She and I graduated from the University of Iowa together. Mary became a journalist, freelance writer, rape-crisis counselor, spokeswoman for a Los Angeles-area hospital, then a media consultant and entrepreneur.
Through her diagnosis and treatments, she continued to work and travel. She created a company that sells crafts made by women from impoverished countries; the idea is to help them earn a living, which helps them gain the power to control their own lives.
She was divorced, and she reared her special-needs daughter, Erika, now 29, virtually alone.
Her initial diagnosis came in 1996 after what had seemed to be a routine hysterectomy. Fibroids, the doctors thought — but they also found cancer.
Mary and her doctors hoped that the surgery had caught all the cancer cells. Chemotherapy isn't particularly effective against ESS, they told her, and they wanted to keep radiation in reserve. She had radiation three years later, when the cancer recurred. It proved ineffective. She was treated with hormone therapy, which seemed to buy her time.
Cancer eventually became part of Mary's routine. She resigned herself to its return every two or three years and built up a prodigious amount of scar tissue from all the surgeries. Yet she kept living, loving, traveling and thriving. She spoke to groups about her cancer and incorporated what she'd learned from it into her business, creating a motivational training program.
And her early surgeries weren't that difficult — her surgeon at Stanford likened removing the cancer to popping a nut out of a shell.
"I've learned this isn't going to kill me," she told me once. But she'd also dreamed that she wouldn't live past 55.
In January 2011, Mary had her seventh surgery. That one was more difficult; the cancer had invaded a vein that fed her left leg. The operation was successful, but it took a toll.
"I don't want to be amazing," she blogged that month. "I don't want to be strong. I don't want to be an inspiration to others. What I want is — I just don't want to do this anymore."
When Lindsey died two months later, on March 4, Mary was devastated. Soon after, she felt something wasn't right in her abdomen. She hoped it was just scar tissue, but doctors confirmed the cancer had returned.
Mary didn't want surgery immediately; she'd just recovered from her seventh operation and she needed to earn money for medical bills. When she had the operation — her eighth — on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the cancer no longer popped out like a nut. Doctors couldn't remove all of it. They had to take part of her abdominal wall and replace it with mesh, which they warned was prone to infection.
Recovery came haltingly this time. Even morphine didn't seem to help with the pain. Then she got pneumonia. I decided I'd better go see her in the hospital at Stanford in case she never got out.
When I visited Dec. 9, she looked and sounded great. Doctors had told her she probably would be released within days. The typical Mary had resurfaced — optimistic and looking to the future.
The next day, I returned to Los Angeles. I went to a holiday party that night, taking a tiny beaded purse with no room for my cellphone.
When I got home, I found two texts Mary had sent at 10:18 p.m.:
"What a special afternoon. It all went downhill from there. Back into surgery again now. ... They asked this morning for a chaplain contact and this afternoon for me to get support people here. I love you so much."