Steamboat Springs After being diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer last fall, Linda Jespersen said she felt shocked and scared but then decided to focus her thoughts and energies on all of the living she had to do.
"I said, 'We're turning this around," Jespersen said. "I said, 'I'm living with cancer. I'm not dying of cancer.'"
With her positive attitude and determination not to let her illness defeat her, Jespersen has been an inspiration to many friends and co-workers.
This Sunday, local businesses, restaurants and residents will come together to show their support for Jespersen with a benefit from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Yacht Club featuring music, food and drinks, a date auction, a raffle for ski passes and a silent auction for a variety of prizes.
Jespersen has lived and worked in Steamboat Springs for the past seven years. Even with her recent chemotherapy treatments and countless doctors' appointments, she has continued to work as a waitress at the Yacht Club for about 35 hours each week.
She hasn't missed a day of work yet.
"Just because you have cancer doesn't mean the bills stop coming in," she said.
When her doctor was surprised to learn she hadn't taken time off, even on days when she received treatment, Jespersen had a matter-of-fact reply.
"I said, 'Nobody told me the rules of this game,'" she said with a laugh. "I'm just learning. I didn't get the cancer instruction booklet."
Although Jespersen's husband also works full time and the couple has health insurance, Jespersen said she still has thousands of dollars in medical bills she hasn't been able to pay.
After talking with Jespersen about her situation, Joanne Gerow, who also works at the Yacht Club, decided to find a way to help. When Gerow started talking to other residents and businesses to see if people would make donations for a benefit, the responses she got were phenomenal: People immediately offered to do anything they could to help.
"It's unbelievable," Gerow said. "It's overwhelming that everybody just right off the bat has said yes."
Now more than 50 businesses and individuals are donating a variety of prizes for the silent auction Sunday, such as hot tub rentals, helicopter rides, expensive wine, a weekend in Las Vegas, $100 gift certificates and more.
Local restaurants have donated food, beer and wine that will be available during the auction Sunday.
And a dozen local residents have donated themselves for a date auction. Gerow said dates will include a person as well as a date adventure such as a trip to the hot springs, a limousine ride or a ride in a hot-air balloon.
Gerow said she hopes a couple of hundred people from the community show up to bid on the items and enjoy the party atmosphere. All proceeds from the auctions will go to Jespersen. There is also an account set up at Wells Fargo Bank in Jespersen's name to which people can make donations.
"It's just something we wanted to do for her because I know she needed it," Gerow said about the benefit. "I really want it to be a success."
Gerow said she's been amazed at the way the community has pulled together to support Jespersen but the support isn't too surprising considering Jespersen's friendly, upbeat personality.
"She's got a great attitude," Gerow said. "She's just always upbeat. She's really amazing."
For Jespersen, the benefit has been an encouragement and a sign of the community spirit that can draw Steamboat residents together.
"Steamboat is like a family they rally together for their own," Jespersen said. "It's just a great town where people care about people."
The Visiting Nurse Association and the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. also recently came together to fulfill one of Jespersen's wishes: to see her grandchild when he or she is born in November.
Jespersen's son lives in Florida, a trip Jespersen would not be able to pay for on her own. But because of the VNA and Ski Corp., it is now going to be a reality.
"I was totally speechless," Jespersen said. "What can you do to thank somebody for something that big?"
Jespersen said that with money raised from the benefit, she will get her health insurance payments up to date and will try to pay off some of her debt from her cancer treatments.
She also said she feels privileged for each day she has.
"I can either give up or just keep going," she said. "Nobody knows what today is going to bring. You have to want to be there tomorrow."