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Molly Eisenberg, at 19; lived final year as if it were forever

Molly Eisenberg, 19, had been an all-star volleyball player and someone who unassumingly brought the light of her presence to others. ( ) Molly Eisenberg, 19, had been an all-star volleyball player and someone who unassumingly brought the light of her presence to others.
By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / October 30, 2009

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Too few weeks ago, Molly Eisenberg’s doctors told her they could do nothing more and that, at 19, her life would soon end.

Only a year earlier, she was entering the University of Oregon, still savoring four rich years at Lexington High School. She had been an all-star volleyball player and, perhaps more memorably, a popular girl who unassumingly brought the light of her presence into the lives of students she sensed were stumbling through dark moments.

Diagnosed with ovarian cancer a week into college, she endured chemotherapy and three trips to the operating room for surgery. Through months of hope and setbacks, her dazzling smile was a beacon, her poise a mooring for family and friends cast adrift by her prognosis.

“Even when the doctors told her the treatments weren’t going to be successful, she was the person cheering up the family and deciding she was going to live life the way she always had,’’ said her father, Eric Eisenberg. “She lived as if she was going to live forever, even when she only had months to live.’’

Forever ended Oct. 21 when she died in Bruns House, a hospice in Alamo, Calif., a few miles from her family’s home in Walnut Creek.

“This last year was Molly’s finest hour, and to be able to watch her just made me very, very proud as a parent,’’ her father said. “The truth is, we don’t always get to watch the people we love rise to the occasion, to rise like Molly did. I was very proud and moved to have witnessed her. She packed a lot into her years.’’

Lest anyone become too reverential, though, her mother quickly added that “to me, Molly was not a saint,’’ a smile illuminating her words and memories.

“She was a scamp - you know, ‘Let’s live a little, try things, bend the rules,’ ’’ Karen Large said. “She could make you laugh and could talk her way into pretty much anything, and that’s an art.’’

Molly could also set aside natural charm and work hard to achieve what she wanted academically and on the volleyball court. She was accepted at five other colleges besides the University of Oregon, and she succeeded on her Lexington High team despite being 5 foot 3.

Playing in the libero position as a defensive specialist in the back row, she refined her technique so well that she became a team cocaptain and a Middlesex League all-star as a senior.

“She brought enthusiasm and concern to the court, yet she was still tenacious and still wanted others to do well,’’ Jane Bergin, Molly’s former coach, told the Globe a few weeks ago as the Lexington team prepared for a “Volley for Molly’’ benefit that drew hundreds of fans. The event raised thousands of dollars for ovarian cancer research.

“She was a catalyst for enthusiasm,’’ Bergin said.

Molly Elizabeth Large Eisenberg was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Simi Valley and Walnut Creek, before her family moved to Lexington when she was 9.

“Even as a very little kid, she seemed to have these wonderful eyes that were full of life,’’ her father said. “Just about everybody Molly got to know quickly fell in love with her.’’

At Lexington’s Diamond Middle School, she played Marty, one of the Pink Ladies, in a production of “Grease,’’ and she regularly helped other students.

On a Web page set up through Ovations for the Cure of ovarian cancer, a fellow student wrote of sharing a driver’s education class with Molly when he was recovering from an injury.

“I don’t remember too many people in that class, but I do remember Molly,’’ he wrote. The injury “was a hovering dark cloud in my life. Molly was one of the few bright spots. She made me see the sun, and because of her, I today see the world with a greater appreciation and a little more patience.’’

With her father, Molly shared a love of sports, cheering with him for the Red Sox and Patriots as they spent hours in Fenway Park or watching football.

Of the Red Sox players, Molly paid particular attention to Jon Lester, the pitcher and cancer survivor, “and Jacoby Ellsbury because, what can I say? She’s a teenage girl, and apparently he’s a pretty handsome guy,’’ her father said with a chuckle.

For the family, the year since Molly’s diagnosis was transforming. Molly’s courage inspired her parents and older sister, Jill, to dip into emotional reserves they didn’t know were there, and her example resonated among close friends and those who knew of her story only through news accounts and the Internet.

Learning that treatments had failed, Jill Eisenberg left studies in Taiwan funded by a Fulbright grant and returned to her sister.

Molly also leaves her grandparents, Murray and Judith Eisenberg of Calabasas, Calif. The family held a service Monday in California and will hold a second memorial service at 10 a.m. Nov. 6 in First Parish, a Unitarian Universalist church in Lexington.

A couple of weeks ago, at Molly’s instigation, the family held an early Halloween party to celebrate her favorite holiday. Keeping her own costume secret until the last minute, she stole the show by wearing a white doctor’s coat and an imposing pink wig.

“And she was cracking everybody up,’’ her father said. “Literally, until she could no longer walk, she was cracking everybody up, and she was very worried about how we would get by after she was gone. She said, ‘Dad, your job when this is all done is to not be sad.’ ’’

“We’ve all just tried to learn from this,’’ her mother said.

The past year “has just been very, very difficult on our family, and yet I feel a lot of joy when I think back,’’ her father said. “And the truth is, all of that difficulty seems to fade in your memory very quickly, and what you’re left with are a lot of very close times, wonderful times spent with a wonderful kid.’’