BRADENTON -- Bradenton's Dr. Elaine Waters had a short list she was going to check off before she died and nothing, not even the breast cancer rapidly deteriorating her organs, was going to stop her, her family said.
Waters, 60, a pediatrician and allergist who practiced in Bradenton from 1985 to 2010, died surrounded by family in her West Bradenton home at 12:04 a.m. Thursday.
But before taking her last breath, she accomplished a few final "Must Do's," said her husband, Leonard Waters.
Dr. Waters saw her 25-year-old daughter, Jennifer, graduate from dental school at the University of Florida in Gainesville on May 16.
On Mother's Day, May 11, she went parasailing with both her daughters, including Jennifer and Amy Waters, 23, who is in medical school at the University of Miami.
"This woman had a zest for life like no other," Leonard Waters said of his wife. "She couldn't be stopped."
He and his children, including Jennifer and Amy and son, David, 29, of Orlando, gathered at the family home Friday to honor Dr. Waters by remembering her personality and passions.
"She was amazing," Amy Waters said. "She just had this warmth and this way of touching the lives of everyone who walked into hers. You could see they would walk away with the same smile she would greet them with. She was always so happy. Instead of dwelling on her illness and asking, 'Why me?' she said, 'This is my journey' and she accepted all the challenges and left a path for us to follow."
Leonard Waters met his wife when he saw her jogging at the University of Massachusetts. He still keeps the sneakers she was wearing that day. It was love at first sight, he said. After they married, he became "Mr. Mom," and Dr. Waters was the family bread winner.
While Dr. Waters saw patients, Leonard Waters took the kids to soccer, did the laundry and did the home chores.
She wasn't Betty Crocker, but Dr. Waters made "great chicken soup," her family said.
"Mom was the soft one," Jennifer Waters said. "If dad wouldn't give us something, we approached mom. She was the softie who yielded."
"She was so warm and bubbly," she added. "She had a way of cheering you up. She enjoyed when other people were happy. She was a perfect role model and didn't even have to try."
Dr. Waters was a 17-year cancer survivor, Leonard Waters said of his wife, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, decided to have both her breasts removed and underwent radiation and a stem cell replacement, all of which kept her cancer in remission for 12 years until in returned in her bones and liver in 2005.
"Newbies to cancer would be directed to call her," Leonard Waters said, referring to his wife's willingness to council others. "She was a rock for so many others. She took it and she fought. She fought because she had so much to live for with three beautiful children."
Dr. Waters' son, David, four years ago presented her with her first and only grandchild, Jonah, who has her smile, family said,
David Waters said his mother taught him how to be a great parent.
"Love first," David Waters said. "Let everything else be second, starting with reading books."
Recently, at Disney World, Jonah asked for a wand that lights up. David Waters immediately thought of his mom and that she wouldn't say, "It's not worth the money."
"She would say, 'If the child wants it, let's get that toy, let's go on that ride,' '' David Waters said. "I must get that from her. She always said, 'Don't sweat the small stuff.' ''
"Mom read novels," Jennifer Waters said. "She was in a book club. She loved doing the daily crossword puzzle. She loved walks. She was in a cancer support group, and she was offering advice to newly diagnosed patients. She was still on the phone encouraging others while she, herself, was in her last days."
The family remembered Dr. Susan Minton of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, where Dr. Waters received all of her treatment.
"Moffitt kept Elaine alive for 17 years," Leonard Waters said. "My wife knew what was happening inside her body, yet her fortitude outweighed the cancer, which is awe-inspiring."
Amy Waters often gave her mother "homework assignments" to do nice things for herself.
"It was so natural for her to think of others and not herself," Amy Waters said.
Leonard Waters had the last word.
"She was my lover, my companion, my soul mate and my best friend. I will miss her dearly. She didn't drink or smoke. She walked every day. We need a cure for this damn disease,"
Dr. Waters' funeral service is 2 p.m. Sunday, June 15, at Temple Beth Shalom , 1050 S. Tuttle Ave., Sarasota.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.