Welcome to this week's Reno News & Review.

I feel as though I'm drowning in death. One of my best friends has end-stage pancreatic, liver and lung cancer. I didn't intend to write about it, but we had a couple of big parties at my house over the weekend, and I was tagged dozens of times on Facebook, which pretty much launched the cat from the bag. We've been friends since 1987, and she 's really my only long-time close friend left in Reno. Her name is Carmen Garcia. She's 47 years old. She was recently curriculum director at the Davidson Academy.

Carmen defies description. Brilliant mind, hard-working, beautiful, audacious and profane, she's been a hero and inspiration to me for all these years. She was the first out of our little group to get a graduate degree, pounding through it by tending bar in places like Doc Hollidays. I would never have achieved my modest levels of accomplishment without her blazing the path.

Her first diagnosis in July was Hep A, because she'd turned yellow, and nobody looks for cancer in somebody so young and vibrant. Hep A is curable, but then we learned it was Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and because of her youth, the prognosis was six months to two years. Then a week ago, on Sept. 11, the hospice nurse said two weeks. We'll see. Carmie has always broken expectations.

I'm fortunate to be able to be around for her in emergency situations and to have house for the family and friends who are coming to say goodbye. It's beyond bittersweet, more like inside out.

I can't wrap my mind around the idea of a world without Carmen in it, and therefore, I can think of nothing else. I've been through this before. One of my best friends died of viral meningitis, and the friend I moved to Reno with died of AIDS. Since I'm six years older, I always thought she'd always be around. For years, I've pictured her as one of those cantankerous, gray-haired writers into her 90s. If one of the strongest can get put in the express checkout lane, what's that say about the rest of us?