Community rallies for Shelby boy with brain cancer
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On Dec. 4, members of the community packed The New Rink for a fundraiser benefitting a bright young man who was diagnosed with aggressive stage IV brain cancer during his first week of seventh grade at Shelby Junior High School.
Twelve-year-old Justin Townsend has been receiving treatments at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., since September. Although he could not make it to the fundraiser, he sent along a clip of himself playing guitar with his father, Roy Townsend.
“I landed at 1:30 (in the afternoon) and then I fly out at 7:30 tomorrow,” Roy said. “I’m just a showpiece, although not a very pretty one. They just told me if I wanted to show up, I could.”
Both of Justin’s parents and his 19-year-old sister have been with him in Memphis throughout the length of his stay. His parents’ jobs allowed them to take leaves, and his sister is taking online classes at Macomb Community College.
“On the 18th is Justin’s last treatment, so we’ll be home on the 18th,” Roy said hopefully. “Then, we go back on the sixth of January for his first MRI since we took him to St. Jude’s.”
The first MRI revealed to St. Jude staff that only a portion of the golf ball-sized tumor in Justin’s brain had been removed during a nine-hour emergency surgery at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital Sept. 24. Because of its location near his brain stem, doctors said they could not go back in for more.
Roy said his son is undergoing radiation treatments, combined with a radiation-intensifying drug, and that, while undergoing treatments, Justin is tired and nauseated, but he continues to stay positive. Roy said playing his guitar helps Justin through rough patches.
“Thanksgiving was great for him. He gained two pounds, which is a lot for what he’s going through,” Roy said. “All the kids (at St. Jude’s) got two hours off their schedule so they could all attend the Christmas carnival, and that was really nice.”
Roy said that the support of the community blows him away and that he was getting hugs from people he did not even know, although he said he wished he did.
Jason Townsend, Justin’s cousin and assistant principal at Jefferson Middle School in St. Clair Shores, initially began organizing the fundraiser to help the family with travel expenses and medical bills, but it quickly became a more communitywide collaboration.
“(The kids I see at school) are Justin’s age, and sometimes I get down, but then I try to be positive,” Jason said. “They’re still pretty innocent, so it’s sad to see (Justin) have to go through such an adult situation.”
Three coaches and several members from Justin’s parks and recreation Little League team, the Cardinals, came out to show their support. Trent and Cole Weber, both 11, said Justin was a great baseball player and never complained.
“He always came to the game with a smile on his face. He never missed a game, never missed a practice,” said Coach Carl Weber. “We had no idea (he would become sick). He was as healthy as any one of these guys.”
The team’s season wrapped up in July, and Justin suddenly came down with his rare, escalated form of cancer in early September. It was a mere 22 days from the time he started getting debilitating headaches to the time his family took him to the emergency room.
Linda Maison, a media center teacher at Monfort Elementary, said she had Justin as a student every year since kindergarten.
“As a teacher, you might say a sarcastic comment or try to say something funny and, mostly, it goes over (students’) heads, but with him, he’d always get it or we’d banter back and forth. He has a really good sense of humor,” Maison said. “He’s a great kid, always doing the right thing.”
From neighbors to teachers, to friends, to strangers, the Townsends have made an impact, and with the fundraiser, loved ones aimed to support the Townsend family in its fight against Justin’s brain cancer.
Jason said The New Rink counted 471 skaters at the door and 100 presale tickets, and the manager estimated another 400 attended but did not skate, for a total of nearly 1,000 people. Jason said the manager told him that he had never seen the place so full.
Including the presale of T-shirts and bracelets, and a Caps Against Cancer day and Jammies For Justin day at Shelby Junior High, fundraising efforts, which also included raffles and a silent auction at the skating rink, brought in $20,000 for the Townsends.