Patient Care

Immunotherapy, and a Refocused Outlook, are the Gifts that Keep on Giving for Melanoma Survivor

Dec. 22, 2023
Jude and Gail Brock
Gail and Jude Brock

While many celebrate the season with gifts for one another, Jude Brock has a different take on the word “gift”.

“Every single person in this story, in this testimony, has been a gift,” Brock says.

That’s because earlier in December 2023, he met a milestone he didn’t know would be possible: being one year cancer free. He and his wife, Gail, celebrated with new appliances and a trip to their favorite restaurant in Webster.

While Brock feels positive now, it wasn’t always that way.

In summer 2021, he began coughing up blood. He brushed it aside, assuming it was some kind of respiratory illness. After he spent a weekend in his pajamas, Gail insisted he get checked out.

His doctor sent him for a chest X-ray and then further testing revealed Brock had a mass on his right lung. He needed to see an oncologist.

That’s when he learned he had stage four, inoperable, melanoma.

Under his Wilmot Cancer Institute oncologist, Deepak Sahasrabudhe, MD, 66-year-old Brock began an immunotherapy treatment. It consisted of a combination of ipilimumab (Yervoy) plus nivolumab (Opdivo) every three weeks for four “cycles.” After that, it went down to just nivolumab by itself every four weeks. He’d walk over to the Wilmot Cancer Center for about an hour to receive the injection.

But it wasn’t a big deal to Brock, because he works right down the hall, as a supervisor with the University of Rochester Medical Center's Environmental Services team, and he loves his job. He oversees about 25 or 30 staff who work helping keep various hospital units clean.

While Brock missed work for six months when he initially started treatment, once he was back, he appreciated working and receiving treatment in the same place. It was not only convenient, but made it easier to have kindness around him in the form of his co-workers.

“I would go to work and I would just go over to the cancer center, sit down for an hour, do the injection, eat some cookies, and go back to work,” he says with a laugh.

Brock describes himself as “not a retirement guy.” He has worked at Strong for more than 14 years and loves the teams he works with.

“There’s some real incredible dedication from our staff,” he says. “It's not that it's a thankless job, it's just a job that, unless you're involved, you don't realize the importance and the value of it. They understand and they take care of business in an incredible way.”

At one point early in his treatment course, he had a middle-of-the-night epiphany. He was awake and had been praying for healing for himself – and it hit him.

Rather than focus on his own needs, he should focus on the people around him. That shift in mindset brought about a renewed sense of calm. It helped him make it through the rest of his treatments and to approach life with a new perspective.

“That night that I woke up and realized it was about the people in your life, it wasn't about me. It brought me together with people,” he said. “It rekindled incredible relationships and I was grateful for every day.”

And he admits, he has much to be grateful for.

He and his wife just moved to a home near Lake Ontario, and they were able to celebrate Thanksgiving with most of their grandchildren, all age six and under.

Brock feels surrounded by people in his life who have provided an amazing support system – his doctors, nurses, his wife and family, his co-workers at URMC.

“I could write a book about it,” he says, thinking fondly of all the people who rooted for him. “But my nurse always told me I'm the miracle and I don't disagree with that.”