'Notes Left Behind' Inspired by 5-Year-Old

Elena Desserich, dying of cancer, left secret notes for her family to find.

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 19, 2008, 8:42 AM

Dec. 19, 2008 — -- After 5-year-old Elena Desserich was diagnosed with an inoperable kind of cancer, she managed to spread a message of hope and healing.

Elena knew that every coming day would be a gift, not to be wasted, so she created a to-do list of sorts -- swim with dolphins, drive a car and more.

When her cancer progressed and she could no longer speak, she turned to drawing and painting, her kindergarten passions, to communicate.

The talented artist fulfilled her lifelong dream when one of her drawings was hung next to her favorite painter, Pablo Picasso, at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The painting titled "I Love You" captured her giving spirit.

"The picture is made for everybody else, and so she called it, 'I Love You.' Very simple but it's Elena," her dad, Keith Desserich, said.

Elena, who died in August 2007, also left behind "The Kindergarten Survival Guide" for her younger sister Grace.

She gave her dad a last dance.

"We had our dance and that will always be the last and probably the best memory I'll ever have with her was being able to have that dance," Keith Desserich said. "There was lots of things that she wanted to do that last day, and I think she knew. We lost her two days later."

During her nine-month battle with cancer, Elena was planning an even greater gift for her family. She was hiding notes around the house, hundreds of them tucked in every corner to be discovered after she was gone.

"We were moving some boxes around one day and in between some of the books a note fell out," her mother, Brooke Desserich, said. "Each time I would read one of those notes it was like a little hug from her."

Throughout the ordeal, the Wyoming parents kept an online journal to update family members on Elena's progress. They were surprised to learn that thousands of people around the country were reading it for daily inspiration.

"Everybody was reading the journal and going, 'This taught me to be a better parent. It taught me to spend time with my children, it taught me to value being a mom and dad,'" Keith Desserich said.