The day before he died, Derek Neal received his MD diploma from the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Leaders from the medical school presented it to Derek in his hospital room.
Throughout his illness Derek had repeatedly said he wanted to live long enough to become a doctor.
Derek died Saturday less than a year after the young father of two was diagnosed with non-smoker's lung cancer.
The Neal family's struggle with lung cancer is documented in a beautiful and raw account kept by Sylvia Neal, who is Derek's wife.
Derek is well-known in Tucson and particularly in the local medical community. He is a graduate of the UA College of Nursing and spent six years as a pediatric registered nurse at the UA Medical Center before going to medical school.
Prior to his nursing career, many knew Derek as an upbeat bartender at the local Kingfisher bar and restaurant.
The Star interviewed Derek last year shortly after his diagnosis. At that time he was trying his best to live in the moment and look at each day with his family as a gift. He became emotional as he spoke about all the support he was receiving from his family and from the local medical community, particularly from his medical school classmates.
"It's hard to come to terms with. I think, 'what makes me more deserving than someone else?' I also don't know how anyone could go through this alone," he said at the time.
Sylvia's writing is an honest, loving account of the past 11 months and is well worth reading. Here is a passage from Saturday:
"There are things that don’t make any sense intellectually during these moments but make sense emotionally. I was struggling with the overwhelming feeling that I just wanted to bring him home. I knew that wasn’t possible but I so wanted him to just come home. It felt too hard to think he would never come home again. And I knew he would have just wanted to come home."