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STORIES

Sarah A. McLaughlin April 2022

Sarah Anne Armstrong McLaughlin (47) passed away on April 16, 2022 surrounded by family and friends after a long battle with colon cancer. Sarah was born on September 8, 1974 in Worcester, MA. In 1978, Sarah’s family relocated to Vestal, NY, where Sarah graduated from Vestal High School in 1992. She then journeyed to Boone, NC to attend Appalachian State University and immediately fell in love with her school, the mountains, and the State of North Carolina. After completing her junior year, Sarah was accepted and traveled as a student with “Up With People” a student-based musical, community service and experiential learning program. After her year as a student with “Up With People”, she was asked to join the staff and tour another year as a member of the technical department. This is where she met Jeff and fell in love. After completing what would be her last year on tour, she returned to Appalachian to finish her degree She graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. That same year, she moved to Buford, GA to be closer to Jeff, and in November of 1998 they were married in Wake Forest, NC. Sarah returned to university in 2002 and graduated from the University of North Georgia in the Spring of 2004 with her Masters Degree in Special Education. She began her teaching career at Davis Middle School in Flowery Branch, GA. In May of 2004, Sarah and Jeff were blessed with the birth of their daughter Emma. Emma instantly became the center of their universe. In 2007, Sarah, Jeff and Emma relocated to Wilmington, NC to be closer to family and, to be honest, be close to the ocean. Sarah began teaching at Myrtle Grove Middle School in the fall of the same year, where she taught until her death.

Sarah was and continues to be a bright light in the lives of those who knew her. She was never happier than being surrounded by family and friends and had a way of loving and accepting everyone she met. Her friends from Vestal, ASU, Up With People, church, and colleagues stayed by her side every step of her life. Sarah got her love, kindness, and creativity from her family, who has also always been her biggest cheerleader and supporter.

In lieu of flowers, donations to Emma’s College Gap Year Memorial Fund can be made at any State Employee’s Credit Union in the State of North Carolina or Donations can be made to www.theblueribbonrun.org. The Blue Ribbon Run organization is an amazing group supporting not only research, but also supporting family here in Wilmington who are affected by Colon Cancer.

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Jeanne Edwards
September 2019

In January 2004 my mother, 51, went to the ER with stomach bloating and pain. She thought she had an issue with her gallbladder because it got worse when she ate. No other symptoms at all. Imagine our surprise when they did tests and fame in and said , you need a gastroenterologist and oncologist, you have tumors in your colon and on your liver. After meeting with her team she was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastasized Colon Cancer. They told us she had about 12 months to live. Unfortunately, her battle only lasted a little over 3 months. Since she was so young, my OB/primary has been very proactive in my preventative care. Since 2010, when I was 37, I have had 3 colonoscopies, having multiple polyps removed. Prevention is everything! The day of the 2018 Blue Ribbon Run we lost a dear friend at age 44 to Colon Cancer. Lisa had symptoms similar to my mother’s. Not your typical Colon Cancer Symptoms. By the time the doctors thought to do a colonoscopy it was too late. We need to continue to lobby for better preventative care for Colon Cancer as we are seeing diagnosis in younger and younger victims.

Gina Dillon
Daughter of Jeanne Edwards

James Bland Gillikin
August 2018

It may seem odd to share our story as one of hope and celebration after my husband, Bland Gillikin’s death due to Stage 4 Colon Cancer, but in reality, I have to celebrate our life together. When I tell you our life was perfect, I mean it. We were real soul mates who were also high school sweethearts. I loved Bland from the minute we met, and I can honestly say he loved me with all his heart. When our daughter Leah was born, our love for each other grew stronger. We had everything a couple could want,. We had a home, work that gave us a great life, travel, friends and family we adored. Our life for 18 years was one many others may only dream about.

Bland experienced weight loss, which he wanted, and an overall feeling of not feeling great just six months before his diagnosis. I thought he just did not feel well due to the death of both his parents and slight depression and general malaise. Maybe, looking back, I think we both had a sense of denial that anything could be wrong. After all, we were young, only 50 and 52, and how should we even question something wrong medically in our life?

A sense of urgency took over when I came back from a trip and Bland told me he had “ passed out” a couple of times and his abdominal pain had worsened. He looked terrible. I knew he had hidden how sick he really was. Was I too busy to see it? My instincts said we needed to be seen. It didn’t take 24 hours for a confirmation of STAGE 4 Colon Cancer. We were shattered. Our perfect world was rocked to the core. I sat in denial and disbelief. He told me, as always, it would be okay and we would get through it together.

In only three short weeks, our fight was over. He was strong, brave, and if love could have saved him, he would still be here. He died just three weeks after diagnosis. My world was shattered. My perfect life was now in a million tiny pieces I would not begin to put together. The love of my life and my perfect husband, as well as the my daughters perfect father was gone. He would never walk her down the aisle. He would not share with me our life-ever.

We did not even have a chance for chemotherapy or any other forms of care. How could this have happened? Everything was supposed to be okay, we had the perfect life? what just happened to us?

It took me months to even feel human and to begin to see light. The light I see now is one of hope. Hope that somehow our story of Bland’s life can impact others. I celebrate what a fine person, father, and husband he was and how I have to think his life was not ended to soon, only that it was cut too short.

What if he had routine screening at 50? What if we had gone to be evaluated three months earlier? What if genetics were a major factor in his cancer development?

These things Leah and I will never know. We only have to live knowing we loved each other every minute of our lives. We will always love him and he will always be a part of us.

I celebrate because I can use our story to help others. Don’t wait. Be screened. Don’t attribute symptoms to something else- let a provider know- you may need help.

Help us find a cure, we need one today. I can’t let this shatter another family. Bland, I will always love you.

Thank you for allowing us to share our story:

Saralyn and Leah Gillikin
wife and daughter of James Bland Gillikin

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