As Survivor‘s 20th season approaches, one of the series’ stars, Jennifer Lyon, who placed fourth in the Palau season, lost her battle with stage-three breast cancer Tuesday at age 37. Survivor host Jeff Probst developed an instantaneous connection with Lyon, and with contributions from Lyon’s family, he shared this story about their friendship:

“Jenn and I got reconnected a couple of years ago and became very close, very fast. She shared with me the highs and the lows and the constant choices she and her family faced regarding her treatment.

“When you cut through the social barriers that so often hamper us, it’s amazing how quickly you can become close with someone. Jenn made it very easy. She didn’t have any interest in wasting time.

“Because the previous Christmas had been so rough, this year she decided to open a Christmas tree lot so she could extend the holidays for as long as possible. Then in typical Jenn fashion she made the decision to donate profits to the Susan Love Cancer Research Foundation. The tree lot was a major undertaking yet there she was every day doing her part to try to raise money to make sure nobody else had to ever endure the same struggle.”

Kim Lyon: ‘Jenn worked so hard on the lot and they were kind of bummed they didn’t make much money off of it so if anyone wants to honor Jenn they can make a donation to the foundation. She would be touched.’

Probst: “Over the past several weeks we had some beautiful talks about life and death. Jenn was so willing to share what she was feeling, including the very real and very scary parts of dealing with terminal cancer.

“Jenn was blessed with a fantastic family. Her sister, her brother and her parents were loving, positive and incredibly supportive of her needs. Her family provided a safe place where she could simply be a daughter or a sister and not have to worry about the expectations of others. It was funny to witness her switch from being a spiritual mentor to playing the role of a daughter where she felt safe enough to simply say ‘no’ to her mom’s suggestion of a hot cup of soup. There really is no substitute for a loving family. Nothing else can compare.

“Texting back and forth became a great way for Jenn to stay in touch with all of her friends. No matter where she was or how she was feeling she could reach out and stay connected via technology. Her phone was constantly beeping with new messages including many from Ethan Zohn.

“I think Ethan and Jenn became strong allies for each other as they both battled their cancer. Ethan was there for Jenn at times when she really needed to talk to someone who could understand the struggle on a level the rest of us just couldn’t. Ethan is such a strong willed and inspiring person, their friendship offered a lot of comfort to Jenn.

“Her wisdom about how to live a life with quality seemed to grow with each passing day. I am so grateful she chose to share so much with me. I used to kid Jenn, asking her ‘where was all of this insight when you were on Survivor!’

“The Survivor reunion party offered Jenn a great chance to reconnect with so many people from the Survivor family. It was a great night and even though the party was crazy, we arranged a back room, away from the madness, where Jenn could hang out and talk with friends. She looked absolutely stunning that night. Certainly a lot of that is because Jenn was always a beautiful woman, but there was a spirit inside her that night that was palpable. It was clear to me that she knew this was a goodbye.”

Kim Lyon: ‘Jenn would rather go to a Survivor party than anything else. No matter how bad she was feeling. She could always rally for that kind of a celebration.’

Probst: “Jenn’s family arranged a beautiful spot on the Hood River in Oregon where Jenn could enjoy some peace in a lovely surrounding. She relocated there last week. There’s a great photo of Jenn walking near the water and she looks so relaxed and at peace. It was definitely the right call.

“The night she finally passed, I had the most amazing connection with Jenn. I was in my home in Los Angeles listening to a CD of music I had given Jenn. I texted her sister Kim and asked her to play the music for Jenn. As I sat there on my couch thousands of miles away, I could feel Jenn holding my hand. Even thinking of it now brings it right back. A few minutes later Kim texted back saying, ‘We’ve already been playing it, but Jenn has stopped responding to us.’ I wrote back, ‘But she hears it. I’ve been holding her hand all night.’

“As the night continued Kim was kind enough to send me updates. It was this amazing fusion of spirit and technology. The power of human energy was connecting me to Jenn on a spiritual level and the power of technology was keeping me updated on her journey. If we could find a way to harness this for greater good we could change the entire world.

“The last text came at 11:10 pm when Kim wrote simply, ‘Jenn died.’

“Jenn did such a good job of showing me how to love someone who is dying that it is surprisingly easy to talk about her passing. I feel there is great knowledge she wanted to share with others about how to deal with someone who is dying.

“Throughout her battle with cancer, friends would often encourage her to ‘Fight harder. Stay positive.’ It’s a well-intentioned gesture but as I learned through Jenn, it’s not always the right one. Near the end, Jenn worried that some people may think she gave up and didn’t fight hard enough. We talked a lot about the idea that death is such a hard subject and so many of us simply don’t know what is appropriate to say so we end up saying the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

“If I learned anything from Jenn it is this: Don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are truly feeling about dying. Don’t shy away from the scary parts of death. They need someone to talk to about what is going on inside their head. Most importantly, encourage them to let go of the expectations of others and give them permission to do what is right for them, even if it means letting go.”

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS/Landov