I stood off to the side, a common place for me, and watched her arms raise and hips gently sway. The sparkles on her low-cut, v-neck, blue sequence dress flashed in the lights. Her tall silver heels and spiky hair, not to mention her signature blue eye shadow, led me to believe she felt good. Watching her dance freely and work the room to offer her sincere love to everyone in it, I forgot about her pain.

I forgot she’d been in the hospital just hours earlier and that in a few minutes she’d excuse herself and take one of her many trips to the restroom to empty or adjust one of the multiple hidden bags strapped around her abdomen. I forgot that she’d fought stage IV colorectal cancer for over a decade and that she’d run out of treatment options.

I knew she was pushing it, but I knew she didn’t care.

Because she was Rose.

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I stood off to the side like a teenage wallflower and watched her. Part of me understood her drive – the fire inside of her that refused to let cancer steal special moments. Part of me didn’t understand. How could she physically feel so bad yet live so free? The bruises and bandages on her arms from recent needle pokes reminded me of her reality.

How could she go deep when she knew her time was short? How could she bypass the sticky quicksand of pity and rise above her illness on behalf of her fellow man? How could she smile so big when pain ran through her frail body?

I watched as she graciously took selfies and accepted hugs (despite her weakened immune system). She danced like nobody was watching on the dance floor. Or maybe she knew everyone was watching, and it fueled her even more. How she did it, I still don’t know.

I began to grieve.

I assumed this would be the last time I saw her. If I had to choose a moment, it was a good one. She was dancing on a crowded dance floor in a low-cut sparkly blue dress.

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Because she was Rose — it didn’t exactly work like that.

A few weeks later I saw her again. It was outdoors and at a crowded park, nonetheless, with an inflatable colon to her left. She rocked a stage alongside country music artists as she and Craig Campbell performed their song “Stronger Than That” together.

Her ability to travel just weeks after a prolonged hospital stay puzzled me. As the weeks and months went on, I watched her miracles unfold. She defied the odds and she kept going. Some of it undoubtedly was science – cancer research was one of her passions and her life had become dependent on it. Some of it I believe was her faith – a heart-to-heart conversation about our beliefs one day led me to know the quietly devout side of her. And some of it was simply just her, and the gift she had to overcome suffering and disease for just a little longer.

Because she was Rose.

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The last time I did see her, she rocked a stage once again. Of course – in a tight blue dress and tall heels. She was with Craig again. They performed their song. Eric stood beside her. Together they inspired a room full of people, which flowed out onto a nation of people, to have strength and be strong. To not let cancer win. To bond with others and fight together.

The cameraman commented that when Rose got on stage, he got the best shots of the night. Not only did the cameras love her, those taking the pictures also fell in love. Truth be told, we all fell in love. I doubt there’s a soul on earth who knew her and didn’t love her.

Because she was Rose.

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Her passing brings such mourning because of the love and joy she never withheld. I am among the many who received it. As we drag our feet to say tough goodbyes, I can’t help but see her fist pumped in the air, and hear her Jersey accent yelling at us, “keep going!” So I will, we all will, keep going because in these moments of hurt our healing begins.

We will push through no matter what – just like she did.

Because she was Rose.