By Leanna Gerry
Photography by Tracey McGuire
Fourty-three-year-old Jaime Tjossem is a wife of over 12 years, mother of two, and stepmother of two. Tjossem works as a biology professor at Rochester Community and Technical College, where she earned the title of Outstanding Educator in 2017-18. Tjossem’s friends describe her as adaptable, compassionate, outgoing, fun, humorous, quick-witted—and of course—strong.
During her adolescent years, Tjossem thrived in Door County, Wisconsin, where she shared a dedication to basketball with her older sister. In her senior year of high school, however, doctors diagnosed her retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that impairs the function of the retinas. “I will never forget when the ophthalmologist said to me, ‘You will most likely go blind one day,’” Tjossem recalls. The disorder now affects most areas of Tjossem’s life, from noticing an outstretched hand to getting to work in the morning.
Her physical challenges are not the only struggles Tjossem has faced. In September 2011, doctors diagnosed her 4-year-old son Kaden with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer. After an amputation and nine months of chemotherapy, hopes were high for Kaden’s recovery. However, in November 2012, doctors declared his condition terminal. Kaden passed away about a month later. “We were devastated,” Tjossem confides. Despite their grief, Tjossem and her husband rallied to create “Kaden’s Running Hugs,” a program that gathers funds for families in similar situations.
According the Tjossem, the key to this inner strength lies in embracing oneself and looking to supportive people for encouragement. “Simply believe in your abilities!” she says. “No matter how hard life might be at times, know that you are strong enough to handle anything and that there are many people out there who care.”
While she validates her own needs, Tjossem’s strength also flows from her ability to give, especially to her students. “I feel strong when I know I have made a difference just by being caring, understanding and compassionate towards others,” she says.
Tjossem received her makeover from her choice salon of 15 years—Salon Nouvo. The salon staff shares, “Jaime has endured so much in her life. Her story is amazing, and hopefully it will give others strength and encouragement in their lives.”
Tjossem views their comment with awe. “At first I was shocked,” she says. “Then I felt very honored that the ladies at Salon Nouvo would consider me for this.” Tjossem encourages other women to take advantage of these opportunities. “It was kind of nice feeling a little pampered,” she confesses. “I don’t always do that for myself.”
MORE TO COME
Tjossem has big plans for herself in the future as well. Considering her past hardships, she wishes to watch her daughter grow up. “My goals really are to be able to see as long as I can see and make memories with my family as long as I can. We want to make the memories now, because we’re not even guaranteed tomorrow,” she says.
Tjossem also hopes to continue her professorial duties, whale watch, tour Italy and someday pursue inspirational public speaking. She smiles as she lists these dreams. “Life doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. “You can still find ways to do this or that.”
Leanna Gerry is an intern writer for Rochester Women magazine and is a senior at St. Mary’s University Minnesota.