Nicole Gilbert never let the tumor growing in her brain define who she was as a daughter, sister, Christian, artist, aunt or friend.
"Nicole's infectious kind spirit left all who loved her, knew her or just met her better for having done so," said her older sister, Jennifer Farris.
Gilbert died May 6. She was 42.
When she was diagnosed in 2005, doctors told her she'd never again wear high heels or write her name.
The beautiful paintings she produced while combating her cancer proved them wrong.
Even after a craniotomy, when she lost the use of her right hand, she continued to beautify the world with her artwork.
That miracle was a testament of her strong faith, her sister said.
"Her ability to draw and paint and do all of her artistry was in her right hand, but after the surgery, she lost the use of her right hand to that fullness of being able to do it," Farris said. "Immediately, God transferred it to her left hand. A lot of the artwork you see was done with her left hand -- after she'd never been a left-handed person."
Surgeons took all but 10 percent of the tumor. Her cancer wasn't going away and there was no cure.
Faced with her own mortality, Gilbert chose to live life to its fullest.
She took meds to lessen the seizures, and went on with work as an event planner at several Coast casinos. She painted. She created. She loved.
"She never gave in to it," Farris said. "Everything she touched just came to life and was beautiful."
Gilbert's decency rubbed off on others, and she is remembered for her humbleness in faith, good-natured kindness and genuine care for others. She was slow to anger, but quick to help a friend.
Gilbert was the "life of the party all the time" and everybody's go-to person, her sister said.
People, dragonflies and small animals gravitated toward her. It's like everyone and everything just wanted to share her space, to bask in the glow of her spirit, Farris said.
"God tells us we have to re-enter the gates of heaven in the spirit of a child," she said. "Nicole never lost her childlike spirit. She wasn't childish, but she never lost that joy of childhood. She just exuded that to everybody. You were always happy when you were with Nicole.
"That's why so many people gravitated to her. She was full of life and full of joy and tried to make everybody feel comfortable and important around her."
Gilbert loved the outdoors almost as much as she loved children. Nature was her escape as well as her art, so it's only fitting that her family is working to create an outdoor space at Lynn Meadows Discover Center in Gulfport in her name.
Donations can be made to the Nicole Gilbert Fund at Lynn Meadows.