I attended a funeral today. Ralph Goodman, former hospitality industry star, father of two young women, and devoted husband. Ralph died the other day in a Seattle suburb after a two year battle with inoperable brain cancer.

I did not know Ralph well before his illness and I do not know his wife or children. However, Ralph reached out to me, a leukemia survivor and fellow member of his synagogue, after he received his diagnosis. We met for lunch, talked often by phone, traded emails, and spent an afternoon together at his home several weeks ago when Ralph wanted to reflect on his life and be recorded so his story could benefit others.

Ralph, an upbeat man, was a realist. He recognized the cancer cells that were "sprinkled around his brain like pepper" would eventually be his undoing. At first he did what most people would do: fight. He sought the most authoritative information, then he consulted eminent medical experts at more than one leading institution. He combed information and medical reports on the Internet. And he spoke with me several times.

The news wasn't good. So Ralph began to shift from fighting for his life to celebrating the life he had and each day that was added to it. And he saw the future – not for him having a long life, but as continuing to live through his daughters. He believed he had worked hard to make his mark with them.

At the funeral today, it was clear Ralph had made his mark, with his children, his wife, and many friends and former co-workers. It was clear he was a man who lived a unique life and will be distinctly remembered.

Of course, I couldn't help but replay in my mind that first call from Ralph when he urgently wanted to talk, and the conversations during his journey as a patient after that. He had retired and his priority was his health and his family.

My two year experience with Ralph is a reminder that for as much as we report on medical progress, mortality and often illness wins in the end. But it's a reminder of more than that. While we fight illness we are still alive. Hopefully we still have loved ones at hand. There may be still days to celebrate and memories to treasure. And, as with Ralph, there can be that transforming belief that each of us lives on through the people we've loved and touched.

I have interviewed thousands of patients and most, I believe, live on today. But not all do, like Ralph. Yet my memory of him is just as vibrant, and his positive celebration of a life lived well helps me better understand what's important – no matter how much time one has.

While Ralph will be missed, his legacy is close at hand.

Here's wishing you and your family the best of health!