ROCK SPRINGS– Jennifer Sawyer, lifelong resident of the Green River and Rock Springs communities and single mother of three children, was just 26 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 3b very aggressive inflammatory breast cancer in 2011.
The cancer reached her skin, lymph nodes, chest wall, arm pit, and back.
“When I was first diagnosed I was 26. I was shocked,” Jennifer said.
Growing up, her grandmother had one breast due to a battle with cancer, and this made Jennifer very aware of the presence of cancer in the family.
“I found it myself and was grateful for my grandmother having one breast when I was growing up,” Jennifer said. “Growing up knowing cancer ran in our family made me very self-aware of my own body.”
Jennifer began aggressively battling the cancer for three years before she seemingly had been cured. She had been in remission for seven years, including the three years she battled, until April 2018, when she discovered the cancer had made its way to her left arm. Just a few days later, her left arm stopped working.
Jennifer discovered she had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, which was in the muscles, nerves, veins, and main artery in her left arm, causing it to no longer function. The cancer has since then appeared in her right shoulder blade.
After various types of chemotherapy and radiation, pet scans have found five tumors that are not reaching main arteries or organs. Jennifer’s oncologist told her she is no longer curable.
Being a mother of three kids, Isaiah, 11, Paxtyn, 10, and Faith, 8, Jennifer is very aware of the emotional battle they have been going through, and her friends are aware of this as well. That is why Jennifer’s best friend, Maria Christensen-Hays, has organized the Christmas in October dinner, a way in which Jennifer and her kids can celebrate one last Christmas together.
“My best friend (Maria) and her sister decided I probably wouldn’t be doing well around Christmas, and I thought it would be a good idea for others to celebrate life with me while I’m alive,” Jennifer said of the dinner.
Making Family Memories
Jennifer and Maria met over 14 years ago and have been best friends since. Having both been through domestic violence situations, they have become very close and even co-parent their six kids together.
“Jennifer isn’t just an amazing mother to her own kids, she’s my children’s mother as well,” Maria said. “She just has the biggest heart and she’s so kind. She has a great listening ear, and she’s a great mother to all six of our kids.”
Maria moved to Utah to go to school to become a social worker, so as Jennifer was being treated at the Hunstman Center in Utah, Maria spent a lot of time by her side in the hospital.
“We’ve been through so much together,” Maria said.
Now that Jennifer is back home in Rock Springs, Maria is not able to be there for her friend as much as she would like. Thinking of ways to make a lasting memory for Jennifer and their kids, and knowing Jennifer may not make it to Christmas, she decided to celebrate Christmas in October.
“I actually set it up and then called her to tell about it. She asked me why I wanted to have Christmas in October, and I just told her ‘Just go with it, dude.’ So she went with it and we’re having Christmas in October,” Maria laughed.
Christmas in October
The Christmas in October dinner has three purposes: show Jennifer and Maria’s kids that they are a family and to make memories together, allow Jennifer to celebrate her life with the community and thank them for their help and support, and raise money for Jennifer and her three children.
“This dinner’s important to me because I want the opportunity to give back the love I’ve received, and family dinners are a big tradition in our home, so I thought that would be the best way to do this,” Jennifer said. “Plus, why not celebrate with me while I’m alive instead of afterwards.”
The Christmas in October dinner and event will be Saturday, October 26 from 5 to 9 pm at 1109 Tulip Dr. in Rock Springs. The community is invited to attend, as she wants to celebrate with everyone.
The dinner and event will be complete with a Christmas tree decorated with personalized ornaments and photos of Jennifer and the kids, as well as angels and angel wings decor, as Jennifer is very connected to her faith. The colors will be red, black, silver, and white.
There will also be a thank you banner that Jennifer and her kids make together. For food, main dishes will be served. People are welcome to bring side dishes.
“There will be lots of good people, laughter, maybe some tears, some fun, and just a good time,” Jennifer said.
Maria and Jennifer are currently raising money to help create personalized gifts for each of their kids to remember Jennifer by. Leftover money will be used to help Jennifer with bills and medical expenses, food, and a gift for Jennifer.
Gifts for the kids include:
- Cedar chest memory boxes for each child with their names and birthdays engraved
- Personalized stockings with pictures and names
- Personalized ornaments with pictures of Jennifer and the children
- Personalized items to each child from Jennifer
- Lockets with charms personalized from Jennifer
Some of the money will also be used to buy new items for the adoptive parents, as Jennifer’s kids will be adopted after she passes away. These items include bedding, quilts, room decor, and more.
“I just want Jennifer to be able to create as many memories as she can and not stress. I want her to enjoy what she can with her kids,” Maria said. “I think it’s gonna be amazing.”
Learn more about Christmas in October here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/697269230678608/2589473687742597/.
In addition to the Christmas in October dinner, there have been many additional efforts throughout the community to help Jennifer and her kids. One of those is the Online Auction for Jennifer Sawyer, organized by Jenny Lawrence.
Jenny has been friends with Jennifer for about three years, and she wanted to find a way to help Jennifer and the kids.
“So far, we’ve raised almost $2,000 with just the auction, and the auction group has become a medium for other wonderful opportunities for Jennifer to receive help. this has inspired many people, and I have been humbled and excited to see everyone’s willingness to love on Jennifer and her kids, and to see all the inspirational ideas to help her,” Jenny said.
The online auction can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2570018589687421//.
Paint and Create Fundraiser
Jenny has also helped to get a fundraiser organized with the help of Wyoming Paint and Create. On October 19, Wyoming Paint and Create will be hosting the Jennifer Sawyer Fundraiser, in which proceeds from their paint and create night will benefit Jennifer and her kids.
Tickets for the paint and create night will be $40, and Jennifer will receive $15 from each ticket purchased. The event will be October 19 at Santa Fe Southwest Grill from 1 to 3:30 pm. Check out more about the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/753713428410531/.
The paintings look amazing, but they are very simple to create and the stencils will be provided.
Since Jennifer may not be feeling well enough to attend the event, Wyoming Paint and Create has donated four painting kits for Jennifer to do at home with her children. Wyoming Paint and Create also donated 10 paintings for the online auction.
There will also be a silent auction at the paint and create event, in which several people and businesses throughout the community have donated items for.
The following businesses and individuals are donating baskets and other items for the silent auction or have helped out in other ways: Cowboy Donuts, Maya Medi Spa, Southwest Embroidery, Remedies/Bi-Rite/Sweet Sage, Rose Floral, Buckin’ Coffee, Coal Train Coffee Depot, Book Barn, Heart of the Home Kitchenware, Our Brother’s Keeper Bookstore, Busy Bee Bath Essentials, Pretty in Pink Salon, El Primo Mexican Market, That Salsa Guy, Cody J. Pierpoint State Farm Insurance, Made By Jenny/Pink Zebra, Mischon Harrington-Perfectly Posh, Sandy Christensen, Crystal Watson, Kelly Eastman, Sandy Lee/Avon, and Doterra.
Unwavering Faith in God
The theme of the Christmas in October dinner is angels, wings, and Christ, as Jennifer has very strong faith. Jennifer has said before that this war with cancer belongs to God, “he has already won.”
In addition to Jennifer being a great mother and having a big heart, her friends would say her faith describes just who she is.
Maria said if she could only use one sentence to describe Jennifer, she would say, “Jennifer has a strong faith in God, and she has a relationship with him like nobody else.”
Jenny said that Jennifer is a Christian and her faith is very important to her. Jenny said there was an instance where she was going through a rough time and questioned whether God cares, and Jennifer was quick to assure her.
“Jennifer, in her condition, without any doubts said that, yes, he cares very much,” Jenny recalled. “I thought about that for many days afterwards.”