Winning attitude

Image of Brock McMullen

Brock McMullen went home after feeling sick during finals week in fall semester 2010. What doctors first thought was kidney stones was actually six cancerous tumors in his abdomen. Despite the diagnosis, McMullen beat the cancer after five months of intensive chemotherapy. His main motivation was getting back to play football in the fall.

Grad fights cancer to get back on the field

Brock McMullen approached his cancer diagnosis with the same determination he learned in UW-L athletics. He expected to win.

“Whatever team I’m on, I don’t expect to lose,” says the UW-L football and basketball player. “I don’t care what the score is.”

So when doctors told McMullen he had a 65 percent chance of beating Stage II non-Hodgkin lymphoma in December 2010, the young man never doubted he would. In fact, one of his first questions, as he sat in the hospital room with his parents, was if he could still play UW-L football in the fall. The doctor didn’t see a reason why not. So getting better in time for football season became his motivation.

“Sports to me have never been about the sport itself. Sports are about the people,” says McMullen. “My goal was to get back with my friends — show them no matter what you deal with in life, you can overcome it if you put your mind to it and work toward it.”

Doctors started McMullen on five months of chemotherapy two days after Christmas 2011. McMullen said it was helpful for his family to know he was upbeat and focused on fighting the cancer. McMullen said he “stayed sane through the process” by helping coach high school varsity baseball and basketball while at home undergoing chemotherapy.

He lost about 30 pounds and all of his hair during treatment. Taking it one day at a time, after five months, McMullen was healthy again. He thinks his attitude played a role.

“I always believed in myself and what the doctors and everyone was doing around me. I knew they had to do it and I trusted what they were doing,” he says. “It helped me and others around me see the positive side.”

His recovery meant he could start getting ready for football. When McMullen was back on the field that fall he was named starting tight end. He remembers the coach giving the pre-game speech for his first game in the locker room.

View of Brock McMullen's hair from the back.

Brock McMullen has let his hair grow for two years since his cancer treatment. He plans to eventually donate it to an organization that makes wigs for patients.

“I broke down in tears. I was so happy to be there,” says McMullen. “I worked the last nine months to get to that day and I was so gratified to be there and get out on the field.”

McMullen was the starting tight end both his junior and senior years. He also played basketball his senior year. He’s been on the dean’s list every semester except his first and has earned numerous scholarships through the UW-L Foundation.

Today his hair reaches down to his shoulders. He’s let it grow for two years and plans to eventually donate it to an organization that makes wigs for patients.

McMullen will graduate at UW-L’s spring commencement ceremony Sunday, May 19, at the La Crosse Center, with a degree in physical education with an Adapted PE minor. He received a full scholarship for a master’s degree program in specially designed physical education — working with students with disabilities — at the University of Utah.

His future is looking bright. The cancer, he says, ultimately made him a more positive person.

“It improved my general outlook on life,” he says. “I’m not stressing about things much at all. You realize if you work your tail off, you’ll get what you want. If you do everything in your power to get it done.”