The day before he died, Derek Neal received his M.D. diploma from the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Leaders from the medical school presented it to him in his hospital room.
Throughout his illness, Neal had said he wanted to live long enough to become a doctor.
He died Saturday less than a year after the father of two was diagnosed with nonsmoker's lung cancer.
Neal was well-known in Tucson and particularly in the local medical community. He was 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.
Before his nursing career, many knew him as an upbeat bartender at the Kingfisher bar and restaurant.
The Star interviewed Neal last year shortly after his diagnosis. At that time, at age 41, 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.
The Neal family's struggle with lung cancer was documented in a beautiful and raw account kept by Sylvia Neal, Derek's wife. 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."
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes