I hung up the phone after speaking with Danna Mezin-Koats and started to cry. Her vibrant personality, upbeat attitude and kindness stood in stark contrast to the Stage IV colon cancer diagnosis she had been fighting since September 2013. Our conversation about launching a fundraising website profoundly impacted my day… and really, every day thereafter.

Two things were immediately clear: I wanted to help and I knew we’d become friends.

Danna had a light-up-the-room smile, which paired perfectly with her generous spirit—at home, at work and with family and friends. So it wasn’t a surprise that she wanted to do something to acknowledge the wonderful care she had received from her doctors and nurses. We worked together to launch GutsAndGrace.org and raise much-needed funds for colon cancer research, an underserved area.

She used her considerable business skills (Danna was COO at UnitedHealthcare before her diagnosis), professional network, personal friendships and everything she’d learned up to that point to make a difference.

And wow, what a difference! In just over one year, Danna mobilized volunteers to raise over $200,000 for the Mezin-Koats Colon Cancer Research fund at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. Bake sales, wine and cheese parties, pumpkin carving for a cause… everyone wanted to help. She capped it off with the Guts and Grace Gala on March 8, which brought 100 people together and raised over $100,000 for the cause.

While Danna left us on March 22, her mission of establishing Mezin-Koats Colon Cancer Research has left a legacy that will touch the lives of countless people impacted by colon cancer around the world. Selflessly, she used the end of her life to give others a new beginning.

Danna was the epitome of guts and grace. She will be dearly missed but never forgotten.