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Nurse: “He reminds me of a happy babbling brook when he speaks French”

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Nurse: “He reminds me of a happy babbling brook when he speaks French”

He’s been in the United States for more than 40 years, but Patrice Flahaut maintains a strong affinity to his native France through his language and love as a pastry chef.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

There’s a melodic echo from an infusion room inside IU Health’s Simon Cancer Center. It’s a distinct accent – a language spoken between oncology nurse Chloe Bonham and patient Patrice Flahaut.

As their animated conversation continues, Bonham explains that, like Flahaut, she too was born in France. She moved to the United States as a child and then returned to her birth land for two years in adulthood. Also like Flahaut, she still has family there and she still misses the food.

“We can talk about food and family for hours,” said Bonham. “He reminds me of a happy babbling brook when he speaks French.”

Since becoming a patient at IU Health in December of 2019, Flauhaut has come to know many of the oncology team members. They know when he’s coming and they know when he’s arrived. He greets everyone by name and cheerfully responds: “I give them all a 10 and I’d give them a 15 if I could. I won’t go anywhere else but IU Health.”

A resident of Fort Wayne, Patrice and his wife of 42 years, Lucette, first learned of his diagnosis through a chest x-ray followed by a biopsy. When lesions appeared on the scan, he was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. His first treatment – radiation – was under the care of IU Health’s Dr. Maximilian Pyko. He then started an immunotherapy drug trial. It worked for about three months and when the lesions returned he started a new chemotherapy that brings him and his wife to Simon Cancer Center every three weeks.

“We’d rather take the two-hour trip down here than go anywhere else,” said his wife. And when they arrive at IU Health, staff members are eager to hear his updates about his life outside the hospital. Patrice always has a story to share. Usually it involves fishing or baking. As he recently celebrated his 66th birthday, he talks about a life full of stories to share.

One began in the kitchen – a place he finds much joy.

It was where he first met eyes with the woman who would become his bride. Lucette was 16 and had traveled to France to spend the summer of 1976 with her aunt and uncle. Lucette’s mother was born in France, met her father during WW II and moved to the United States in 1947.

Lucette and Patrice met while attending a family wedding.

“He walked into the kitchen at my aunt’s house, our eyes met and that was it,” said Lucette. There were two Flahaut brothers that looked similar. Patrice is a twin. “His brother was clean cut and Patrice had long hair like Sylvester Stallone. Our eyes locked and that was that,” said Lucette. She returned to the United States, they wrote long letters – even some French poems. “Patrice was always so romantic in his letters to me. He always sent me cards of two birds with a nest of eggs and he would tell me one day we would have our nest of love. He was my first love and I was his first love,” said Lucette. Two years later, she returned to France with her parents.

“I didn’t know any French when I first met him, but I was so proud of my mom’s heritage and I was so honored to go to France,” said Lucette, the youngest child of three. Not only was language a challenge, they only saw each other three days during her stay. He lived in the north of France; her aunt and uncle lived in Paris. At the time, Patrice was working as a welder in Saudi Arabia and was out of the country for a 21-day stretch at a time.

But somehow they both knew.

In February of 1979, three years after they first met, Patrice came to the United States on a “fiancé visa.” They were married in front of a judge on June 23, 1979. They later had a family wedding with photos taken in a rose garden in Fort Wayne.

Over the years, they built their lives around their two sons – Jimmy and Sebastien, and 11-year-old grandson. They have also traveled with Patrice’s newfound career.

When he came to the United States, he worked at a bakery in Fort Wayne, and eventually worked at a French bakery in Birmingham, Mich. As his career took flight they moved back to Fort Wayne where he helped open the Grand Wayne Convention Center. From that role, he was recruited as a pastry and bread chef for a restaurant in New Orleans and then to help introduce a culinary line in Sausalito, Calif. After 10 years they returned to their Fort Wayne home.

“I like to eat and I always wanted to learn to bake,” said Patrice. “He was born to decorate cakes,” his wife added. On any special family occasion he spends hours in the kitchen creating delicacies – some he’s also shared with his oncology team at IU Health.

Patrice isn’t the only one with experience at IU Health. On Oct. 17, 2020, under the care of IU Health Dr. Chandru Sundaram, their son, Jimmy, underwent surgery to have a tumor removed from his kidney. Five weeks after Patrice’s diagnosis, Lucette was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent surgery at a Fort Wayne hospital to remove the diseased organ.

“We had genetic testing and there was nothing that showed anything hereditary,” said Lucette.

Throughout their marriage, family and fishing have been their main hobbies.

They have taken their sons and grandson back to France to visit family and in 1988 Patrice’s parents came to visit them in California. His father died 11 years later. The last time Patrice visited his homeland was when his mother passed in 2017. Lucette’s mother died the same year; her father died in 2001.

“We’ve made a good life here and I think I’ve carried on some of the things I love,” said Patrice. After a recent full day of fishing he stayed up until the wee hours of the night creating 168 pastries for his grandson’s birthday – including strawberry tarts and éclairs. “Patrice’s parents were hard workers. They had a beautiful home in the country where they raised sheep and beef and worked the fields. He grew up in a home where people sat down to a leisurely dinner and really enjoyed family time together,” said Lucette. “That’s something we still enjoy doing.”

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