Michael James is no stranger to loss. He lost both his wife and son to Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that increases a person’s risk for different types of cancer, and just before the holidays, he lost his daughter, too.
James held a celebration of life Saturday in Coronado, California, for his daughter, Dolly James, the third person in his life to pass away from the disease.
"It was hard to lose her and I know she didn't want to go. She had a fighting spirit all the way to the very end," James said.
Framed by the beauty of San Diego Bay, the former U.S. Navy chief remembered the daughter he loved so much.
"She was the last one I had from my family and it's hard because we had a very unique relationship," James said. "She was the spitting image of me."
After suffering five different cancers that left her in a wheelchair, 19-year-old Dolly died just before Thanksgiving last year.
"She's a special girl," said Dolly’s aunt, Debra Fonger. "She fought hard for a really long time."
Fonger said they didn’t realize what was causing Dolly’s health problems until her last diagnosis, and by then, it was too late.
"I'll never be a grandfather," James told NBC 7. "There's a lot of things… I was lucky enough to see my daughter graduate high school, which was huge, but getting married, having grand kids and all that — I won't be able to see that, so that's the hardest part."
James is now raising awareness and funds for the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome Association to help others struggling with the same disorder.
"There's no more pain. There's no more suffering. There's no more meds. She's in a better place," he said of his daughter.