February 08, 2010 12:00 PM

On Survivor, Jennifer Lyon endured the elements—and cutthroat scheming—on a North Pacific island. When she died of cancer at 37 on Jan. 19, the setting was much more peaceful: She gathered her loved ones at an Oregon retreat that she found on the Internet. Says her sister Kim: “You could hear the river from the room that she was in.”

That quiet grace marked Lyon’s life, both as a nanny in her pre-Survivor days and as the sweet, under-the-radar contestant who finished fourth in the Palau contest that aired in 2005. “Over the past weeks we had some beautiful talks about life and death,” says host Jeff Probst, who last saw her the morning after a Survivor 10-year reunion on Jan. 9. “Jenn was so willing to share what she was feeling.”

In 2004 Lyon “felt something in my right breast that didn’t feel normal,” she said, but dismissed it as scar tissue from her breast implants, self-diagnosing in part because she lacked insurance. A year later—just three months after the Survivor finale—she learned she had stage 3 breast cancer. After months of chemo and drug therapy, the cancer returned to her backbone in 2008. “Survivor taught me there’s an end in sight,” she told PEOPLE in 2005. “As hard as it is, it will be over, and you have to appreciate every day.”

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