There are the usual childhood sweetheart tales, all googly eyes and broken hearts, and then there’s the story of Jesse Palter and Sean Lewis Robins. As young love goes, this one is a doozy. Not only does their story include the trials of a long-distance relationship, but these two starry-eyed teens dealt with something no kid should ever face: terminal illness.
Though they lived far apart, Palter in Michigan and Robins in San Diego, the two were introduced by their parents, who knew each other professionally, when Robins was experiencing his first bout with cancer. He was interested in the entertainment world and his parents thought it would raise his spirits to connect with Palter, who’d been performing much of her life. “He asked for a demo and an autographed pic, which was very sweet,” she remembers. “I sent both with a little note saying, ‘if you ever feel like reaching out, here’s my email,’ and we began a pen pal relationship in the heyday of AOL.” Though Palter says that initially, “I was so young I couldn’t wrap my head around anything beyond a friendship with somebody who had a terminal illness,” sparks flew when Robins was pronounced in remission. “He was my childhood sweetheart and one of the great soulmates of my life,” she says. “There was no stopping that love and I’m grateful that I got to experience it.”
Though the relationship ran its course, Palter says they were in touch until the very end, when Robins ultimately lost his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma in November 2006, just shy of his 23rd birthday. From his battle, his legacy was borne: his namesake organization, The Seany Foundation. The local nonprofit offers relief and joy to kids struggling with cancer and their families. Palter now lives in Los Angeles, where she continues to pursue her music and released her debut album, Paper Trail, this past July.
Nearly 13 years after Robins’ death, Palter still feels his impact on her life’s path. “He encouraged me to chase my dreams and pursue my career 110 percent, all-in,” she says. “It hasn’t been easy, but I feel in my darkest hours I can always hear his voice in the back of my head; he just believed in me so much.”
Now chasing that dream head-on, she is booking shows to promote her album, including a recent stop in San Diego that doubled as a benefit concert for The Seany Foundation. “The whole thing felt very surreal,” she admits. “It only made sense for me to do something in honor of him in San Diego, and The Seany Foundation has done wonderful things in his memory. I know he would be so proud.”
And while her past will not be forgotten, it’s full steam ahead now for Palter. “It’s been a real journey,” she reflects. “I’ve learned a lot along the way and have had some amazing experiences and milestones, and I feel like it’s just the beginning.” jessepalter.com, theseanyfoundation.org