Woman diagnosed with cancer the same day her husband dies

Tessie Sylvester and her young sons, Gus, 6, and Freddy, 5, sat at John Sylvester’s bedside on June 16 as the beloved husband and father drew his last breath. John Sylvester, 44, had Lou Gehrig’s disease for six years before he died. 

His wife told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press that she was just beginning to deal with the aftermath of his death when her phone rang. 

“As I was calling the funeral home to tell them that John had passed, the doctor called me on the other line and said the biopsy had come back and it was cancer,” Sylvester told the Pioneer Press.

The adenocarcinoma had already metastasized to Sylvester’s liver and lymph nodes, meaning surgery was not an option. 

She is due to begin chemotherapy on Tuesday. 

Sylvester told the newspaper that she never felt sick. She went to the doctor for a routine physical in late May. Abnormal bloodwork led to more tests and, eventually, the biopsy. 

Sylvester’s sister has started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help Sylvester, a self-insured dentist, keep her household running and pay for her treatment. 

“Tessie is terrified by the thought of leaving her sons without their daddy and mommy,” the page read. “She is only 36 years old and she is going to do everything she can to fight this cancer. She will have chemotherapy to try to keep it at bay and buy her time with her sons.”

As of Monday afternoon, the page had raised more than $170,500 of the $500,000 goal. 

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The fundraising has been helped along by food writer and television personality Andrew Zimmern, who said on Facebook that the Sylvester family’s plight “hits home” for him. John Sylvester, a longtime soccer coach, coached the children of one of Zimmern’s colleagues. 

John Sylvester, who met his wife in 2001 when both coached summer youth soccer, was also a professional soccer player in the ‘90s, playing for the Minnesota Thunder. 

As she prepares to fight for her life, Tessie Sylvester is also trying to figure out how to explain her illness to her sons. She told the Pioneer Press that one question the boys always had while they watched their father’s disease progress was, “Why can’t the doctors help daddy?”

She hopes the chemotherapy can offer them some comfort.

“I am sick, but the doctors can help,” she wants to tell them. “They couldn’t help daddy, but they can help me.”

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