Inspiring Stories

A Legacy to Remember

A life cut short

“What people noticed first about Jenyi was her beautiful smile and beautiful eyes, but the most beautiful thing about her you couldn’t see. It was Jenyi’s heart.”

Sheila Knudsen eyes shine with joy and sorrow when she speaks of her daughter, Jenyi Knudsen-Bergsten. Jenyi was just 42 when cancer cut her life short, leaving behind broken hearts and a legacy of love and courage.

“Jenyi fought so hard!” said Sheila. “I’ve never known anybody as brave as that kid was.”

Always giving 100%

From infancy, Jenyi was known for her independence and initiative, for living life at full throttle, for always giving 100 percent.

“She was just a special child, so easy to love, so easy to raise,” said Jenyi’s father, Jim Knudsen. “And anything she did, she was in knee-deep. She just wouldn’t quit.”

Jenyi’s husband, Ben Bergsten, said he was constantly amazed by what a wonderful wife, mother and friend Jenyi was. “There was no halfway for her. She just dove into others’ lives, and you could instantly feel that special connection.

Joyous announcements

Children were always a high priority for Jenyi, and Sheila and Jim remember the joy when Jenyi and Ben announced they were expecting. First came Abby, then Ally, then Avary.

“Jenyi would sit and play with those kids for hours upon hours,” said Sheila. “If the girls were involved in Sunday school, she was involved in Sunday school. If they were involved in volleyball, she was right there in volleyball. Whatever the girls were in, she was right there.”

Attack Volleyball Club Director Mark Andrews, who has known the family for years, describes Jenyi as, “The most amazing woman I’ve met in my life – so enthusiastic, upbeat, efficient and precise. She cared so much about every single girl in our club, not just her own kids.”

A rare and aggressive cancer

Family and friends were stunned to learn Jenyi was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive stage 4 colon cancer in October 2013 at age 41.

Sheila was awed by how bravely Jenyi fought, noting, “Not once did she ask, ‘Why me?’”

“She just said it wasn’t fair to her girls,” said Jim.

By the end of April 2014, they learned the cancer was in Jenyi’s spine and brain. She had only days left.

Jenyi immediately thanked and hugged every doctor, nurse and patient in the oncology office, and Jenyi said she wanted to take cupcakes to Methodist Jennie Edmundson’s radiology staff. She told one of her chemo friends, “You need to beat this for me.”

Facing the end

That afternoon, Jenyi entered hospice.

“We brought the girls from school so Jenyi could talk to each one about her hopes and dreams for them,” said Sheila.

Three days later, Jenyi passed away, surrounded by the family members who love her so.

“If Jenyi had survived, she would want everyone to stand up and fight against cancer so no spouse, child or parent will ever know the heartache of losing someone they love.”

Sheila Knudsen
Jenyi Knudsen-Bergsten's Mother

“Some days I still don’t believe it or understand it,” said Ben.

“Jenyi left us with a whole lot of love and memories and the three prettiest girls,” said Sheila. “Jenyi was definitely a blessing, and we miss her so. The tears are always right there.”

Honoring her life

In April, the family and Council Bluffs community honored Jenyi with the “Jennie for Jenyi” Volleyball Tournament, drawing 27 teams from Pawnee, Nebraska, to Iowa City, Iowa. The event was organized by Jessica Brickey, an Attack Volleyball Club coach and former player as well as the development coordinator for Jennie Edmundson Hospital Foundation.

“In Jenyi’s honor, we were able to put $6,000 toward the new, state-of-the-art linear accelerator at Methodist Jennie Edmundson Cancer Center,” said Jessica. “Jenyi’s name will grace our donor wall as one more way her memory lives on.”

“We would like everyone to concentrate on how Jenyi lived and loved her life, not the fact that this battle wasn't won,” said Sheila. “If Jenyi had survived, she would want everyone to stand up and fight against cancer so no spouse, child or parent will ever know the heartache of losing someone they love.”

Spirit of Courage

Jenyi, a 2016 Spirit of Courage Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, was honored during the Spirit of Courage Celebrity Weekend, an annual charity care fundraiser for Methodist Jennie Edmundson Cancer Center patients.