Diem Brown didn’t have a bucket list. She never used the words “death” or “dying.” And when, on the eve of her death on Nov. 14, doctors finally moved her into hospice care, her friends told her she had been “upgraded” to a nicer room because they knew how much she’d have loathed knowing otherwise.
“Every day she spent in the hospital, she wanted to know when she was going to go home and what she needed to do to make that happen,” her sister Megan tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “The day before she passed, she told the nurse, ‘Hey listen, I’m just gonna go home and get cleaned up real quick – but I promise I’ll come right back.’ Her mental fight was out of this world.”
“Death wasn’t an option,” says her longtime friend, Alicia Quarles. “It was 95 percent determination and 5 percent denial. In her mind she wasn’t going to go.”
She remained firmly focused on the future, planning for the holidays and obsessing over details of the urban oasis she had long dreamed of having on her patio.
In the hospital on Nov. 12, “I showed her the planter she had ordered, and she was like, ‘Now I just need these rocks to keep the soil warm in the winter,’ ” recalls her close friend, Julie Rotondi. “There was never any indication that she was entertaining the idea of not being here.”
After doctors told her that the cancer she was fighting for the third time had spread throughout her body and no other treatment was available, she and Quarles prayed together.
“I was saying, ‘Dear Lord, please let this pain leave Diem’s body,’ ” recalls Quarles. “And she was like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m not going anywhere. Pray for peace!’ ”
For much more from friends and family members about Diem Brown’s cancer battle, along with personal photos, see the newest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Editor’s note: While there have been numerous conflicting reports about Diem Brown’s age, PEOPLE has been able to confirm, via public records and with family and friends, that she was born in 1980 and was 34 years old at the time of her death.