology results, and "things were dead in there. So the treatments had worked. Best-case scenario is what my surgeon said to me. When you hear that from a surgeon it is about the best feeling you can get. It has been a good month."

If all goes as hoped health-wise for Fitzpatrick, he looks forward to many more good months and good years as he and his family work their way through the wonderful — but sometimes extremely challenging — journey of life.

And take it one day at a time.

"Since the beginning, that is what I have been trying to do," Fitzpatrick said. "It is easier to say then do, but you get people like this [at the alumni games] that are supporting you through it, thinking about you and praying for you, it is pretty amazing."

Brian Fitzpatrick story
The Brian Fitzpatrick story. (Video by: Zack Miller of VStv)
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.