BIG brothers can be your protector and your best friend. They can also cajole you, challenge you, tease you and pick on you. Sometimes they stick up for you. Big brothers can also occupy a special place in your heart.
Mark Prendergast, who instilled a zest for life among his family and friends, died of testicular cancer in June, 2012, when he was just 34.
“He died too young,” says Eoin Prendergast, who is Mark’s younger brother, and who has two other siblings, Damien and Sabrina.
Mark’s name lives on through a wonderful cause ‘Make Your Mark on Cancer’, an annual charity walk in July taking place between Ballincollig and Bandon, raising funds for the Mercy University Hospital Foundation. A total of almost €300,000 has been raised.
“Sure, Mark tortured me!” says Eoin, laughing, remembering the fun and the banter the brothers shared growing up in Bandon.
“I wouldn’t change anything for the world. It was tough love. We were best pals.
“Mark was very popular at school, St Brogans, and at work.
“He was everybody’s friend. He loved working on sites as a plasterer, taking great pride in his work.”
Eoin is proud of his big brother’s legacy.
“July 21 is the seventh year of Make your Mark on Cancer’s 22km charity walk in Mark’s memory, which is gathering momentum every year. Mum and Dad do the walk every year and so does Mark’s wife, Fiona. The charity walk has turned into a great community effort for a great cause, the Mercy Hospital Foundation.”
Cork businesses are getting involved too.
“This year, Red Hat, a U.S Global software company, based at Cork Airport International Business Park, are coming on board,” says Eoin.
The company are pushing the boat out.
“Staff members are pushing a bed 22 kilometres! That will be a sight to see.”
When Mark, a father of three, was in his late twenties, in the prime of his life, he discovered a lump, culminating in a shock diagnosis of testicular cancer in 2007.
“He was treated in the Mercy Hospital,” says Eoin.
“Mark got ill, he got better, and then the cancer got a hold of him.
“The doctors and nurses in the Mercy University Hospital could not have done more for Mark.”
His family and friends wanted to do even more.
“Not too long after Mark passed, after losing his battle with testicular cancer in June, 2012, family and friends merged to organise a charity climb to the top of Carrauntoohill in Mark’s memory while at the same time trying to raise some much needed funds for The Mercy Foundation,” says Eoin.
“Mark had been in and out of the Mercy Hospital receiving treatment through his five year battle with cancer.
“When he was ill and going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, Mark never complained.”
Eoin remembers the first time that dozens of people turned to climb a mountain in memory of his brother.
“The group of nearly 70 people climbed Carrauntoohill on a wet and windy day in July, 2102,” says Eoin. “The weather was so miserable, we couldn’t see the top when we climbed up the mountain.
“It was then that we realised what amazing things can be achieved when people come together. In 2013, a small group came together to resurrect a very popular charity walk from the Viaduct to Bandon under the new name, ‘Make your Mark on Cancer Charity Walk’.”
The event really has made its mark.
“It soon came to light that this was now an opportunity for people to make a real difference and to honour the Taken, admire the Survivors and support Fighters of cancer,” says Eoin.
It was an opportunity to remember the Bandon lad who had the megawatt smile and who cheered everyone up.
“Mark was the joker, the prankster,” says Eoin.
“He had a way about him that made people happy.
“When he died, he left a huge void among his family and friends.”
People naturally gravitated towards him.
“He was like a human magnet!” says Eoin. “He was larger than life. Mark loved the craíc, and he was an avid fisherman. On any fine summer’s evening you could find him fishing down by the river, in his element.”
He was also a fighter.
“He was five years fighting his cancer,” says Eoin. “He loved life.”
He loved his family.
“Mark and Fiona were childhood sweethearts,” says Eoin.
“When he learned that the cancer had spread, he organised their wedding. Mark was wheelchair-bound, but he wanted to walk Fiona down the aisle when he married her. And he did.”
He wanted everyone to share the joy on the happiest day of his life.
“Mark and Fiona got married in the chapel in the Mercy Hospital,” says Eoin.
“There was a camera in the church and the marriage ceremony was streamed live so that the patients in the hospital wards could watch it. Everyone clapped and cheered; they were so happy for the couple. It was a very special occasion.”
Mark wore his trademark ear to ear smile on his wedding day.
“We all relied on his smile,” says Eoin. “Mark had a cheeky smile that cheered you up and brightened up your day.
“Life is empty without him.”
Other people’s lives will be enhanced because of him.
“The Mercy Hospital Foundation is planning to build a new Mercy Cancer CARE Centre,” says Eoin. The centre will provide a space and a place close to the Mercy Hospital for people diagnosed with cancer to support them along their cancer journey.
It will offer Mercy patients and their families the practical, emotional, and social support that people with cancer need. And it will honour Mark Prendergast, who died too young.
“A suite on one of the floors in the centre is going to be called the Mark Prendergast suite,” says Eoin. It will be associated as a place of healing and it is a wonderful gesture in Mark’s name.”
Mark had a special motto that Eoin remembers too: ‘Look up, not down. Look out, not in. Look forward, not back.’
“That was him.”
Mark’s family, friends and community are joining together on Sunday, July 21 to continue Mark’s outstanding legacy.
And he’ll be there in spirit and with his megawatt smile.
ABOUT THE FUNDRAISER
The Make your Mark on Cancer Charity Walk is a 22km walk from The Viaduct Bar to the Bandon Town Hall due to take place on Sunday, July 21 at 9am.
There will be complimentary buses provided by sponsor McCarthys Coaches, leaving from Kelleher’s Builders Providers from 9am to drop walkers to the Viaduct to begin their walk.
This fun walk is catered for all ages as the route is not too challenging. It has various refreshment and toilet stops as well as pick up points for those who would prefer a shorter walk.
To register see: www.makeyourmark.ie or call 086-4542132
Micheal Sheridan CEO of the Mercy Hospital Foundation Cork, says; “We are extremely proud and grateful to have had such a long association with the ‘Make Your Mark on Cancer Walk’. The impact that funds raised over the past seven years have had has been immense.
“Mark Prendergast would be very proud of the work that his family, his friends and his community put in every year to organise this amazing event.
“In the past seven years, funds raised have supported our Testicular Cancer Awareness Programme in Secondary Schools across Cork and parts of Munster and have funded iPads that provide patients in St Therese’s Medical Oncology Unit with access to movies and music whilst attending the unit for chemotherapy.
“We are also very grateful for the commitment made by Mark’s family and friends to our vision of providing a cancer CARE Centre close to the Mercy University Hospital. This vision is soon to be realised as we have recently secured a suitable property and the planning permission needed to provide support services to cancer patients of all ages at the Hospital.”