When friends or acquaintances learn of her mother's brain cancer, Margot Johnson braces for one of two responses. "It's either, 'I knew someone who had cancer, and now they're training for a marathon.' Or it's, 'I knew someone with cancer, and they died.'"

Neither response is helpful, says Johnson, a 24-year-old master's degree student in library science and part-time library assistant. But she tries to be forgiving. She knows her peers seldom have experience with a parent facing a life-threatening illness.

Johnson's mom is Sara Maurer, a civil litigation attorney in California. She had worked with victims of sexual assault and, until her diagnosis, volunteered for a nonprofit that brings legal professionals together with high school students to hold mock trials, creating a platform for teens to polish their presentation skills and prepare to be community leaders.

"My mom is that person everyone clusters around. She's passionate, vivacious, tenacious. She has an innate ability to connect with people," Johnson says.

The day Maurer learned she had cancer started like any other. She was at her Marin County home with her husband and Johnson, the couple's only child. She was loading dishes into the washer when she felt an intense tingling on her left side. Afraid it was a stroke, she asked Johnson to call 911. Maurer was taken to MarinHealth Medical Center, an affiliate of UCSF Health. There, an MRI pointed to glioblastoma, the most common and deadly brain tumor in adults, with an average survival time of 15 months.

"I told them to take it out, so I can get on with the rest of my life," says Maurer, a statement that is entirely in keeping with her pragmatic personality, according to her daughter.

Maurer was transferred to the UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights, ranked No. 2 nationwide for neurology and neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report. She underwent partial removal of her tumor by neurosurgeon Dr. Shawn Hervey-Jumper, followed by radiation and chemotherapy to reduce the remaining tumor and slow its regrowth.