Meredith Stapleton...larger than life

  • Friday, April 25, 2014

  • Updated Tuesday, April 29, 2014 4:23 pm

Meredith Stapleton was inducted into the University of South Carolina-Aiken Hall of Fame in 2012.

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At 26, she lived only 33 percent of an average American’s lifespan though she was by no means average.

In those few years she brilliantly discovered how to pack more love, more life, more achievement; more record-breaking statistics, more influence and more inspiration than most of us do over the course of an entire lifetime.

Larger than life

Meredith E. Stapleton was born March 4, 1987. She died 26 years later on February 24, 2014, but her list of academic, athletic and professional accomplishments along with her faith eclipsed the pain with which she battled the disease that took her life.

Numerous poignant tributes to Meredith, her convincing faith, and her fierce battle against the cancer she fought have been written.

Frankly, it is difficult to find words that have not yet been used to describe this extraordinary person who has been called “larger than life” by a family friend.

Meredith became a star early in her life. After an exceptional North Carolina high school basketball career, she was the first inductee into the Hopewell High School Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2005, her senior year, Meredith was chosen as Miss Hopewell.

Her successes on the court lead her to the University of South Carolina-Aiken on a scholarship where she played at a level never before seen.

Meredith holds many records including all-time leader in scoring, free throw percentage, three-point field goal percentage and most consecutive free throws made.

In 2009, she established the record of the most three-pointers in one game (10) and was ranked third nationally in three-point field goal percentage.

She was inducted in USC-Aiken Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. Her college coach, Mike Brandt, was overwhelmed with word of her death. “She carried her competitiveness, fight, strong will and attitude right off the court and onto the battlefield as she competed with cancer,” he said.

Not long after her last successful season on the basketball court, Meredith was diagnosed with uveal melanoma, or melanoma of the eye, an aggressive, rare form of cancer of which there is no known cure. Uveal (ocular) melanoma (or OM) is similar to melanoma of the skin but because so little is known it has earned the label of “silent killer.”

At 22, with so very much already achieved and so much more to attain, Meredith was faced with the stark reality of a life-altering cancer diagnosis with a mortality rate of 50 percent. The tumor was removed from her eye only to metastasize to her liver a year later.

With her faith, however, came enormous courage. In true form, with her dedicated family and thousands of spectators cheering her on, Meredith stepped up to the line, took a dip breath, and then took her very best shot.

And succeeded in deeply touching everyone who ever knew her.

‘I just love every minute of every day!’

Like she had so many times before, she fought the battle against the disease like a true competitor. Her achievements in bringing awareness to Ocular Melanoma and promoting research made news. Big news.

During national coverage of the Duke-North Carolina game in early March, one week after Meredith’s death, ESPN Commentator Dick Vitale spoke of her smile, her courage and her inspiration, saying, “I was so touched by her. What a smile she had, what a smile, it was unbelievable!”

Meredith made her television debut last year on the TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress-Atlanta”. The show featured her search for her dream wedding dress. It also included clips from her October, 2013 wedding to her dedicated husband, Christopher Stapleton.

When asked about her cancer treatments during an interview with The Augusta Chronicle before the airing of the show, Meredith responded, “It’s crazy to say how blessed I am to have celebrated turning 26 in this battle. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since I heard the words, ‘You have cancer,’” she said. “I am doing great. I love every minute of every day!”

Meredith stared along with other young people affected by melanoma in the making of a documentary called “Dear 16-year-old me,” filmed to help create awareness of the dangers of melanoma.

She established the Meredith Legg Cancer Fund to support research for a cure.

She became an inspirational and motivational speaker reaching out to hundreds of young people, sharing her faith and raising melanoma awareness.

She became the head girls’ basketball coach at Mead Hall Episcopal School in Aiken, leading the team to its first winning season, followed by two consecutive championship seasons.

She also was the founder, president and head coach of the Aiken Elite AAU girls’ basketball program.

She received a hero’s welcome at the Dean E. Smith Center for the regular season Duke-UNC game less than a week before she died. Among those who greeted her were former UNC players Phil Ford and Eric Montross and ESPN commentators Jay Bilas and Vitale.

After being admitted to hospice care, Meredith traveled to unveil a mural bearing her likeness at USC-Aiken during a biannual Hall of Fame dinner.

The accomplishments this young woman achieved while fighting for her life indeed made her larger than life.

All this before her 27th birthday.

What will you accomplish if you hear the words “You have cancer”?

May is National Melanoma Cancer Awareness Month. Uveal melanoma often does not cause symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include a dark spot on the iris, blurred vision, eye pain or eye redness. Many cases are found by routine eye exam. For more information on OM, visit www.melanoma.org.

The documentary “Dear 16-year-old me” can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/.

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