Alumnus returns to inspire, encourage at Relay for Life

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Brooks Family

The Brooks family – Amy, Glenn, Haley, and Lindsay

Glenn Brooks ’86 never expected to be invited back to Penn State Behrend to speak to students.

“I changed my major several times and it took me awhile to determine where I was headed as an adult. And, let’s just say that I may have been working on my ‘social skills’ a little too much back then,” he said with a laugh.

But there are lots of surprises in life. Some good. Some not so good, like cancer.

“In September of 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Head and Neck Cancer, originating in the ligual tonsil,” he said. “My treatment included chemotherapy, radiation, hydration therapy, tonsillectomy, a feeding tube, extended stays in the hospital, and nearly three months of not being able to eat, drink, or speak.”

Fortunately, the aggressive treatment plan worked. He’s been cancer-free for two years now and he says he is filled with gratitude and an internal drive to give back.

“Given the choice, I wouldn’t choose to get cancer, of course,” he said. “But it has inspired me to use my experience to help others. I genuinely believe that my calling is to seize as many opportunities as possible to reach out to others as they endure treatments and recovery, as well as to those that have been fighting for the cancer patient, too.”

That’s why he said “yes” when two Penn State Behrend students asked him to return to campus on April 10 to deliver messages of hope to hundreds of participants in the college’s Relay for Life, a 24-hour walk that is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Brooks was the Opening Ceremony speaker.

More than 250 participated in the Behrend Relay for Life with twenty-one teams who raised 19,683 for the American Cancer Society! The highest fundraising team was Behrend’s own Housing and Food Service Team Tie Dye who raised $3,817.

relay for life

Brooks, who participated in the Survivors Lap, was recently named a Global Hero of Hope by the American Cancer Society, one of only thirty-one such people in the world.

We talked with Brooks to learn more about his days at Behrend, his journey since, and how he reaches out to help others.

Why did you choose Behrend? Well, because initially I wanted to pursue Civil Engineering. But Calculus 162 said I wasn’t right for that career. In hindsight, I have to agree.

Degree earned: Management, with a Human Resources option.

Where do you work now? I’m the Manager of Organization Development for Student Transportation, Inc., the world’s third largest provider of school transportation services with more than 14,000 employees throughout the United States and Canada.

Family: Wife, Amy, and two daughters, Lindsay, 20, and Haley, 17, who is currently a Penn State Behrend student, but is soon transferring to the University of Hawaii, where she will be joining her fiancé who is serving in the U.S. Navy. They are getting married in June.

You speak regularly about your cancer fight, correct? I do. In the past couple of years, I’ve given more than fifty talks to various groups. I also lead a Cancer Support Network initiative at work and I’ve written several articles about cancer that have been published in various publications and magazines.

What do you say? My typical story describes my cancer journey, from diagnosis to current. I remind the audience that cancer is no longer a death sentence, due in part to the efforts of the American Cancer Society. I always, on behalf of all cancer survivors and their caregivers, thank those who are engaged in the fight against cancer. I encourage them to remain involved so that we can rid the world of cancer in hopes our children and grandchildren never have to hear that terrible diagnosis.

Why go so public? I know that some cancer patients wish to keep their experiences private, but I choose to be an activist for cancer research, recovery, and response. As a cancer survivor, I’ve been given a gift—authentic understanding. It’s something that doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who haven’t had cancer, don’t have. I understand the financial, spiritual, practical, relational, philosophical, emotional, and physical changes that occur when a person has cancer because I’ve experienced it first-hand.

Do you find sharing to be rewarding or fulfilling in some way? I’ve met some rather incredible folks along the way. The energy and passion that I’ve felt is nothing short of amazing. I can tell you this with full confidence—we are loved. We are all loved by people that don’t even know us. Also, my involvement has given me the opportunity to give back and show appreciation for all the people—family, friends, coworkers, and perfect strangers—who were so good to my wife and my daughters when I was sick.

Your wife was recently diagnosed with cancer? Yes, in March of 2014, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. And, when someone tells you that if you have to pick a type of cancer, that’s a good one to get, don’t believe them. Any cancer is horrible.

Did you join in the Relay at Behrend? I did the Survivors Lap and also the Caregiver Lap. I did my best to thank every team member along the way, handing out high-fives all the way.

What is a Global Hero of Hope? I was submitted an application and was selected to represent the cancer survivors/caregivers internationally. There are only thirty-one Global Heroes of Hope in the world with seventeen countries represented. There are just four of us from the United States.

What do you want people with cancer to know? You are not alone. You can win the fight. And, love will beat cancer.

Can people contact you if they have questions or would like you to talk to a group? Sure, they can e-mail me at gabrooks@yahoo.com.

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