For more than a decade, Rochester Police Officer Tony "TJ" Jacobsen has been someone residents call when they need help.
But when a cancer diagnosis took him by surprise in December, it was 55-year-old Jacobsen who needed a hand. A self-described private person, Jacobsen was initially reluctant to accept help. But with the support and persuasion of Sgt. Dan Monnet and fellow officer Tracy Nepper, Jacobsen agreed.
"My DNA is, 'We're there to help others,' and I've never had to be a recipient, so it's extremely humbling," Jacobsen said.
A GoFundMe page was set up on Sunday, Feb. 28, to help Jacobsen and his family cover some of the expenses that come along with a cancer diagnosis. Since then, nearly $17,000 has been raised. Many of the donations have been from fellow members of law enforcement.
"I don't know that words can properly express our gratitude and just humbling feelings we're overwhelmed with right now," Jacobsen said. "Truthfully, I don't know if I could have gotten this far without those two [Monnet and Nepper]."
In late December of 2020, Jacobsen went in for a doctor visit after not feeling well. Doctors found irregularities in an X-ray and immediately scheduled him for additional tests, which found a large mass in his pancreas, as well as smaller masses in other areas, including the liver, according to the GoFundMe page. A biopsy of his liver determined Jacobsen had a rare pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, which had metastasized to his liver.
"In short, the diagnosis was stage IV pancreatic cancer," the fundraising page read.
It's been seven weeks from his first doctor visit. On Tuesday, when Jacobsen spoke with the Post Bulletin, he was a few weeks away from surgery. Jacobsen is scheduled to undergo surgery on March 17.
In three short days, 131 people have donated to the fundraising campaign — many are members of the law enforcement community beyond Rochester and Olmsted County.
“The outpouring of support for TJ shows how highly he’s regarded by all of us," Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said in a statement. "He has honorably served the Rochester Police Department for 10 years. Here at RPD, we often refer to ourselves as a family, and like a family, we are here to lift TJ up during his cancer journey. We want him to know he’s not alone.”
Jacobsen said the outpouring of support shows the "power of the thin blue line" and "their compassion for people."
He said the first day the fundraising site went live, he knew each and every one of the donors who helped raise $10,000 in less than 24 hours.
A career in law enforcement was something Jacobsen came to later in life. After joining the U.S. Army out of high school, Jacobsen transitioned to a career in sales. But an invite for a ride-along with an Owatonna police officer set him down a different path. The night of his ride-along, Jacobsen was there for a serious crash that killed two people.
"Doing all the work on that call instantly took me back to my military days, and I came home from that ride-along and shared with the wife that I wanted to do a career change," Jacobsen said. "It's something I’m very proud of, short of my green beret and my wife and family — it’s top of my list. Being able to serve people. Being able to normally be the person that comes to help people in their darkest hour."
Update: A note from Jacobsen and his wife: "We wanted to thank everyone so much for your support! We are very humbled and find it difficult to properly express our gratitude for all of the support and prayers we are receiving. God bless you and your families."