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Clinton Township

May 13, 2014

Local Relay for Life team is a real family affair

Fundraising dinner and concert set for May 18

By Nick Mordowanec
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
From left, Dennis Nalezyty, Susan Johnstal, Lorri Nicaise and Maria Barnes engage in a group sibling photo during euchre night. All are members of the “Take a Byte Out of Cancer” relay team. Barnes is currently battling cancer, while Nalezyty and Nicaise are both cancer survivors.

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Just about everyone knows or has known someone with cancer.

The disease is a reality that people must cope with, but for some families it can be reminder of what love really means.

That is true for Maria Barnes and her family. Barnes suffers from a rare form of cancer called carcinoid syndrome, in which a cancerous tumor called a carcinoid tumor secretes certain chemicals into the bloodstream and causes a variety of symptoms. The tumors are most often found in the gastrointestinal tract or lungs.

Barnes is one of nine siblings, five of whom have had cancer at some point in their lives. One sister had cancer twice and one brother had cancer three times. The siblings’ mother is a two-time cancer survivor, while the father had cancer four times before passing away from mesothelioma a few years ago.

With a family history like that, those in the family and those who wanted to spread awareness decided to form a Relay for Life team.

The team is called “Take a Byte Out of Cancer” and has been in existence for six years. The team has 37 members this year and aims to put on a fundraising event on Sunday, May 18, at Pub 1281 in Clinton Township.

The all-ages show will run from 3-9 p.m. and costs $10 for admission, which includes a spaghetti dinner. Entertainment will include a variety of local Detroit bands, such as Rock Academy, Maria Wade with Redemption Road, Chit, Cadre and FunHouse.

The team’s goal is to raise $7,500 for the American Cancer Society in an effort to discover better treatments for those diagnosed with cancer. The goal of the PUB 1281 event is to raise around $5,000 toward that $7,500.

And with Barnes having cancer, the team is offering this year to her treatment and well-being.

Rebecca Casavant is Barnes’ sister and started the team as captain six years ago. Her roles included organizing meetings and events, conducting fundraising opportunities, handling logistics, and coordinating events.

After five years as captain, Casavant handed the reins of captain to her sister, Susan Johnstal, due to a geographic change and Barnes’ condition.

“My younger sister, Rebecca, had started a team in 2009 after our father passed away from cancer,” Johnstal said. “She lives in Cedar Springs. When I found out my sister Maria had cancer, we thought it would be good to have the team in metro Detroit.

“Rebecca had experience, and I asked for her support and knowledge.”

The team got its name from Casavant’s husband, whose software company sponsored the team one year and sought out a “throwback theme” reminiscent of the 1980s. The company is no longer a sponsor, but the “Byte” name was kept by the team.

To say the family’s involvement is big would be an understatement.

“All of my brothers and sisters are involved, my mom is involved, my brother who lives in D.C. is involved when he can be, my brother in Korea financially helps us. … About 15 cousins are involved in the team, there are eight cousins on the team and at least 10 cousins who plan to be at our music event,” Casavant said. “We have a very large family and have lots of support.”

This particular event was the brainchild of team member and longtime family friend Katie Marroso, who had musical connections and booked the bands and set up the event. The relay team has been promoting the event and will be working at the event that Sunday.

Casavant hopes that people will further appreciate how much the American Cancer Society does for local communities and how funds raised stay in the local community. She said everyone can help those with cancer in one way or another, from driving patients to appointments or helping cancer-stricken individuals seek new information about their prognosis.

“It’s (about) spreading awareness, getting support,” Johnstal said. “Even though we’re raising funds, part of it is spreading awareness and part of it is people putting in the effort and showing Maria we are behind her. We can’t medically help her, but we can band together and have a very successful team and have the relay grow.

“We have high hopes (for the pub event), and hopefully if it all goes well, we will do it again.”

Pub 1281 is located at 121 South Gratiot Ave. in Clinton Township. The “Byte” team is also walking in the Chesterfield Relay For Life Event at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 31, at L’Anse Creuse Middle School East.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nick Mordowanec at nmordowanec@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.