13Forever: After losing son to brain cancer, Michigan family starts nonprofit to help find cure

'I love to hear his name, and by doing 13Forever, we can keep his memory alive.'
Posted at 8:54 AM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 09:01:29-04

(WXYZ) — At 12 years old, Justin Townsend was just enjoying being a kid growing up in Shelby Township.

"He liked to sing. He liked art. He would draw cartoons constantly," said Carol Townsend, Justin's mother.

But two weeks into junior high, a turn in his health started to overshadow what should have been a new and exciting time in his life.

"He was suffering a lot of headaches. He was coming home from school early, throwing up, headaches. So I took him to the doctor and we thought it was migraines," she said.

Nothing could have prepared the Townsend family for the diagnosis.

"He was diagnosed with the most aggressive brain cancer there is, and that's a Glioblastoma-Multiforme," said Roy Townsend, Justin's father.

"Our world was really basically turned upside down," added Roy.

Within a year, it was changed forever. "Unfortunately, on August 7th, 2014 at 10:47 in the morning, our Superman passed," said Roy.

But through the pain, there was an immediate desire to make a difference, to help Justin’s name live on.

"We want to find a cure. I mean, I made a promise to Justin before he passed that when he asked me, 'dad, am I going to die?' And I'll be honest with you, I said, 'we're going to do everything we can so that doesn't happen, son. But I promise we'll fight with you to the end.' And we did," said Roy.

And so Team JBird was formed, dedicated to raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, one of the places where Justin was cared for. The Townsends say, with the help of their network, they've been able to raise more than $125,000 over the past 7 years.

"We could have turned bitter. We had every right to. But we didn't. We we want to return the favor," said Roy.

Returning the favor for the outpouring of love the Townsends say they received during and after Justin’s cancer journey. It’s the reason why now they’ve launched their own nonprofit 13Forever to help fund cancer research and donate to local hospitals and organizations that were instrumental in Justin’s care.

"Trying to be bigger and better and help other people," said Roy.

"You think you don't need that support ... you think you can do everything on your own and you can't. You can't emotionally, you can't physically ... so yes, say thank you, accept it all and do everything your child wants to do while they can. Don't think, 'oh well they're too sick to do it now.' No, you do it. If they want to do it, you do it," said Carol.

Every family member is working to ease other people's suffering that they had to endure; Justin’s sister, Jackie, is now a child life specialist, helping children who are facing illness and their families.

"She works with those with the types of kids that Justin was when he was in the hospital," said Roy.

Together, comforted by precious memories of Justin, the Townsends are on a quest for a cure and to lift up families faced with the unimaginable.

"One thing I think a parent fears the most, whether they want to admit it or not, is that your child will be forgotten ... I love to hear his name, and by doing 13Forever, we can keep his memory alive," said Roy.

The family has a golf outing coming up in September benefiting St. Jude. If you want to learn more or give to 13Forever, click here.