Esther Ybarra’s “Celebration of Life” memorial service in September began in the same manner in which she lived, according to friends: in worship. Along with sounds of guitars and song, the Salem, Ore., chapel where 600 mourners gathered to commemorate the young woman rang with occasional laughter as friends and family shared memories of one whose life had impacted so many. There were also sniffles and tissues as people lamented her short life—just 21 years.
Esther died in Portland in July after a two-year battle with cancer. When she was diagnosed with stage 4 alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, she was a 5-foot-10, 172-pound college freshman with a six pack and dreams to play Division I volleyball. When she died, she was about 100 pounds with a broken body—yet those who watched her die say she was the strongest woman they’d ever met.