Six years ago, Sandpoint resident Jenny Meyer sat with her daughter, Grace, on Sandpoint’s Long Bridge cheering as people walked, ran, rolled and strolled their way from Sandpoint’s Dog Beach to the south end of the bridge and back.
The event was the first Celebrate Life Fun Run/Walk – a fundraiser started by Meyer’s sister, Julie Walkington, and her friend and co-worker January Tuinstra to help those like Meyer who were fighting cancer.
Meyer was able to witness three more years of the event before dying from breast cancer in June 2008. But the lives she touched have not forgotten the young mother with the beautiful smile who first found out she had cancer when she was pregnant with her daughter, now 8.
“Jenny and I both became pregnant within a month of each other,” said her close friend Stormy Peterson. “I remember one week we were absolutely elated talking about babies and baby names and then the following week discussing what her options were now that she knew she had been diagnosed with cancer and how it would affect little Grace. Grace was born in November in perfect health. Jenny made the right decision.”
Through the years Walkington, a nurse at Bonner General Hospital, knew she wanted to do something to not only help her sister, but also others who she saw on a daily basis fight cancer.
“January and I put our heads together and came up with the idea of Celebrate Life,” said Walkington. “Our goal has always been to reach out and help many different people in their diagnosis.”
Although Meyer never walked across the bridge, she was present every year to support those participating and spent many hours behind the scenes preparing for the event.
“Jenny always thought of everyone else first. I know that Celebrate Life meant a great deal to her,” said Peterson. “She was always so proud of her younger sister Julie for pulling this (event) together to help local cancer patients. Knowing that this foundation is helping other people live would be enough for Jenny.”
Meyer was an inspiration to many for the way she lived her life. Never without a smile no matter how badly she felt, Meyer’s initial goal was to live long enough to see her daughter go off to her first day of kindergarten. She met and exceeded that goal.
“When I think about Jenny, I can imagine her smile which inevitably puts a smile on my face. She appreciated her life while some of us may take it for granted,” said Peterson.
To keep her spirit and memory alive, many of Meyer’s friends and family continue to participate in Celebrate Life carrying on its mission – to offer assistance and enhance the lives of family, friends and neighbors affected by cancer.
“Celebrate Life is really about just that,” said Walkington. “Celebrate the day; celebrate your life, wherever you are on your life’s journey.”
Walkington said she and Tuinstra are determined to keep their word to Meyer. They will always keep the event simple. To them that means not turning it into a timed race, keeping it always family oriented and always making sure that anyone who wants to participate can – even if they are incapacitated.
Each year the proceeds from the event are put back into the community to support the needs faced by cancer patients including grocery, restaurant, gas and coffee vouchers, massages, floral arrangements, medical equipment, firewood, medicine and financial assistance.
The money that is raised is distributed to patients and their families through Bonner General Hospital’s out-patient clinic, Bonner Community Hospice and Kootenai Cancer Center at Bonner General Hospital and is all spent locally in the Sandpoint area.
“I always remember Jenny telling me that it was so special for someone who is going through cancer to be given a gift by one of the nurses with no strings attached,” said Walkington, adding that the group is able to fulfill unique and special requests.
“Since we first started in 2004 we have raised about $75,000,” she said. Peterson, who said she thinks about Meyer not only on the day of Celebrate Life, but also the other 364 days of the year, said she carries in her heart the lessons that her friend taught her.
“Jenny was that one person who you always wish you could be – grounded, honest and true to who she was. She taught me to be a good mother and to live in the moment because the moments don’t last long,” said Peterson. “This is a gift of knowledge that I will cherish forever.”
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