Angie Jakusz, a contestant onÂ Survivor: Palau, died on January 8 after a lengthy battle with cancer, PEOPLE confirms. She was 40.
Born and raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Jakusz attended Mukwonago High School. She then spent time in San Francisco and New York before moving permanently to New Orleans.
When she was cast on Survivor in 2005, Jakusz worked as a bartender and an artist. After arriving in Palau, Jakusz was targeted as the first boot, partially due to her unconventional looks and colorful tattoos.
But Jakusz -- 25 at the time -- surprised her tribe by performing well in challenges.
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Soon, Jakusz found herself ingratiated with her tribe -- and became popular with the viewing audience. After her tribe went on a losing streak, she survived several tribal councils before eventually being voted off in 13th place.
"People have to remember back in 2005 women weren't cast on Survivor with dreads and tattoos," Survivor: Palau contestant Coby Archa tells PEOPLE. "She broke the casting barrier. Fans related to her story so much. And a lot of people wanted to see her play again for her strength."
"We had heard from her family 3 years ago that she was battling cancer," Archa continues. "We raised some money for her treatments. She wasn't into the fame, just the experience of Survivor. She came, she played, and she went back to her life in New Orleans. She liked her life that way."
Jakusz is the second cast member from Survivor: Palau to die. Contestant Jenn Lyon died in 2010 after a battle with breast cancer.
Jakusz leaves behind her husband of 9 years, Steven Calandra. A graveside service was held on Wednesday afternoon in Metairie, Louisiana. A GoFundMe was created to help the family get out of the medical debts incurred by her illness.