Shelby boy fighting rare brain cancer faces ups and downs
By Sarah Wojcik
April 14, 2014
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Since Justin Townsend, 13, of Shelby Township, was diagnosed with aggressive stage IV brain cancer in September, he has faced a wide spectrum of events and emotions.
After Justin received radiation and treatment at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., for three months, he and his family returned to Michigan in January to begin chemotherapy at their Shelby Township home.
Justin underwent a nine-hour emergency surgery after a bout of debilitating headaches and an initial MRI that revealed a golf ball-sized tumor in September. Since then, he has had two more MRIs in January and March, with desirable results.
“Everything is stable and there is no new growth,” said Roy Townsend, Justin’s father. “That’s what you really hope for.”
The week after his MRI in January, Justin began his first round of chemotherapy. Each round consists of five consecutive days of five-pill cocktails in a 28-day cycle.
“The first two rounds weren’t that bad,” said Carol Townsend, Justin’s mother, but added that the third day of the third round was especially difficult because it builds up in the body. “He just got done with his fourth round of chemo, and that really kicked his butt. He had to go to the hospital for four days.”
His parents agreed that the doctors and staff at Royal Oak Beaumont have been very kind, helpful and facilitating — especially Justin’s oncologist.
On April 9, Justin was tired and a little shaky, but he still was able to walk around, talk and even dance.
Justin’s hair also is growing back because he switched to a different type of chemotherapy drug. He said he does not mind the approximately 3-inch scar on the back of his head from the first emergency surgery, which removed a portion of the tumor.
Carol has been home with Justin through his journey, taking a break from her job at Justin’s former elementary school, Montfort Elementary. Justin’s 20-year-old sister, Jackie, was able to finish her semester at Macomb Community College online, when the family stayed in Memphis, and she took the latest semester off, but Carol said Jackie plans to take summer classes.
“If we’re not closer (as a family), we’re killing each other, but in general, we’re doing pretty well,” Carol said. “If one (family member) is having a bad time, the other one will fill in.”
Justin also is seeing a teacher at home twice a week to continue his education, as he has not been able to return to Shelby Junior High School.
“I don’t think the work and learning process has changed from normal school,” Justin said.
Carol and Justin are slated to return to St. Jude Children’s Hospital this month for another MRI and testing.
“It’s stressful,” Carol said. “We just have to take it one day at a time.”
Through Justin’s journey, Roy said the family has been fortunate to receive an outpouring of support from strangers in the form of fundraisers and meet-and-greets with the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. Justin’s oncologist also invited several families, including the Townsends, to watch the Tigers’ opening day in a suite, which was donated to the hospital.
One event in particular touched the Townsends: Justin’s surprise 13th birthday party, which C.J. Barrymore’s sponsored March 7 with a massive superhero-themed birthday cake from Cakes by Renee.
Roy said that about 80 people attended and C.J. Barrymore’s exceeded the family’s expectations, providing entertainment, food and free play for all of Justin’s friends.
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he added that the family would take a vacation to Florida to visit Universal Studios and Disney World in May.
“(Justin’s) main job is to eat, sleep and take medicine. He’s doing as well as we can expect,” Roy said. “I just can’t say enough nasty things about the chemo.”
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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