Desiree Anzalone, the only great-granddaughter of Hollywood legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, died late last month after a battle with stage 4 breast cancer. She was 31. Anzalone died at Smilow Cancer Center in Connecticut on Sept. 27. She was the daughter of Julia Arnaz and Mario Anzalone, and her maternal grandfather was Desi Arnaz Jr.
Anzalone died "peacefully," Julia told PEOPLE Friday. "Watching her slip away was just, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. No mother should have to watch that," she said, adding that Anzalone was a "special" daughter. "All our children are special, but this little girl was something else," Julia added. "We were [best friends]. We are still." Julia said her only child was a "mini-me" and was "so beautiful, just so beautiful inside and out." Anzalone reminded her of her grandmother "more so than I."
View this post on Instagram
Anzalone was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at 25. She had chemotherapy treatments but later got a double mastectomy. Her cancer went into remission, but it returned in 2018 as stage 4. It spread to her liver, lungs, and bones. Julia said they hoped Anzalone would be with them through the holiday season, but it was not to be. "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 told PEOPLE. "I was there before that happened. It was unimaginable."
Anzalone was born on Sept. 15, 1989, in Norwalk, Connecticut. She worked as a photographer before her death and received hormonal chemotherapy. Julia said she publicly discussed her daughter's death to help raise awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was important to let people know that breast cancer can strike a young woman. "It's just not talked about a lot," Julia explained. "It's usually people in their late 30s, 40s, 50s — not somebody at this age. So that was something that she really wanted — to help other women like her. A preventative, really."
The coronavirus pandemic meant Julia could not spend as much time with her daughter during her last days as she hoped. "The COVID-19 kept us apart, so I wasn't able to see her as much as I usually do because she was compromised and I didn't want her getting sick in any kind of way," Julia told PEOPLE. She said she did see Anzalone as often as possible and would spend a whole day with her whenever they could.
View this post on Instagram
Anzalone is survived by her father Mario and his wife, Nancy; and her mother Julia and her husband Halbert Massey; her fiance and caregiver, Chris Reynolds; and four stepbrothers. Julia described Anzalone as a "beautiful photographer" who loved '60s and '70s music. "She was a model, she was a singer," Julia said. "She wrote songs. Very, very talented, smart, smart girl."