Tony Petelos: I was at death’s door

Tony Petelos, County Manager of Jefferson County
Tony Petelos, County Manager of Jefferson County

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Tony Petelos.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I’ve lived in and served Jefferson County my entire life.

However, I never would have imagined that living in Birmingham and in Jefferson County would have saved my life.

In May of 2014 I was diagnosed with an aggressive life-threatening bladder cancer.

I wondered—“Why was this happening to me?  Why me Lord?”

I had spent my life trying to do the right thing. I had always been healthy. I’d never even had the need to take medication. The bad news was totally unexpected and seemed terribly unfair.

The diagnosis felt like a full-body blow. And for the first few days, I was reeling from the impact. I stayed in bed, angry at God, disappointed in myself, full of self-pity.

But then, I did what so many other people have done when confronted with this terrible disease. I got up. I took a deep breath. And I began to fight back the only way I could – the only way any of us can.

I listened to what the doctors told me I should do. I got second opinions. And I decided on a course of action – chemotherapy, to be followed by surgery to remove my bladder and my prostate.

Little did I know that this would be the easy part.

I was at death’s door

Unfortunately, complications arising from the surgery meant a year’s worth of serious setbacks – infections that sent me back to the hospital repeatedly, compromised my kidneys and at least a couple of times left me literally at death’s door.

Before it was said and done, I had had three major surgeries, had undergone seven interventional radiology treatments, and had been hospitalized 15 times over a 12-month period. I became what doctors called a complicated patient.

Family members, friends and even doctors later confessed there were points they didn’t expect me to pull through.

Thank goodness for UAB

But I was fortunate to live a few miles from UAB and a team of specialists who worked together relentlessly to resolve my medical issues and bring me back to health. These UAB doctors were life-savers for me.

Today, I’m back to my pre-diagnosis weight. I once again take trips rather than medication. But I also no longer take anything for granted. It is truly a blessing for me to just wake up every day and feel good.

Looking back over my challenging illness, I know I have many people to thank: My wife, Teresa, who was literally by my side throughout the ordeal; my other family members and friends who uplifted me with prayers, visits, and cards; my colleagues who helped shoulder the load and brought work to me when I couldn’t be at the office; and of course, my medical team at UAB.

Three things sustained me

  • I never lost my faith in God.
  • I kept a positive attitude.
  • I always took advantage of nice sunny days by sitting outside for a while, even if for just five minutes.

These kept me going, never looking back and always looking to a brighter future.

I no longer ask, “Why me, Lord?”

I simply say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Tony Petelos has served our community for thirty one years. Currently he’s the first County Manager of Jefferson County. Previously he was Mayor of Hoover, DHR director for Alabama under two governors, and a member of the Alabama Legislature. He’s been a private business owner who’s a lifelong citizen of Jefferson County.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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One thought on “Tony Petelos: I was at death’s door”

  1. Tony,
    What a wonderful story, you indeed are blessed. Your story about your journey, your “friends” and your thankfulness need to be repeated to all and often!

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