Desiree Anzalone/Instagram; Mondadori/Getty
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr.’s only great-granddaughter has died following a battle with stage 4 breast cancer. She was 31.
Desiree S. Anzalone died on Sept. 27 at Smilow Cancer Center in Connecticut, PEOPLE confirms.
Born Sept. 15, 1989 in Norwalk, Connecticut, Desiree was the daughter of Julia Arnaz and Mario Anzalone. Her maternal grandfather, Desi Arnaz Jr., was the son of late I love Lucy stars Desi Sr. and Ball. Desiree was the first great-grandchild of her famous grandparents.
Though her daughter died “peacefully,” Julia, 51, tells PEOPLE that “watching her slip away was just, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. No mother should have to watch that.”
“She was so special. All our children are special, but this little girl was something else,” she adds. “We were [best friends]. We are still,” Julia shares of her only child, who she calls “my mini me.”
“She was so beautiful, just so so beautiful inside and out,” Julia says. “She really, really reminded me a lot of my grandmother, more so than I.”
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Desiree was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at the age of 25. After undergoing chemotherapy, she ultimately decided to get a double mastectomy. Although she was in remission for a period of time, she learned two years ago that her cancer had returned as stage 4 and had spread to her liver, lungs and bones.
“She probably would have been with us for a few more years — it was starting to spread a lot more, and the tumors were getting bigger — but we expected her to stay at least through the holidays. What went wrong is she kept getting fluid around her heart and then they kept doing surgeries and it would come back like two weeks later. And this time, they did the surgery and came back 12 hours later and [said], ‘You’ve got days, if hours.’ So that was really tough,” Julia tells PEOPLE. “I was there before that happened. It was unimaginable.”
Desiree Anzalone/Instagram Desiree Anzalone with her mother, Julia Arnaz
Prior to her death Desiree, a photographer, was receiving hormonal chemotherapy.
She wanted to raise “awareness” for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Julia says, and “to give awareness for young girls her age because this does happen. It’s rare, but it does happen. And Desiree wanted to put awareness out for if you feel anything, just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to somebody.”
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Julia says that while Desiree “was a rare case,” it “does happen.”
“It’s just not talked about a lot. It’s usually people in their late 30s, 40s, 50s — not somebody at this age,” Julia says. “So that was something that she really wanted — to help other women like her. A preventative, really.”
The “first time” she was diagnosed