updated 06/06/2014 AT 7:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/07/2014 AT 1:15 PM ET
Onscreen and in the pages of the bestselling book, audiences have been captivated by the spirit and humor of The Fault in Our Stars’s heroine, Hazel Grace Lancaster.
The character (played in the film by Shailene Woodley) was inspired by a courageous young woman: Esther Earl, who died at the age of 16 from thyroid cancer, was a good friend of author John Green’s and supported his desire to write the book.
On his blog, Green referred to Earl as “young, blessed with a genuinely sophomoric sense of humor, silly, empathetic, madly in love with her friends and family, and a very gifted writer.” Here are five things you should know about Green’s muse:
1. She Bravely Fought Her Cancer
In 2006, Earl was diagnosed with metastasized papillary thyroid cancer, making it difficult for her to breathe. Despite her illness, the Massachusetts teen continued to be a loving and hopeful person until the end, stating in one of her last YouTube videos, “I love my family and I love my sisters, I love my brother, I love my dad, I love my mom, and I love my pets. I love my friends. My friends are amazing.” On Aug. 25, 2010, shortly after she turned 16, Earl lost her battle with cancer.
2. She Became a YouTube Personality
Earl had a very big Internet presence on multiple platforms including Twitter and Tumblr. However, her friends, family, and fans got to know her best through her funny and empathetic videos videos. “I’m not always amazing,” she said. “I’m not always strong and you guys should know that.”
3. She and Green First Bonded at a Harry Potter Conference
After meeting at the conference in 2009, Green and Earl continued to be friends throughout her life. They met various times before she died and the author paid homage to her in the video Rest In Awesome, Esther video: “Even though Esther has died we will continue to do work with her because it will be when we work to decrease world suck and when we show our love for others that Esther will be with us most.”
4. Her Parents Founded a Charity in Her Honor
Her parents, Wayne and Lori, founded This Star Won’t Go Out, a nonprofit organization to help families who have a child with cancer, in honor of Esther, whose name means “star” in Persia. They also released a book with the same title that includes journals, fiction, letters and sketches by Earl, with an introduction by Green. “We want to share Esther’s brightness and grace,” Lori said last December. “In her short life, she grew into her name.”
5. Her Memory Lives On
Green promised her that he and his brother would make a video on their YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers, every year on her birthday, Aug. 3. Green coined the name “Esther Day,” and said Earl wanted the day to be about “family and love.” Every year friends, family and fans of Earl continue to celebrate the day as well, making their own videos to remember Earl’s energy and life.