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My sister, Debbie Coupe Rios, passed away on Saturday after a two and a half year battle with cancer.  She'd never smoked a day in her life, but had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, which, over time, metastasized and took her at the age of 56.

I write these words as I fly from Oregon back to the east coast for her funeral.  The end hardly was unexpected;  from the time of her diagnosis, there really was only one likely way for things to end, and after a particularly bad month, she'd been admitted to hospice just a few days before she died.

As I think about my sister, though, I realize that for much of her illness, it never really occurred to me that she wouldn't beat the cancer.  That's the kind of person Debbie was. Indomitable.  A lot like our mom, who died of cancer in 1998. I always thought Debbie fully expected to beat it, and so I expected the same.

In the case of my sister, how she died very much serves as an example of to live. With strength, great determination, a certain sense of realism, and maybe even a little irony.  Debbie was not one to suffer fools gladly.  I think in many ways she probably felt the same way about her disease.

Two quick recollections of my sister…

I'm the oldest of seven, and Debbie was second in line. However, at a fairly early age she seemed to recognize that she had a more heightened sense of responsibility than I did, and so she took it upon herself to be the oldest sibling. I can't really blame her (though 50 years ago I may have felt differently) … she had me pretty well pegged, and her willingness and ability to simply do what needed to be done and say what needed to be said were qualities that I somehow thought would transfer to how she'd beat the disease.

Second … and this has no greater meaning other than it sticks out in my memory … Debbie is the person with whom I saw Jaws the first time. It was a summer night, I was home from college in California for a brief visit, and we went to the Bronxville, NY, movie theater together. Scared the crap out of me, and I didn't go in the ocean for two years. My recollection is that it had no such impact on Debbie. In a fight between her and a shark, only a fool wouldn't bet on Debbie.

But cancer isn't a shark, and life, unfortunately, isn't always a metaphor. Debbie is gone now, but she leaves behind a terrific husband, Angel, and two great kids, Christine and Dan, who know that despite their personal tragedy, Debbie loved them deeply and enduringly. There's real power in that, and there's nothing intangible about it.

And she leaves behind a father, three brothers and three sisters who will find the extended family dinner table to be just a little bit emptier without her. (That's her in the picture, just to the left of our dad, obviously taking great delight in something that he said.)

But memories are strong, Debbie's personality endures, and I think she'd want us all to treasure the weeks and months and years we have in front of us. She'd want us to celebrate and cherish the trip we shared but never lose sight of the fact that we need to face and embrace the challenges and opportunities ahead.

She'd expect it. And I learned a long time ago it is not a good idea to mess with Debbie's expectations.

To my friends and readers … it is going to be a tough week ahead, but I'm going to do my best to get MNB out each morning. I thank you in advance for your patience and understanding…

KC's View: