LUMBERTON — Karon Prince is in the battle of her life.
That’s how her twin sister, Sharon Hemingway, describes Karon’s second fight with colon cancer. But that’s not stopping the 54-year-old sisters; Karon’s husband, Jeff; and her best friend since childhood, Debby Grice, from forging ahead and making new memories.
They’re going to make them at Walt Disney World, a place the Princes have visited several times and where Karon really feels you can find — as the slogan says — the happiest place on Earth. The excursion was made possible with the support of the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation, a North Carolina-based nonprofit with the mission of bringing “bucket list” experiences to life for adults suffering with cancer and with financial hardship.
Sharon said she has been to Walt Disney World just once, and that was for a conference this past year and she didn’t get out to have a lot of fun. On Tuesday she was excited to be a step closer to sharing the experience with her sister.
“She’s been so strong through all of this. She’s keeping us strong,” Sharon said.
It’s been a tough year for the Princes. In October they lost their main source of income when Hurricane Matthew destroyed the Fair Bluff Ford car dealership, which the Princes partly own and where Jeff worked as manager. About a month later, Karon learned her cancer was back after more than three years.
While she is taking chemotherapy and has seen some shrinkage in tumors, she is committed to enjoying her time, and she wants to do some of that at Disney.
“I am a Disney nut. I love Disney,” Karon said. “I love the magic of Disney and I love the experience of how they treat their customers. My husband and I will have been married 33 years in May and the very first trip he took me on in November of 1984 was to Disney World.”
The memories of her times at the Orlando, Florida, complex of theme parks have provided her comfort during her battle.
“During all my treatments and stuff, during scans and PET scans, I’d go to Disney in my mind,” Karon said. “It calms me down. In my mind I’m walking through the Magic Kingdom.”
She plans to decorate her hotel room in blue, the color for Colon Cancer Awareness Month, which is March, she said.
It is recommended that people turning 50 get a colonoscopy, Karon said. She procrastinated, and because she had no symptoms, as is often the case with colon cancer, it went undetected. Three weeks after her 51st birthday, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
Fill Your Bucket List Foundation paid for everything and that’s something for which her husband, Jeff, is very grateful.
“We’re just kind of overwhelmed with it. We didn’t expect them to do what they are doing, as much as they are doing,” Jeff said. “They are paying for the rental car, gas, souvenirs. What they are doing is amazing. People have been gracious to us.”
Friends, neighbors and fellow members of First Baptist Church in Lumberton have pitched in to help the couple during the recent difficult months. Many of them were on board Tuesday afternoon when they gathered at the Prince home in Lumberton to celebrate the trip to Disney.
Jane Smith, a volunteer wish creator, was among Foundation representatives who played host to a bon voyage reception and official wish granting.
“It’s an amazing experience to get to know people on a more personal level,” Smith said. “When you can help somebody to fulfill their wish or their dream, there’s nothing more to say than it’s an amazing experience.”
The Foundation supports the logistics and costs of each experience so the wish recipient can focus on making memories with their loved ones.
“We are the ones who are blessed by this work,” said Peggy Carroll, Foundation founder.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.