Patrick Clarey is a fixer.
As a former police chief in Lisbon, Clarey was often at the center of solving whatever problem arose.
When Clarey ran the drug unit within the Wauwatosa Police Department, there was a clear objective for every day.
On the court as the head coach for the Brookfield Academy boys basketball team, his job is to adjust on the fly in the middle of games.
But, for one of the first times in his life, he is facing a problem he can’t solve: Deanna Clarey, Patrick’s wife of more than 26 years, is fighting breast cancer.
“You get punched in the stomach,” Clarey said. “With my background, I’m the one that was the problem-solver. This is a problem you don’t solve. Having that mentality, it’s difficult because it becomes frustrating very fast. Watching someone you love go through that and not being able to fix it, that’s tough.”
The diagnosis came as a shock in early November. Since then, Deanna has undergone surgery, shuttled to dozens of appointments and seen the diagnosis change to stage one invasive breast cancer.
The Clareys may not be able to solve the problem right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to fight it.
Diagnosis was a shock
When Deanna went in for a routine mammogram Nov. 2, she already had been putting off the appointment for five or six months.
“That’s one of my biggest messages, is to remind women that we always put everybody else first, but this is a time where you need to prioritize yourself,” Deanna said. “I’m surprised I even did it because I kept saying, ‘I need to get this done before basketball season.’ I just thought it would be routine.”
The appearance of a white coat, who promptly and softly held her hand after entering the room, and the ensuing delivery of the harsh news ensured the checkup would prove to be anything but ordinary.
“I now understand when the coat walks in, something is wrong,” Deanna said. “I was in complete shock.”
Since that early November appointment, Deanna has undergone surgery, gone to multiple appointments per week and seen the diagnosis changed to stage one invasive. She is now five weeks out from surgery, with another coming this spring.
Basketball as an escape
With both Patrick and Deanna having played in college and all four of their boys — Sean, Ryan, Aidan and Peytan — either current or former Brookfield Academy players, the Clareys epitomize a basketball family.
The gym has always been an escape for them. Never has that been more true than now.
“It’s your sanctuary,” Patrick said. “It’s always been my time to escape the world. Same thing now. You come here and you want to have that escape. I tell my guys to leave all the garbage, all the distractions, at the door, and I try to do the same.”
Still, the “garbage” sometimes sneaks into the gym.
“With what Deanna’s had to battle and go through, it throws you off,” he said. “I’m more pissed off in practice. I really am. You want to have joy in everything you do, but then you’re constantly reminded that things at home are not right.”
For Deanna, basketball is also an outlet. Outside of doctor appointments, the only time she leaves the home is to watch her boys play. What was once an almost-daily task she now calls her “field trips.”
“You’re so isolated throughout surgery, you can’t go anywhere, can’t do anything and the only place you ever go is the hospital,” Deanna said. “Then you go back home and you’re stuck with your thoughts.
“But when you get to go on a field trip and you’re surrounded by everyone who makes it a point to come up to you and give you a hug – a gentle hug – or smile at you, and then to be able to watch the boys, it’s been a very good outlet for me.”
An overflow of support
Deanna was once the most vocal presence in the stands at Brookfield Academy games, with her cheers so loud that Patrick had to ask her to sit away from the team’s video camera.
When she takes in a game from the bleachers now, she limits her cheering to simple claps; her presence isn’t heard, but it is felt.
“She makes it out to games now and it’s always good to see her back in the stands where she belongs,” Aidan said. “It’s good to have that reassurance that she’s there watching.”
When Brookfield Academy players take the floor, they do so sporting the pink socks senior captain Michael Connor purchased for everyone.
“What’s crazy is I didn’t anticipate everybody wearing the pink socks every game,” senior guard Marco Humphrey said. “When I put them on, it means a lot to me. It’s just one small way to let her know we care.”
As game-day fashion statements go, the socks pale in comparison to Patrick’s pink dress shoes, which he wears to every game.
“I just walk into the gym and smile when I see the pink,” Deanna said.
The support from the community hasn’t been limited to game days.