When Catonsville resident Michele McFarland's brother, Phil Davis, told her he was going to the doctor to find out why he was having trouble swallowing, McFarland had no reason to think the problem could be anything too serious.
But within a month, she and the rest of the family learned that Davis had stage three esophageal cancer — an illness that has a 5-year survival rate of just 40 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
The family's first priority was to be there for Davis, his wife, Danielle, and their four children, who are between the ages of 5 and 27, McFarland said. But when Davis' cancer spread to his liver, advancing him to a stage-four status, McFarland and her husband, Brian McFarland, decided they had to do something more.
To help Davis, a Catonsville native and current resident of Hereford, and his wife and children, the McFarlands will host a fundraiser on Oct. 23 to raise money to support the family while Davis undergoes treatment.
Through hospital visits and rounds of chemotherapy, work has become difficult for Davis, a veteran of the Air Force who served in the Gulf War and has since made a career as a Federal Aviation Administration flight inspector.
His current chemotherapy regimen has him doing three days of treatment followed by 10 days off, Davis said. He manages to work from home when he can, he said, but the fatigue and other side effects can be overpowering.
"I'm just extremely tired all the time," Davis said, adding that watching his family take up his cause, in addition to the outpouring of support he's gotten from friends and community members in Hereford, has been a little overwhelming.
"This is the most humbling experience I've ever had in my life," the Catonsville High School Class of 1985 graduate said. "It makes you realize a lot of things."
Over the summer, Michele had T-shirts printed with the phrase "DAVISTRONG" made for herself and her family. When other people in the community, both friends of the family and community members in Hereford, expressed interest in also getting shirts, Michele decided to start selling them on Facebook and through email to support her brother.
In Hereford, Davis had been a regular youth sports coach until his diagnosis. The T-shirts will be used as uniforms in some upcoming youth sports games, Michele said.
The Oct. 23 event will feature a performance by local band The Dive Bombs and a silent auction. The community has been instrumental in organizing the fundraiser, Michele said.
Local eateries, such as Franco's Italian Bistro, G. L. Shacks, Peace A Pizza, and The Broken Fork food truck. have donated food for the event while Oakdale Pharmacy and a personal friend who works in alcohol distribution have donated alcohol, Michele said.
"People have been very willing and generous to give," Michele said, adding that the more they can run the event off donations, the more money they will be able to raise to help Davis.
At the end of the day, Michele just wants to know that she's done everything she can for her brother, she said.
"My brother is a wonderful friend to me, and has been a best friend to me for many, many years," she said. "His diagnosis has not only affected the immediate family but so many more than we'll ever really know."
The DAVISTRONG Concert Fundraiser will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 23 at the McFarlands' home on Devere Lane. Tickets are $25 each and must be purchased beforehand.