NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The cancer settled into Marilyn Rodriguez's brain and wasn't going anywhere.

Not much more could be done, except to make her comfortable and fulfill a childhood passion she had for Newark police horses.

Rodriguez wanted to see one again on Jan. 8, her 43rd birthday. Rosalee Ofray, a family friend who is more like a sister, went to work on this local make a wish request.

Once Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose heard about that request, it was about to happen. Then Rodriguez slipped into a coma a few days before her birthday. She died Jan. 21, but Newark police sent a horse to the wake, a horse that officials say rode through her neighborhood.

His name is Commander. He's 22, one of the oldest horses in the stable, and ready for retirement. But he had a parting gift that Newark police officials gave to Rodriguez's family Tuesday.

It was one of his horseshoes mounted on a plaque.

"It's a heartwarming story," said Police Lt. Christopher Gialanella, who is in the mounted unit. "We go out every day, but we never hear that it (horses) touched somebody in that manner."

Rodriguez's love of horses started when she was 5 years old, during a family visit to relatives in Puerto Rico. Her mother said she rode a horse one time and was hooked. She was so into horses, her sister said, she did a great impression of Mister Ed, the talking-horse in the television show that aired from 1961 to 1966 and later in reruns.

The horses brought Rodriguez such joy as a kid when they'd strut along Broadway in the city's North ward, patrolling the neighborhood. She'd be on the porch patiently waiting for them.

"She knew they were in the area and made me sit outside with her on the porch to watch them," said Kenia Guzman, her sister.

Sometimes their mother, Aurea Rodriguez, would take them to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in downtown Newark to see the horses prance by.

"She would always want to get really close to the curb of the street and hold her hand out with hopes that one would come close enough so she would be able to touch one," Guzman said.

Rodriguez never lost that memory, even as stage 4 Glioblastoma, aggressive brain cancer, began to take hold after she was diagnosed in 2017. Life expectancy after the diagnosis is 18 to 24 months.

Guzman said her sister lived for 17 months, undergoing two brain surgeries, a stroke, chemotherapy and radiation.

"She was a warrior," Guzman said. "Not once did I see my sister shed a tear."

Rodriguez had quiet strength, and a gentle soul. Family members said she never was angry or sad about her situation. She remained humble, soft spoken and charming.

"She was an angel," Ofray said. "I just wanted the horses to come see her at her house."

Guzman said her sister, a graduate of Bloomfield Tech, took paralegal courses at the former Katharine Gibbs School. Before the diagnoses, she worked as a legal secretary. Rodriguez, who was single and had no children, was never sick until she started having headaches.

Guzman said her sister loved all kinds of animals. Growing up, the family had a dog, a cat, and pigeons that their uncle rescued.

"She always said that when she got older, if she won the lottery, she was going to buy a farm or some sort of shelter, so she could rescue all types of animals, especially horses."

The presentation for the family was emotional. It was the third time Rodriguez's sister had seen Commander. Gialannella had invited her to the police stables before the wake.

"I was allowed to touch and pet him," she said. "I started to cry because my sister should be standing here doing this."

There was an instant connection.

The family keeps her memory alive by participating in a brain cancer walk that's sponsored by the National Brain Tumor Society held in Asbury Park. May will be the second walk for "Marilyn's Brainy Bunch" team. Her father, Leonardo Guzman, said something has to be done about the disease that's affecting so many families.

A piece of her, however, will remain with the mounted unit. The family gave Gialanella a picture of Rodriguez.

He'll hang it on the wall in her memory.

"My sister did not change the world, but she did make a dent in her little corner of it," Guzman said.

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Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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