“I am living proof that science matters and that it saves lives.”
William Brock knows what he’s talking about. On September 27, 1997, his father, Hyman, was diagnosed with leukemia. Six weeks later, his father passed away.
Seven years later, on September 21, 2004, William received the same diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia.
When his father was diagnosed, few treatments were available to treat acute leukemia in a man his age.
Fortunately, thanks to advances in stem cell research and its application to treating blood cancer, William is alive and thriving 18 years after his initial diagnosis.
“If it wasn’t for generations of people who devoted their lives to science, worked day in and day out on research efforts, or financed scientific research, I would not be here today,” he says.
William is optimistic that, eventually, science will help find cures for all forms of cancer. He points to COVID-19 as a recent example.
Before the pandemic, developing a vaccine took up to ten years. Yet, in about one year, scientists were able to create a safe vaccine for COVID-19.
With more investments in research, there could be a future where cancer can be successfully treated and cured with less impact on the patient’s well-being during treatment.
We all need to support science.
Cancer isn’t only a medical condition
As those who have lived through cancer—theirs or that of a loved one—can attest, there are two important aspects to the disease.
There is the medical aspect filled with frequent visits to the clinic or the hospital for treatments, surgery, and follow-ups.
Then, there is also the human and emotional aspect. For those who live through it, it is an existential crisis in their lives.
William remembers how difficult it was at the beginning.
He had to go through many months of chemotherapy and tests until he could receive a stem cell transplant from his brother, Gordon, on February 17, 2005.
The day of the transplant is known as Day Zero, the first day of a post-cancer second life.
“I remember people coming to see me,” he says, “offering to help, to talk, and to offer hope. They were there to help patients cope, and that is a tremendous service.”
They were the Hope & Cope volunteers, and William is thankful for the solace they provided in a difficult time.
“Sheila Kussner has done an amazing service to humanity,” he adds, “in bringing comfort to people with cancer, but also as an advocate, pushing governments to bring better treatments to patients.”
His cancer diagnosis and eventual recovery transformed William’s life. He knows he wouldn’t be alive today without the hard work and sacrifice other people made in the name of science. That realization has given him a sense of gratitude that didn’t exist before his cancer.
He cites John F. Kennedy when the American president declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in the United States: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest form of appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”
And William has conveyed his gratitude through actions.
He has endowed a research chair, at the Université de Montréal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, in applied research into stem cell transplants.
He’s the Chair of the Board of Directors of IRIC, the cancer research institute at the university, and he’s also involved in the governance of several companies in the cancer research field.
You can have a wonderful life after cancer
As soon as he could do so, William returned to practicing law.
When people asked him whether he should slow down because of his bout with cancer, he was adamant. Life had given him a second chance, and he would make the most of it.
He did so by climbing Kilimanjaro and taking cycling trips to raise money for cancer research. He also published two books while raising a family and keeping his professional commitments.
His first book came out in 2012. Portraits of Hope contains 50 portraits of people who have survived different types of blood cancers and their stories.
His second book, The Word, launches on May 23, 2022. For this book, he took 72 portraits of cancer survivors and asked each person to pick a word to describe their experience. The result is a book full of hope, strength, and determination.
For William, surviving isn’t enough. He believes the goal should be to return to a full and vibrant life.
After cancer, it might be a different life, and it can be a better life. He encourages people to live life to the fullest and to contribute in every way they can to make life better for others as well.
As he says, you don’t need to have a serious disease like cancer to appreciate life. Life is full of little problems that don’t merit the worrying and complaining that many people do.
“I want people to see me as someone who has recovered and lived a wonderful second life after cancer,” he says. “Every day you live without a true new appreciation of life is really a wasted day.
“Life is this precious, incredible gift. Don’t squander it. Make the most of it, for you and others.”
William will be the guest speaker at this year’s Survivorship Day Celebration. You can find all the details of this wonderful celebration of life on our event page. We would love to see you there!
Wiliam’s book, “The Word” will be available on May 23. If you would like to attend his book launch, follow this link.