Wendy Robards' friends are her fans. They've been amazed over the years as she raised three children alone and took in special needs foster kids, even going so far as to adopt a son, Nicholas, now 7, on her own.
"She's clearly saved his life," said ex-husband Don Russell.
Wendy, 39, works with the athletes for the Special Olympics summer games and just completed her associate's degree in social work with the dream of working with non-verbal children like her daughter Aubrie, who suffers from Joubrett's disease.
Doctors told her Aubrie would live just three months, said Wendy. She has lived 17 years.
And Wendy has fought for all of it, with a sense of humor and funded by several part-time jobs that gave her the flexibility she needed to get Aubrie to and from her many therapy sessions.
Wendy said it's her sense of humor that has kept her sane. Otherwise, a letter she received in early November saying her Dayton rental home was being foreclosed on would have made her crazy.
But instead she began to pack up the house and found another place to call home, which she planned to move into by the Dec. 5 deadline.
Then on Nov. 15, she wasn't feeling very well. So she went to the doctor.
Two days later, she was told she had colon cancer.
Concerned Wendy wouldn't be able to move in, the landlord backed out of renting her the new place, and Wendy, whose savings are coins tossed in a V8 jar in her closet, found herself undergoing procedures for which the doctors wanted at least 30-percent down.
Her parents took out a personal loan and handed over $5,000 of borrowed money in a bid to save their daughter's life.
On Wednesday she underwent surgery to remove the cancer from her colon and an ovary that had a cyst. In 10 days a biopsy will tell her the full extent of what she's up against.
"It's almost too much to believe," she said Thursday from her hospital bed at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center. "I still am totally shocked. It doesn't feel real yet."
But the reality didn't take long to sink in for friend Janet Lochman.
She organized a fundraiser that takes advantage of the need for parents to complete their Christmas shopping.
On Dec. 19 volunteers have agreed to babysit elementary school-aged children from noon to 6 p.m. at Dayton High School, said Lochman.
The cost is a $25 donation which includes a snack and drink. All proceeds will benefit Wendy and her children.
Lochman said they have enough volunteers - high school honor students and student council members - to handle 60 children.
"Wendy's so young, she's always smiling, always positive. When you meet her kids, you find out they are just extraordinary children. It's just a beautiful family," said Lochman. "Her doctor said she can't work and she's been told it's going to take 180 days to see if she's eligible for disability."
"Wendy's spent her whole life taking care of other people, it's her turn now," said Russell.
Friend Ron Myler couldn't praise Wendy enough Thursday.
"She's the reason I do the work I do," said Myler, an employee at Rite of Passage, a Minden-based program for at-risk youth. He said after Wendy once asked if he'd made a difference, he decided to do just that.
"She's made a difference in this world. It's a better place with her," he said. "She's probably the strongest woman I've ever met. We're blessed to have her family in our life."
Wendy just smiled, her eyes wet from tears and returned the compliment.
"I am so blessed. I have a wonderful family and friends. We're gonna get through this," she said.
"She's a survivor," said Myler.
"I sure hope, so," she said with a smile. "I'll give it all I've got."