Shelley Duncan was smiling when I walked up to his locker at the Tampa Bay Rays' spring-training base a few months ago. Of course, Shelley Duncan usually is smiling.

We talked about his mom, Jeanine, his brother, Chris, and how unfair life could be that both of them would be diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor just 14 months apart.

Well, I talked about the unfair part. Shelley wasn't interested in such sympathy.

Shelley said that studies were being started to see if their illnesses – and the timing of them -- were more than just an awful coincidence. He frankly admitted that absolutely he wondered if he could be next. "It's hard not to be paranoid," he said as he reached out to knock on wood in his locker.

But he expressed such optimism that I left thinking the Duncans were going to be fine. With their strength, their courage, their willingness to take this fight head on, they would beat a couple of lousy brain tumors.

So when news came that Jeanine Duncan died Thursday night, I was more than a little surprised. It proves that strength, courage and as positive an outlook as a family could have aren't always enough. From what I have heard, the Duncans' strength stemmed from their mom. Like most wives whose husbands are gone half of the year for their jobs, Jeanine Duncan had to play the role of both parents much of the time.

That was no easy task with a pair as active and as adventurous as the Duncan brothers.

In an mlb.com story from last year, Shelley recalled their days as youngsters in Tucson, Ariz.

"We caused a lot of trouble," Shelley said. "We caused a lot of trouble at school and a lot of trouble in the neighborhood. But the best thing that I'll always remember is that, no matter what we did, our mom was always on our side. (Once) I heard her yell at some people for us after we caused the trouble. She was always sticking up for us no matter what we did.

"And then she'd yell at us behind the scenes."

Chris appears to be winning the fight with his brain tumor, which was caught at a point that improves his chances of being rid of it. A fast-rising radio talk-show host on the St. Louis sports scene, he just got moved again into a more attractive time slot.