Mtre William Brock

Mtre William Brock : 5,000 days of gratitude
By Mélanie Dugré, lawyer
(Article published on October 9, 2018)

William Brock has told his story hundreds if not thousands of times. As he approaches the 14th anniversary of his cancer diagnosis, he is telling it again for this column with as much emotion and passion as if it were for the first time.

September 2004. William Brock, 49 years old, was enjoying a fulfilling career as a litigation lawyer at Davies, the firm where he had been practising since his admission to the Bar in 1979. Having chosen the field of law “to do something of my own,” after declining his father’s invitation to join the family heating business and ruling out the medical path his two brothers had taken, William began his law studies at McGill after first earning a bachelor’s degree in administration. He started practising at Davies – which he describes as the “New York Yankees of the legal profession” – in corporate and transactional law. He then turned to litigation upon the recommendation of mentors who saw in him a natural talent for arguing and an appreciation of the adversarial process. Over the years he undertook a series of complex and exhilarating mandates, which allowed him to successfully plead before the Supreme Court of Canada on numerous occasions.

In early September 2004, William was feeling tired and experiencing chest pains. He feared the worst, as his father had died seven years earlier from acute myeloid leukemia just six weeks after receiving his diagnosis. In an effort to reassure him, his family doctor referred him to a hematologist. On September 21, 2004, William’s white blood count, which had been in free fall for several weeks, stood at an alarming 500, making him a “walking time bomb.” After a painful lumbar puncture and an interminable hour’s wait, William received a diagnosis of acute myeloblastic leukemia, shaking him to the core.

Numb, shattered and weakened, William suffered through several cycles of chemotherapy to put his cancer into remission, and in December was told that the average remission time for his acute type of cancer was only eight months. His sole hope for survival was a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

With his life in peril, he set off in search of the world’s leading specialists, only to learn that the foremost authorities were right here in Montreal at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont. On February 17, 2005, William was able to receive a stem cell transplant from his brother Gordon (identified as a compatible donor).

This was followed by a long and gruelling two-year road to recovery, dedicated to regaining his strength and getting back on his feet, one small step at a time. While William was able to return to practicing law in September 2005, a year after the diagnosis that had turned his life upside down, it was only at the end of 2006 that he felt he had fully reclaimed his life.

Coming from the Jewish community where philanthropy (known in Hebrew as tzedakah) is a fundamental value, William wanted to give meaning to the loss of his father and the painful experience he had just lived through. Dr. Jean Roy, who had helped to save his life, challenged him to raise a million dollars for research. William seized the opportunity, helping establish the Fund for Education and Research on Blood Cancers, which thanks to donations of $2.5M, would later become the Maryse & William Brock Chair in Applied Research into Stem Cell Transplantation at the Université de Montréal.

In 2010, William celebrated the fifth anniversary of his transplant by cycling from the Atlantic coast in France to the village near Budapest where his grandparents were born. He was accompanied by people he held dear, including Dr. Roy and several members of his medical team, who joined him at different stages of the journey. He repeated the feat in 2015, this time in southern France and Portugal (again with Dr. Roy, friends and members of his family) to underscore his 10th survivorship milestone. These trips have enabled him to raise funds for the Research Chair, something he also does by participating in numerous races run by charitable organizations.

Encouraged by his successes, William wants to do more, including through human contact. A photography buff for many years, in December 2012 he published the magnificent and captivating book entitled Portraits of Hope, using moving photographs and heartfelt words to tell the story of leukemia survivors who were given a second chance, including through a bone marrow transplant. He will be publishing a second book within the next few months, featuring new texts, photos and poignant testimonials from cancer survivors.

While William gives so much of himself to these major philanthropic projects, he is equally dedicated to practising law. He sincerely respects and believes in our justice system. “Judges may not always be completely right, but they always want to do the right thing,” says this man who earned the title of Emeritus Lawyer in 2009. He is inspired by the idea of helping his clients, building his strategies, and preparing his pleadings.

William savours every moment of his action-packed life. His cancer left him more determined than ever to lead a useful, pertinent life, and with an insatiable appetite to live to the fullest, make new discoveries, and find fulfillment. In fact, he’s planning a unique experience in July 2020, when he will be celebrating his 15th survivorship milestone by leading a group to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in the hope of raising a million dollars for research.

Maintaining his active pace, William remains driven by a vibrant feeling that has infused his life since February 17, 2005: an immense gratitude to those who have raised funds, created research protocols, and led clinical trials, as well as to those who helped save his life directly, namely, his brother Gordon and the entire medical team at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont. William is categorical: “The day of the transplant is what is called Day Zero, the first day of your second life. And it really is like that: a second life!” On October 26, 2018, William will celebrate the 5,000th day of his second life, which he continues to hope will be long, happy, and fulfilled, and that will be forever marked by the infinite gratitude of the survivor.