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Survival Smarts

John Brace wants to help others beat brain cancer

Story by Vanessa Blackburn ('95)

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John Brace poses at last year’s Chris Elliott Fund Gray Ribbon Gala benefitting CEF’s mission to end brain cancer through education, awareness, advocacy and research. At left is CEF spokesperson, three-time Emmy-award winner Jean Smart; at right is CEF’s President and CEO, Dellann Elliott, who lost her husband Chris to glioblastoma in 2002. | Photo by Chris Elliott Fund/Jeffrey LeBlanc Photography

Sidebar: Glioblastoma by the numbers

Glioblastoma by the numbers

John Brace (’84) is the kind of adventurous person often drawn to WWU. He has traveled the globe, kayaked the Yukon River and climbed the majestic peaks of the Himalayas.

But nothing tested Brace’s courage like the day in 2002 when he was told he had brain cancer and only 18 months to live.

Brace had gone to the doctor because of headaches and vision problems. The culprit was glioblastoma multiforme, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer that kills 97 percent of its victims within three years.

Sitting there in his doctor’s office, Brace knew about medical statistics better than most. He was working as a programmer and project coordinator for Cancer Research and Biostatistics, a Seattle nonprofit organization that manages data in clinical trials related to cancer research.

“Ironically, at the time, I was controlling the data that I became a part of,” he says. “When the doctor said I had a 3-percent chance of surviving, I asked, ‘What is common among the people who lived past a year and a half?’”

The answer encouraged Brace to continue to live his life the way he always had, despite the diagnosis.

“What I found was that all of (the survivors) have good medical care, they all have a good support group, and none of them changed their lives,” he says. “They didn’t cash in and travel the world with their kids’ retirement, and it was because they believed they were going to survive.

“So I decided the cancer was not coming back,” he says. “I decided eight years ago that I’m done with it.”

Several operations to remove the tumors left Brace, now 51, partially paralyzed and forced him into retirement. But despite some grueling setbacks along the way, remarkably he has been cancer free since 2004. These days, Brace, who studied engineering technology and computer science at Western, is using his skills from college and career to help research the disease. He is helping track survivors, raise awareness and raise funds for research. He has created a website, gliosurvivor.org, to collect data from survivors and is working with Seattle’s Chris Elliott Fund for Glioblastoma Brain Cancer Research.

It has given him a new focus in life.

“My new reason for living is to beat this cancer through awareness and fundraising for new medical science,” he said. “As with any hardship in life, you have to believe you’re going to get through it.”