Over 80 Concord Hospital employees to walk Rock n’ Race for colleague with cancer

  • Mark Brooks talks about his cancer treatments while at Concord Hospital on Friday. Brooks was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January, and his friends and family will participate in the Rock ‘N Race in his honor. BELOW: Jill Brooks and Lin Houghton talk about the upcoming Rock ‘N Race and the support people have shown for Mark Brooks while at Concord Hospital on Friday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Jill Brooks and Lin Houghton talk about the upcoming Rock N’ Race and the support people have shown for Mark Brooks while at Concord Hospital on Friday, May 13, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Mark Brooks (left) talks about his cancer treatments with his son Ryan and wife Jill while at Concord Hospital on Friday, May 13, 2016. Mark Brooks was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

 Monitor staff
Monday, May 16, 2016

In his 23 years working at Concord Hospital, Mark Brooks never missed a day.
The first time the food production manager ever called in sick was after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer this past January.

“This will just count as one” scheduled absence, laughed Brooks’s co-worker and friend Lin Houghton, who runs the hospital’s food service department.

Brooks, a Bow resident, has deep ties to Concord Hospital. His wife, Jill, works in radiology and over his two decades working there, he’s made many friends.

“It’s a lot of family here, between both departments,” Brooks said.“(There’s) a lot of longevity in my area. People stay around a long time.”

As Brooks undergoes chemotherapy at Concord Hospital’s Payson Center for Cancer Care and looks toward his second tumor removal surgery at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, his work family is banding together to support him.

On Thursday, 84 of Brooks’s friends, family and co-workers will don “Brooks Brigade” T-shirts for the annual Concord Rock ‘N Race and walk or run the 3.2-mile course around the capital city.

Brooks won’t be able to walk in the race, but he will be sitting in a chair at the end of the course to greet everyone.

“How can I not?” he said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Brooks was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in January and had his first surgery to remove a tumor in March. The diagnosis was a surprise; just a month before, Brooks had a physical that showed a clean bill of health.

He was out with Jill and their son Ryan for dinner at the Weathervane on a Friday night when he started having strong back pain.

“I thought I was having a kidney stone,” Brooks said. He went to the emergency room, one thing led to another and doctors told him the real culprit was cancer.

However, the kind he has is curable, and Brooks, his family and his doctors are optimistic he can beat the disease.

The family said the medical care they’ve had in Concord and Boston has been excellent.

“Every person who’s seen us has been top notch,” Jill Brooks said. 

Mark added it’s been a little surreal to be a patient at his workplace.

“It’s incredible, seeing it from the other side, how professional this place is,” he said.

The idea to do the Rock ‘N Race came from one of Brooks’s co-workers, Houghton said.

After the idea was initially brought up, a steady stream of interest and sign-ups poured into Houghton’s inbox. He got an email every time someone joined and says he got goosebumps every time a notification pinged to let him know another person had signed up. 

“It just shows how much Mark is beloved by staff,” Houghton said. “When I went in I thought maybe we would get a handful of people, but I never expected 84.”

Houghton has known Brooks for many years and said the volume of Brooks Brigade participants shows how many people want to support a friend and co-worker who is always there to help others.

“This really is a testament to Mark and the impact he makes on other people’s lives,” Houghton said. “He’s just a good guy, I’ve never seen him not help anybody that needed help.”

Beyond the Rock ‘N Race, Concord Hospital employees and family friends have been returning the favor in other ways, from giving Mark and Jill rides to the hospital for treatments, coming to visit him in the chemotherapy room, sending more than 150 “get well” cards and bringing over enough food to feed an army.

“We’ll just come home and someone will be there,” Jane said. “We just look at it as we’re blessed.”

Mark’s chemotherapy is very aggressive but he is nearly done with that course of treatment. He will have some time to rest and get healthy again before his second surgery to take out one more tumor.

He has good days and bad days but said he is staying positive throughout.

“You have to come in with a good attitude, and I have,” he said.

He’s looking forward to returning to work at Concord Hospital when he’s better and has been popping in occasionally to say hi to all his friends and co-workers.

“It was so good to see people,” he said. “It’s family, it really is.”

This article was updated to reflect the correct name of Jill Brooks.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)