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Mother Diagnosed With Cancer Hours After Losing Husband To ALS

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- If you believe in the phrase "life isn't fair," look no further than the Sylvester family.

"John and I just kept crying and praying and he kept telling me 'It's going to be OK, it's going to be OK,'" said Tessie Sylvester as she recalled her final moments with her husband John.

The 44-year-old died Friday after a six-year battle with ALS. Tessie said John, a former Minnesota Thunder soccer player, had a feeling his fight with the disease was about to end.

"He told me that morning, 'Today's the day,' and a couple of hours later, he took his last breath," she said.

Little did Tessie know the weight of carrying on as a single mother of two boys was about to get even heavier.

als cancer family
The Sylvester family (credit: CBS)

"I was literally on the phone with the funeral director, and the other line beeped and it was my doctor, and so I clicked over and answered it. That's when she said 'It's cancer and it doesn't look good,'" said Tessie.

She said it all started with a routine checkup. Her blood work led to a biopsy, which led to the deadly diagnosis. Tessie has adenocarcinoma. She said she has a mass on her liver, but that doctors told her it's not the source of the cancer -- meaning it could be elsewhere in her body.

"I wasn't tired, I wasn't sick, I wasn't in pain," the 36-year-old said of how surprising it was to learn of her diagnosis.

Her husband was aware of the appointments, but never learned she had cancer. But somehow, Tessie doesn't believes he already knew.

"I think John went when he did because he knew that I needed some protection from another place, to stay with our boys," she said.

Despite holding onto hope, one could understand if Tessie was angry, upset or depressed to be dealt such a difficult hand.

"I always thought it wasn't fair what happened to John, but he always had such light to him," she said. "I don't want to say it's not fair yet, because I'm not ready to give into it."

Tessie was the breadwinner in the family as John's health worsened. She knows the road ahead won't be easy, but she has a strong support system with her family.

After John's funeral, a GoFundMe page was started to help Tessie with medical and family expenses, since she expects to take time off work to treat the disease. In less than 24 hours, the GoFundMe page raised about $50,000 -- leaving Tessie gratefully surprised.

"I am just really going to enjoy every moment I can with the boys," she said. "So any little bit that I don't have to worry about -- as far as where the money's going to come from -- it gives me so much peace."

If you'd like to make a donation to help her family, click here.

Amid all that strife, the Sylvesters had a positive moment Wednesday night. They went to the Minnesota United game, where John was honored for his time as a Minnesota Thunder player, and his contributions as a youth soccer coach for many years.

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