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Shelby Township

Shelby boy dies after yearlong battle with cancer

August 14, 2014

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Justin Townsend plays guitar outdoors. His family said that playing guitar was one of his favorite things to do and helped him through difficult points along his journey. Townsend, 13, died Aug. 7 after a battle with cancer.
From left, Carol, Roy, Justin and Jackie Townsend pose in superhero outfits. Many people called Justin “Superman” throughout his battle with cancer.
Justin Townsend slides during a baseball game. He loved to play baseball.

Justin Townsend, a vibrant 13-year-old who loved music, playing guitar, camping and baseball, died after a nearly yearlong battle with cancer at 10:43 a.m. Aug. 7.

After a series of debilitating headaches in September 2013, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. With no history of cancer in his family and no prior signs of concern, his family and friends were shocked and saddened to learn that Justin had a rare form of stage IV brain cancer.

Justin, his mother, Carol, his father, Roy, and his 20-year-old sister, Jackie, spent several months in Tennessee while Justin received treatments at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

When he returned home, he spent time going back and forth between home and hospitals, but things took a turn for the worse when word came that Justin’s cancer had spread to his spine.

Even though the treatments made Justin tired and sick, his family said he remained brave and strong for everyone.

“He was always caring about everybody else and worried about my mom, making sure she wasn’t sick, and he would always say, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” Jackie said. “He taught us manners because he always said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the hospital, no matter what.”

The Townsends agreed that the journey has made them closer as a family, as well as more caring and conscious. Throughout everything, they had a saying — PST, which stands for “Positive, Strong, Together.”

“The journey has had a lot of ups and downs. It opened our eyes to a lot of different things that we probably would not otherwise end up getting involved with,” Roy said. “We’re going to be better people as a family. We are going to step it up with fundraisers, 5k runs; we’re going to get more involved in other people’s misfortunes.”

Carol said one of the things they took away from the experience was how overwhelmingly supportive Shelby Township and the surrounding communities were for them, offering countless prayers, making them food and assisting financially.

The Townsends also praised the doctors and nurses at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Beaumont Hospital for going beyond their duties and becoming a welcoming, supportive second family.

Jackie said she and her brother were very close. She said he was always very protective of her when it came to boys or anything scary, despite a seven-year age gap, and that he would also help her with her homework.

She recalled that he was very creative. She said he was talented at drawing, and when he was younger, he liked to act out characters from his favorite movies and had his family address him as that character.

“He’s just a great kid, just a passionate person and very loving,” Roy said. “He was always saying I love you, every time he left the room or every time he went to bed or got up in the morning. We hugged a lot. That’s just who he was.”

He added that his son had a notable sense of humor, and that he had his down days, but he kept those around him laughing.

“He was also very humble,” Roy said. “He met all these Detroit sports people and everything, but never once felt entitled or that he deserved it.”

His family estimated that there were around 400 people at Justin’s funeral on Aug. 11 during the torrential rainfall that caused flooding throughout metro Detroit. Many major league sports teams sent flowers, and the family also received a flood of cards.

Roy said he was told at the funeral that more than 2,000 people changed their profile pictures to the Superman “S” logo on Facebook to honor Justin after he passed away. Many people had started calling Justin “Superman,” and another saying the Townsends coined was, “Go, Superman, Go.”

“We wish the journey would have been longer,” Roy said. “But he’s still with us.”

About the author

Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She won a first place 2013 Excellence in Journalism award for open government reporting and a second place 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for a series of explanatory stories from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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