I can’t stop staring at this picture:

Madeline, Heather, Desiree

This is Madeline, me, and my friend Desiree at the Dodgers’ spring training facility last March. It was taken only a few weeks before Maddie got sick. It was a few months after Desiree finished chemo for breast cancer (I’ve written about her before). She successfully went into remission, and over the summer she underwent reconstructive surgery. At one of our lunches, she asked me to take pictures of her when her surgeries had healed. She wanted, “I Beat Cancer” pictures. I was honored she asked me and started thinking about ideas immediately.

Over Thanksgiving she emailed me from her family vacation. She and I often had long talks and email exchanges about the more difficult things we’d faced in life. This email told me she was experiencing terrible pain in her arm, and she was afraid her cancer had come back. I told her it was probably scar tissue pressing on a nerve and to enjoy her trip as much as possible. Unfortunately, she was right – her cancer had come back, and it had spread. However, her doctors were still very confident she would beat cancer again.

Desiree didn’t feel much like visitors after her latest diagnosis so we kept in touch via our phones – lots of texts and emails. We would confide our struggles, our fears, our pain. She told me that Madeline was one of her inspirations. I told her she was one of mine.

The day Annabel was born, I sent Desiree a picture right away. Des had been going through a rough spot and I hoped seeing a picture of the baby would cheer her up. She called me the next morning. She sounded weak but so happy about Annie. We talked about the baby, we both cried, and we said I love you and laughed at each other for being teary. We said we’d talk when I got out of the hospital so we could arrange a time for her to meet the baby. But when I got out of the hospital, she went in.

Her sister updated her blog asking for prayers and I knew things had become more serious. Still, her sister said Desiree was bossing everyone around, and I laughed thinking about her barking orders to the hospital staff. But last weekend, things took a turn for the worst, and on February 1st, my sweet, strong, bossy friend Desiree lost her fight against cancer.

I’ve been in shock for the last week. I have only been able to let myself think about it in small bits. The emotions I’ve felt about Madeline since Annabel’s birth have been right at the surface, and I have worked hard, so hard, at keeping them at bay so I can be fair to Annie. I haven’t wanted her first weeks home to be marred by sorrow. But life has a way of making you think about things even when you don’t want to.

Today I will think about my dear friend all day. At nine in the morning we are going to Desiree’s funeral. It will be the third funeral I’ve been to in 2010. The third funeral of a mother and daughter whose life ended too soon.

I will remember Desiree for all of my life. She will be an important woman I tell my Annie about. And she will always be one of my inspirations.