LAINGSBURG – Cayden Patrick was four months old when Michael Jordan won his sixth and final NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan, arguably the game’s greatest player, was strolling down the finish line of a once-in-a-generation career around the time Patrick started stringing together a full sentence.
But the 18-year-old high school senior grew up loving the game – he still does – and it was Jordan who inspired the native of rural Laingsburg to one day try for greatness on the hardwood.
“I wanted to be an NBA player growing up,” he said. “It was my favorite.”
But, in 2011, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer called nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which begins behind the nose and is most common in Asian men, and, despite a successful round of treatment, it returned to his liver in 2013, toward the end of his freshman year.
He played, briefly, for Laingsburg High School’s junior varsity and varsity teams his sophomore and junior seasons. The demands were too much.
But there was still golf – a game he grew to appreciate growing up around his grandfather, but never played competitively until his sophomore year.
“I had this passion for basketball,” Patrick said. “I always wanted to be playing. And once that was taken away, I didn’t want to stop being competitive and playing sports.”
Patrick is finishing up his final year on the Laingsburg High School golf team, which is something that didn’t look possible even a year ago.
“I’m just really thankful that I can even be here to swing or even golf,” he said.
The Little Things
Patrick is one of 11 golfers on the golf team. He’s not one of the five starters, and he said his average is in the low 50s through nine holes.
But he doesn’t do it to be the best. He does it to better himself.
“While I golf, I’m not thinking of the disease. I’m having a good time,” he said. “I’m just trying to shoot my best and make my score go down. It’s a confidence booster. I love the feeling of shooting a good round.”
Patrick still feels the effects of the disease while on the course. Cold, rainy weather sometimes forces him to miss practices and tournaments because of his weak immune system. His treatment causes his liver to swell. He takes pain killers every four hours. He’s rarely able to do all-day tournaments because of the walking required to compete.
Other than that, his teammates can’t tell the difference between the old and new him.
“You just see a part of him that you saw before he found out, a part you just don’t see as much anymore,” said Marcel Ball, a junior on the team, who has known Patrick since middle school. “It’s nice to see him out here doing something that he can actually do. I know doing all the chemotherapy and the treatments has taken a toll on him.”
And nobody is happier to see that than his mother, Rebecca.
“It was very hard for me to go to a basketball game and not see him out there,” said Rebecca.
From May to November of 2013, she traveled with her son every two weeks to Texas Children’s Hospital so he could receive treatment.
“I used to get really, really upset, and I would look to him and say, ‘I can’t stay here.’ And he would say, ‘Mom, it’s just not my time,'” she said.
“For me to watch him golf and see him out there, whether he does awesome or horrible, I’m just so happy to see him out there. I’m so happy he can go to school this year and graduate and do the things he wants to do.”
During both his sophomore and junior years, Patrick was forced to leave school in November to start back up with treatment, after scans showed the cancer was not going away. He kept up with his work through homeschooling.
From the end of 2013 to the end of 2014, he did chemotherapy at the University of Michigan. When that didn’t eradicate the cancer, his family and his doctors looked for alternatives and found an all-natural treatment center located in Irvine, California. Starting around February of 2015, Patrick would do chemo in Ann Arbor for two weeks and, on the third week, he and his mother would fly out to California for 10 days. This went on for months.
“From the very beginning, when this happened, my husband and I sat in a room and talked and promised we wouldn’t let this destroy our marriage or our family,” said Rebecca, who estimates the family spent around $200,000 during the back-and-forth trips to California. “We were going to sell the house. We just prayed, trying to figure out what was best for Cayden.”
The family’s prayers were answered. In July, over the course of six days, family and family friends donated about $56,000. Rebecca packed up her family, and they moved to California from August to November for more treatment.
But Patrick still found time to golf.
“I don’t think I stopped (during treatment),” Patrick said. “Sometimes I forget that I even have it. I don’t see anything different, and I don’t feel anything different – besides the pain. It’s just regular everyday life for me.”
Patrick returned home in the fall and returned to Laingsburg High School. Basketball was out of the question, but golf wasn’t.
As a sophomore, Patrick was able to play a good amount of golf. But the following year, the impact of the cancer was too much. According to coach Greg Beavers, “he wasn’t strong and didn’t play much at all.”
With that in mind, Beavers talked with Patrick before golf season started and told him the first thing they had to do was build his strength back up.
It’s been a fight, but he’s winning.
“The first month and a half, he was tired after five or six holes,” Beavers said. “Now, the last month of the season, he’s got the strength back up, he can walk nine holes.
“For me, looking at his future, (I wanted) to get him to a point where he can still do this and be happy with it. And I think he’s there now.”
Patrick said golf has taken over as his favorite sport. He said it rids his body of stress.
“I plan to golf for the rest of my life,” he said. “I just developed a love and passion for it like I did with basketball.”
Patrick, who plans on attending Lansing Community College next year, sees himself playing the game for “the rest of my life.” He said it doesn’t feel like his high school golfing career is going to end anytime soon.
But he’s never been one to focus on endings.
“I’m just glad that I got to experience golf and that it was brought into my life,” he said. “I’m glad I got to see the competitive side of golf because, at first, it wasn’t competitive to me. It was just about going out with my grandpa and doing a couple of holes and laughing about it.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.