David Nesbitt (seated at upper right), a well-known soccer… (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore…)
What began as a younger brother railing against "the Man" has morphed into a Facebook fundraising phenomenon that has buoyed his older brother in the health battle of a lifetime.
Six months ago, at age 40, Marc Nesbitt, the elder of two sons of Columbia soccer coach Dave Nesbitt, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a rare type of brain tumor that is primarily found in children and very seldom seen in adults.
Left with little use of his left arm and hand, weakness in his left leg and double vision, Marc had to quit his job as a video game producer and stop driving. When Matt Nesbitt learned that it would cost $10,000 to transport his brother back and forth from his home in Jersey City, N.J., to get treatment at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, he was enraged.
Matt began sharing details of his brother's predicament with friends, and that's when he hit on a plan of action. He decided to channel his anger against what he views as a broken system into a way for people to donate online to a transportation fund.
Since he first drafted a letter Jan. 4 detailing Marc's health status, Matt has been contacted by 400 people, many of whom donated money or offered their time and resources, through Facebook, Twitter and at marcnesbitt.com.
"You have to have significant [monetary] resources in order to fight this kind of battle, and many people feel that's pretty ridiculous," said Matt, a Columbia real estate agent and entrepreneur who makes frequent trips to New York to oversee his brother's care.
"Everyone deserves to get treatment; this isn't being extravagant," he said. "And everyone feels like this could happen to them."
As hard as it was, asking for donations seemed the only way since Marc didn't want to think about leaving Erin, his wife of one year, grieving and in debt, if the worst were to come to pass, Matt said.
"I'm astounded by the range of givers, and floored by the overwhelming generosity," Marc wrote in a text message about the response to Matt's social media campaign.
Friends are also helping in other ways.
On of them, Hamisi Dove, organized a fundraiser Wednesday night at Koto Katana, a Japanese steakhouse in Hickory Ridge, and others are planned in Columbia in the coming months. Dove, who grew up with the Nesbitts and is the same age as Matt, recalled how the two of them looked up to Marc, who has "always been this big, strong dude."
"It was definitely a shock — it's always a shock when someone gets a cancer diagnosis," he said. "I wanted to help Marc with the battle he's facing, and I hope people will keep opening up their wallets."
Matt said his family is overwhelmed by people's generosity.
"This has really caught on at Facebook and on Twitter, and the Wilde Lake community, soccer community and video games industry have all joined in," he said. "It's become a pay-it-forward movement."
Dave Nesbitt said, "You don't know how much you've touched people until something like this happens."
And while he feels "the community has risen up in terms of adopting Marc," Dave said the impact on his already tightly knit family has been even more incredible.
"The one thing we have really attempted to do with Marc is to be sure there's some levity, some humor in his life," said Dave, who is technical director of the Soccer Association of Columbia — Howard County.
"The tendency is to be somber, and that's an additional weight on the patient," he said. "We try to be natural and normal, and Matt has been incredibly good at one-liners."
Laura Nesbitt, Marc and Matt's mother, agreed.
"I can't find words to describe what an awesome brother Matt has been to Marc," she said. "If this wasn't happening to my own son, I would be absolutely mesmerized by it."
Laura described Marc as a strong man who would pull through this ordeal, and said his physician, Dr. Kevin DeBraganca, is optimistic about her son's recovery. Matt lays out the seriousness of his brother's status on marcnesbitt.com but interjects some humor as well:
"Currently, Marc's neurological symptoms are pretty severe. It is difficult for him to walk, he does not have meaningful use of his left arm and hand, his left leg is weak, and he suffers from double vision. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), he has no cognitive problems, so he's still at the top of the leader board on all of his Words with Friends games. And, more importantly, he has a positive outlook and is ready to go to battle with this disease," he wrote.
Matt said they really didn't know whether their plan would work, but believes what made the difference between success and failure is that Marc "is an individual with real problems and real costs, and not just a [faceless] cause."
While the hope was to cover Marc's transportation costs and donate any excess funds — the $10,000 goal has now been met — friends have advised the brothers to take it slowly since unanticipated needs will arise during his illness.
"They said that whatever we think his expenses will be, we should take that figure and double or triple it," Matt said.
"Marc has said that seeing 'pay it forward' happening in real time is incredible," Laura said. "Mr. Rouse is looking down and has to be proud."
Matt also attributes the response to the family's cry for help to the values instilled in the residents of Columbia, which James Rouse founded in 1967 as a planned community built on pillars of diversity and acceptance.
"A lot of people in Columbia have gone on to do great things," he said. And that's why groups including the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults have put out the word online.
"You start connecting these dots and you find out a lot of these people have influence, and when they tweet or put it on their Facebook pages that adds 500 more people that we couldn't have reached otherwise," he said.
"That's the beauty of Facebook," he said. "It is whatever you want to make of it."