When Javier Sanchez first found a sun-beaten wine bottle washed up on the shore of Ipan, Guam, little did the 14-year-old high schooler know the messages inside had been written three years prior, by brain cancer patient Brittanie Penrose and her then-boyfriend Aaron Linari, who first tossed the bottle into the Pacific Ocean nearly 6,200 miles away.
Penrose and Linari dropped their messages in a bottle from Oceanside Pier in California. They were both 24 at the time, Penrose having written about her life, her dog, and her fight against brain cancer; Linari, who originally came up with the idea on a date one day, included inspirational messages and song lyrics in his letter.
Sanchez took the vessel back to his high school in Ipan, where his teacher Linda Tatreau held a ceremonial opening of the bottle, breaking it under the safety of a blanket. Finding bottles wash up on the shore is common around the town, Tatreau told Deseret News. She frequently has her classes clean nearby beaches, and uses the opportunity to teach students about tides and ocean patterns.
"Hello, my name is Brittanie Somebody," Tatreau read from the letter. She proceeded to address the student body with Penrose’s and Linari’s message, despite the section detailing Penrose’s bout with cancer having been washed out by the sun. Guam newspaper, Guam Pacific Daily News, captured the event on video.
"I just described me and what I'm doing, and at the time I was a phlebotomist and was fighting cancer," Penrose, who now says she has finished chemotherapy and is in remission, told Deseret News.
"I totally forgot all about it," Penrose added to Guam PDN, mentioning her cancer is currently under control. "It's OK for right now. I'm starting to gain weight back now."
Brain cancer is an extremely rare form of cancer, accounting for roughly 1.3 percent of all cancers and killing 13,000 people annually, and its severity ranges across several grades. Grade I is the least cancerous, while Grade III and IV tumors are often abnormally shaped and diffuse throughout the body. High-grade tumors usually require surgical removal, which is what Penrose had to undergo during her treatment.
After hearing of the bottle’s recovery, the now 27-year-old reached out to Sanchez to add her on Facebook. According to Penrose, ever since she and Linari sent the bottle, her ordeal with cancer has left a lasting impression, saying that "a fulfilling life came from that experience.”
"I'm stoked that this turned out to be such a happy event for so many people," Linari added. "I'm glad to be a part of it."