Grace G. Erline, a junior at Notre Dame of Maryland University, where she was studying for a bachelor's degree in radiological studies, died at her home in Parkville on Nov. 12 of complications from tongue cancer.
She was 24.
"Grace was kind, sweet, hilarious and so funny — she could have done stand-up comedy," said her sister, Faith Erline of Parkville, director of admissions at Greenspring Montessori School. "She just had a funny way of looking at the world, and she was really cool in a James Dean devil-may-care sort of way
"She was also a risk-taker and was stubborn in a way. You couldn't tell her what to do because she'd do whatever she wanted to do anyway, but she was nice about it," said Ms. Erline. "She was never mean or superficial in any way. She just did her own thing and you loved her for that."
Grace Gabrielle Erline was the daughter of Eric N. "Rick" Erline, an Anne Arundel County public schools speech and language specialist, and Kathy G. Kreft, who works in business development for Fidelity Engineering Corp.
She was born in Baltimore and raised in Parkville. She attended Villa Cresta Elementary School and was a 2009 graduate of Mercy High School.
When she was 3, she met and became friends with Joey Della Rose, whose father owned Della Rose's Avenue Tavern in White Marsh.
"She started working there at age 15 as a hostess ... and then was promoted to a waitress position. She worked there part-time," her mother said.
Ms. Erline also worked part time for Advanced Radiology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and other Baltimore County and Harford County locations while carrying a full academic load at college.
In 2014, Ms. Erline's tongue developed a sore which would not heal, and she was diagnosed in October of that year with stage four tongue cancer. Surgery followed two weeks later.
"The biopsy came back as cancerous and I have been taking all protective measures to nip this thing in the bud," she wrote in a Facebook posting.
"The surgery to remove my tumor is this Friday the 31st, during which they will need to reconstruct my tongue. I have a long road of recovery ahead of me including speech therapy and more treatments," she wrote.
"It is such a surreal thing to have to deal with, but I am clearly not alone," she wrote. "I am blessed with the most amazing family, boyfriend and his family, friends, co-workers/my second family and sweet acquaintances."
She added: "It is during tough times like these, we see true kindness and support in others, and that is all I see."
"I met Grace and her family at the time of diagnosis and worked with her through the treatments and until she died," said Dorothy Gold, senior oncology social worker at the Milton J. Dance Jr. Head and Neck Center at GBMC.
"When I think of her being young and in a difficult situation, Grace knew where she was going and she wanted to maintain control of her life, and I think she did that. She knew what she was facing was life-limiting and I think she succeeded in making that time for herself meaningful," said Ms. Gold.
Ironically, after working at Advanced Radiology, Ms. Erline became a client.
"Grace was an employee one day and a client the next day," said her mother.
Her mother said she remained "positive, kind, and loving" throughout the grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. In April, Ms. Erline learned her cancer had spread because of a gene mutation, and was incurable, said Ms. Kreft.
Ms. Erline continued her college studies but took a leave of absence for surgeries. She tried to resume schoolwork but simply did not have the stamina as the illness progressed. She would have graduated in 2016.
One week before she died, Ms. Erline received the Notre Dame Day Award for Radiological Science for "embodying the Notre Dame spirit."
"Grace was very courageous. She never complained and accepted her fate. She wanted to be graceful about her exit," her mother said.
"She wasn't afraid of anything," her sister said.
"I told her father, and I know it may sound like a cliche, that I had never met anyone like her," said Brandon M. Foudos of Bel Air, who was engaged to Ms. Erline. They first met at Della Rose's Avenue Tavern, where he is chef.
"She was so selfless and that continued until the end of her life," he said. "I cared for her during her illness and she cared for me. She tried to hide her pain.
"She was a happy person and wonderful to be around. I realized that she was quite the catch and just totally electric. I so looked forward to spending our lives together," he said.
"Brandon was totally devoted to Grace and that never wavered," her father said.
Faith Erline recalled that her sister was so popular and that weekends were packed with friends' visits and other activities. "She thrived on that," she said.
Ms. Erline enjoyed dancing, sipping martinis, spending time with girlfriends and going shopping with her sister. She liked fishing for rockfish on the bay and attending yoga classes.
A memorial Mass celebrating Ms. Erline's life will be offered at noon Jan. 9 at Notre Dame of Maryland University's Marikle Chapel of the Annunciation, 4701 N. Charles St.
In addition to her parents, sister and fiance, she is survived by her maternal grandmother, Lola D. Kreft of Shrewsbury, Pa.; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.