Comedy fundraiser Sept. 30 to benefit families of pediatric cancer patients

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published September 20, 2016

 Stephaine Marshall died April 11, 2015. Her dad, JD Marshall, said she loved to laugh and once said the best day of her life was meeting comedian Gabriel Iglesias at the Fox Theatre. (Photo provided by JD Marshall)

Stephaine Marshall died April 11, 2015. Her dad, JD Marshall, said she loved to laugh and once said the best day of her life was meeting comedian Gabriel Iglesias at the Fox Theatre. (Photo provided by JD Marshall)

WARREN — JD Marshall is a man on a mission. And that mission is incredibly, heart-wrenchingly noble.

He lost his 13-year-old daughter, Stephaine, to cancer on April 11, 2015, and it was everything about her journey after diagnosis that led him to where he’s at today.

Stephaine’s strength, perseverance, sense of humor and insightful words; the support she and her family received and the stories they heard from the people they met along the way; the tremendous costs of treatment and the burden it places on the families of pediatric cancer patients; and, sadly, the overwhelming sense of loss that followed her passing inspired Marshall to embark on “A Mission of Love.”

The group he founded under that name, dedicated to supporting the families of childhood cancer patients, will host its second Comedy 4 Cancer fundraiser on Sept. 30 in the auditorium of the Warren Community Center. The event will feature two hours of stand-up comedy with Mike Green, Paolo Busignani and Tim Rowlands, and a special appearance by Zach Gowen, a childhood cancer survivor who lost his leg at age 8 and went on to appear with the WWE and on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

Marshall, of Warren, said the first comedy fundraiser took place on April 16, five days after the one-year anniversary of Stephaine’s passing.

“We wanted to make it a celebration of life instead of another day of crying,” Marshall said. “Every day, there’s something that brings you to tears. She was about love and laughter, and we figured that made the most sense, to start it then.”

All of the proceeds raised by Comedy 4 Cancer through ticket sales and raffles of gift baskets filled with donated items go to help families of pediatric cancer patients meet the staggering costs of medication and treatment.

The April event raised $3,000 that was split between two families, minus a small portion they donated to Shields of Hope, a west Michigan-based group of public safety professionals that shares Marshall’s mission of easing the burden for cancer patients and their families.

“My husband still has to take Family Medical Leave time off work. We still had bills that are hard to cover because we don’t have full checks coming in yet,” said Krystal Hubbard, of New Haven, who met Marshall while her 2-year-old son, Noah, was undergoing cancer treatment at Royal Oak’s William Beaumont Hospital. The family received a portion of the money raised at the April comedy show, but declined to accept a separate Best Day Award from Marshall for Noah. They instead suggested giving it to an older child battling cancer.  

Hubbard said Noah was diagnosed with kidney cancer, but has since passed the one-year mark with no evidence of disease. During his battle, one kidney was removed, along with a portion of the other kidney.

“He’s on heart medicine. His blood pressure is very high. He’s so little,” Hubbard said. “It’s going to be a constant struggle.

“What A Mission of Love is trying to do is absolutely amazing. What he’s doing is going to help a lot of families. He has such a huge heart. I don’t know if the tables were turned and it was me that lost a child, I don’t know if I could do what he’s doing,” Hubbard said.

Sara Gochanour said her son, also named Noah, 10, was diagnosed with metastatic Ewing’s sarcoma in August 2014.

“It started in his shoulder blade, then we battled it with chemo and surgery to remove his shoulder blade and attach his left arm to his collarbone,” Gochanour said.

Noah was diagnosed with no evidence of disease in June 2015, but treatment began again in September 2015 when a scan found that the cancer had spread to his lungs.

“We’re on a break right now. He still has two tumors in his lungs, but they’re not growing and they’re not shrinking,” Gochanour said. “JD contacted me because he does a thing monthly where he takes a child to go on a shopping spree at Best Buy. He wanted to give Noah a Best Day Award. We met up with him at Best Buy and Noah got a bunch of games and movies, and he was thrilled. We’ve become so close ever since.”

Gochanour said the Best Day Award for her son, the Childhood Cancer Awareness Rally on Sept. 10 at Halmich Park in Warren, and the comedy fundraisers in April and September are about more than money. She said she got to see friends and family that she hasn’t seen much of during Noah’s treatment, and the events raised much-needed awareness for pediatric cancer.

By the way, the month of September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“One of my biggest things is that it feels like people know that childhood cancer is a thing, but it’s not really paid attention to,” Gochanour said. “I’m one of those people myself, until I got that diagnosis. There was no cause for Ewing’s sarcoma. It’s just a really crappy lottery that you could win. It just picks children at random.”

Marshall said the fundraisers, the Best Day Awards, the surprises for kids at Christmas and the other things he’s found the strength to do for the families he meets were inspired by Stephaine and are all done in her memory.

“I thought she would be a game-changer. Of course, every parent thinks that about their children,” Marshall said. “My goal is to make her name known nationwide, even though she’s not with us.

“She taught me a valuable lesson. I didn’t want to do anything after the diagnosis. She just kept doing the things she did: watching comedy, watching the shows we watched together, playing video games, watching funny YouTube videos. Her life just stayed on course.”

Marshall said he’d like to expand A Mission of Love to treat more kids and assist even more families.

“I’ve had a couple parents cry at the surprises. It’s weird because, for me, it’s the best day for me to see a child fighting this and seeing those smiles. It reminds me of my daughter,” Marshall said.

Comedy 4 Cancer will begin at 8 p.m. Sept. 30 in the auditorium of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden Ave., south of 14 Mile Road and west of Mound. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for advance ticket holders and at 7 p.m. for those who buy tickets at the door. Advance tickets cost $13 for reserved seats and $15 for premium or wheelchair-accessible seats. Tickets will cost slightly more at the door and must be paid for with cash.

To purchase advance tickets or for more information, visit comedy4cancer.com.

For more information about Marshall’s mission or to make a donation to his organization, visit www.amissionoflove.com.