Friends and family of a 36-year-old Iraqi war veteran, Freehold Regional High School science teacher, and mother of three with a heart of gold are rallying behind her as she continues to battle Stage 4 breast cancer.

Sandy Jessop, a Wall resident, enlisted in the National Guard after graduating Linden High School in 2003.

From there, she was sent to Iraq in 2004, where she served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and met her husband, Christian, who also served in the military. Sandy was deployed a second time to Iraq in 2008.

Iraqi war vet and FRHS science teacher, Sandy Jessop. (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
Iraqi war vet and FRHS science teacher, Sandy Jessop. (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
loading...

After having served their country, both Sandy and Christian Jessop put down roots in Wall with their three sons, ages 7, 5 and 1. Both are high school science teachers; she at Freehold Regional; he at Monroe Township.

Her best friend, Diana Clavijo, said Sandy's diagnosis came about in a very strange way. It was summer 2019 when her oldest son noticed a lump under her armpit while they were playing. While Sandy didn't think much of it, she called her doctor and they kept an eye on it.

Then in February 2020, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. "It happened so quickly," Clavijo said.

Wall Twp Iraqi war veteran, Sandy Jessop (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
Wall Twp Iraqi war veteran, Sandy Jessop (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
loading...

While the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Jersey a month later, it did not stop or delay treatments for Sandy. Clavijo said she started chemotherapy but after some time, doctors had to stop it because she had a very bad reaction to it, debilitating her. Sandy then had a double mastectomy in August 2021. In September, radiation started. Sandy just finished a six-week radiation course on Dec. 15.

Doctors are now waiting for Sandy's burn marks and scars to heal from the radiation process. Once she heals, she will then begin a two-year chemotherapy treatment. It's a pill form, just approved by the FDA, Clavijo said.

Iraqi war vet and FRHS science teacher Sandy Jessop (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
Iraqi war vet and FRHS science teacher Sandy Jessop (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
loading...

It's expected that Sandy will begin this new aggressive treatment in January. Doctors say it could be debilitating for her, which means she is not able to work.

So to help, the community has banded together with a GoFundMe campaign. 

Besides being an Iraqi war vet, a teacher and a mom, Sandy is also a pillar of the community.

"Even right now with her diagnosis, she is still so positive, optimistic, she's full of hope, and giving hope to others that don't even have cancer," Clavijo said. "She's still rallying behind them. So we felt they are going through such a hard time right now, and they're such amazing people, why not do something for them, especially now when she's going to be out of work for such a long period of time."

Two of Sandy's army buddies, Dylan Reily and Christa Recio, reached out to Clavijo to start the GoFundMe for the Jessop family.

Clavijo said the idea was to raise $3,500 for a mortgage payment. The campaign quickly raised nearly $25,000 so far, which is so amazing to see, she added. It will be up and running until Jan. 21 for anyone who would like to donate and help the Jessop family.

The Jessop family at Christmas (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
The Jessop family at Christmas (Photo Credit: Sandy Jessop)
loading...

Clavijo said when you think of Sandy these words come to mind: kind, genuine and full of resilience. The women met freshman year of high school. Clavijo said when she got pregnant her senior year, she left home and it was Sandy who took her in, no questions asked and helped her. Clavijo's husband was in the National Guard at the time and was away so it was Sandy who stepped in and was there for her friend in need.

Now, it's everyone else's turn to help Sandy.

"She's going through something so horrible. The way she is putting it out there, so raw. She's just uplifting others, even people who don't have cancer, she's just uplifting them. I just feel that's so beautiful to see. You don't see that in anybody," Clavijo said.

Follow Sandy's journey on Instagram @ss_jess07.

"I expect a long hard road ahead of me. Here, I will document my journey. The good, the bad, the ugly...but it will all be part of my road to a happy, healthy me, wife and mom of three," Jessop says on her Instagram.

New Jersey's smallest towns by population

New Jersey's least populated municipalities, according to the 2020 Census. This list excludes Pine Valley, which would have been the third-smallest with 21 residents but voted to merge into Pine Hill at the start of 2022.