A 38-year-old mother of two died on May 1, just two years after being diagnosed with cancer on the same day her husband died from ALS.
Tessie Sylvester got the devastating news that she had adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that affects various organs, on June 16, 2017. Her doctor called with the results from a recent biopsy while she was on the phone with a funeral director mere hours after her husband John died at the age of 44.
“I clicked over and that’s when the doctor said that it was cancer and that we needed to get going with treatment,” the Minneapolis dentist told PEOPLE days later. “I sat there with [John’s body] for a second just crying. Then my parents came over and I think I just went into shock. I cried and screamed for a little bit. Mostly, I was just so scared of what was going to happen to my little boys.”
Preparing her family for life without her, Sylvester had an adoption ceremony with her children and sister, Jenny Halverson, two weeks before her death, according to the Star Tribune.
“When you think of how much they’ve been handed in their short lives so far, they’ve handled it just like their mom: with awesome strength, boundless courage and astonishing grace. It’s remarkable, their resilience,” Halverson told the newspaper. “And that’s because of her.”
A GoFundMe page — which has raised over $22,000 — was created for her boys Gus, 8, and Freddy, 7.
“Tessie’s greatest wish was that her boys would be raised in a home full of love, laughter, and so much fun!” Halverson wrote on the fundraising page.
Halverson added that her sister told her, “Promise me that you’ll have so much fun so I can see that! I’ll always be with you.”
Sylvester, who met her late husband when they both coached a youth soccer league in 2002, focused on her children despite her diagnosis.
Her five siblings and parents — all of whom live close by — immediately stepped up to help, and an earlier GoFundMe page raised $330,000 for the family.
“It’s not just the donations, but the people who comment and tell me stories of survivorship and send me their prayers,” Sylvester told PEOPLE in 2017. “It’s overwhelming and humbling.”
A celebration of Sylvester’s life was held last weekend in an arcade, according to the Tribune.
“She didn’t want it to be sad,” Halverson told the newspaper.
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