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Cancer claims life of Labri Dirkse, 12

Labri Dirkse, a 12-year-old Lake Oswego resident with brain cancer, has died.

Last Thursday, she slipped into a coma and died Friday surrounded by her family and snuggled up next to her younger brother, Clay.

Labri inspired hundreds of local residents with her courage in the face of terminal illness after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in May.

'Early on, she asked, 'Why me?' but … she came to the conclusion that God must be doing something wonderful with her life,' Labri's mom, Heidi Dirkse-Graw said. 'I thought, 'Wow, what a testimony and purpose for a 12 year old. Many people don't feel a purpose at all.''

Across Lake Oswego, friends and even strangers showed an outpouring of support for the Dirkse family. They offered meals, cleaning services, transportation and donations to the Love for Labri Fund set up by Meadow Springs Community Church. Parties were held in Labri's honor.

Labri was again and again reassured that she was deeply loved.

'People just liked Labri,' said Sandra Bishop, a close family friend. 'She was a very positive little girl and she has certainly given us all a role model to look up to.'

In the spring, Labri stopped attending school at Forest Hills Elementary to undergo numerous radiation and chemotherapy treatments in order to fight the aggressive growth of the tumor.

In her free time, she wrote poetry and hung out with her close-knit group of girlfriends from church and school.

'All the friends and people thinking about me has opened my eyes to how much God loves me, knows me and heals me,' Labri said in a July 5 article in the Review.

With the help of treatment, she was able to enjoy a full summer that included her dream trip to Hawaii, where she snorkeled and parasailed with her family.

'We just enjoyed being together as a family and looking at the beauty,' Heidi said. 'Labri loves nature, the ocean and beaches.'

In September, Labri decided to return to school as a seventh grader at Lake Oswego Junior High School. In preparation, she shopped for new clothes and supplies. After a few days, however, she found she didn't have the energy to stay.

One or two more rounds of chemo later, Labri decided to withdraw from treatment altogether.

She was always informed about her condition. Her goal was to live each and every day to its fullest until the very end.

In her final weeks, Labri set out on trips to the spa for a massage, to the Kennedy School in Portland for sleepovers and to the Columbia River Gorge with her mom. She also spent quality time with her dad, Russ.

'My focus has been as it always has been and that's to make her days the best they could be,' Heidi said.

Eventually, Labri couldn't find the strength to leave the house and had to use a wheelchair. The tumor began affecting her neurological functions, especially her speech and coordination.

'She continued to have an incredible sense of humor through all of it,' Heidi said. 'I can tell you that Labri did not fear death … I think she's very much at peace now.'

At Forest Hills, school counselors offered a meeting place for kids who wanted to talk about their feelings about Labri's death. Plans for a reflection garden are also under way at the school.

'Our most important (task) is making sure Labri's brother is supported and knows how much we care,' Principal Gwen Hill said.

Labri's girlfriends stopped by the house with homemade luminaries, which they set up in Heidi's courtyard before singing a song in memory of Labri.

They also gathered at Players bowling alley Sunday for a 'Bowl 4 Labri' fund-raiser and to celebrate the memorial foundation created in her name. Its scholarship, 'Labri's Gift: A Living Legacy,' will 'pay it forward' to support families of other terminally ill children.

'It's a little overwhelming to see how my daughter is impacting so many people,' Heidi said. 'I feel very incredibly grateful for the community support. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to stay home with my daughter … and I wouldn't change a minute of it.'

A memorial service hosted by Heidi Dirkse will be held at 4:30 p.m. today, Nov. 1, at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church in Lake Oswego. A second memorial service, hosted by Labri's father Russ Dirkse, will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Rolling Hills Community Church in Stafford.

There will also be a candlelight community gathering held in honor of Labri hosted by Meadow Springs Community Church at 4:08 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at Millennium Plaza Park. Participants are asked to bring covered candles only.

In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations to the Love for Labri Fund can be sent to Meadow Springs Community Church, 12647 S.W. 62nd Ave., Portland, Ore., 97219. Non-tax deductible donations to the fund can be made at any U.S. Bank branch.

For more about Labri or to read Heidi's blog, visit www.caringbridge.com/visit/labridirkse .