Nichole Sgarlato didn’t let on she had an inoperable, golf-ball size brain tumor and remained optimistic until her death July 4, family and friends said.
The wife, daughter, sister, aunt, roller derby girl, retro fashion lover, home chef, champion for the underdog and friend to many, died at the age of 27 from a secondary infection in her fight against glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor that can cause progressive memory, personality or neurological deficits.
Those who knew Sgarlato said she was always cheery, a supportive friend and an individualist.
“She was always really sunny, and she’s always had a lot of confidence,” said Melanie Causby, Sgarlato’s mother.
“Vibrant, vibrant. She was just vibrant,” Causby said.
“Everyone that’s ever met her has said she can bring out enthusiasm in anybody,” her husband Colin Sgarlato said.
“She was the most genuine person I’ve ever met,” he said, adding she was better known by her maiden name, Mikko-Causby.
Even as she struggled through her cancer after her diagnosis in March, she focused on others instead of herself. While she fought the infection that killed her, she encouraged her husband.
“She was still telling me, ‘Suck it up, Buttercup,’” he said.
She didn’t focus on statistics that said she would be dead within five years.
“We both made such an effort to really just focus on what we’re doing now,” he said.
Sgarlato, originally from Georgia, first fell in love with Montana as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Terry.
As a child, Sgarlato could recite information about dinosaurs and ocean critters, but as she grew, her interest shifted to history and feminism.
Some of that interest probably came from meeting and learning about strong women in Montana, Causby said.
It was in Terry that Sgarlato also fell back in love with Colin.
The two had grown up together and dated on and off in high school, Colin Sgarlato said.
They reconnected over photos of their Boston terriers that were posted on Facebook, he said.
“She loved dogs,” he said. “The dogs were with her every moment of every day when she was home.”
The couple moved to Missoula about three years ago so she could do graduate work and he could finish his schooling at the University of Montana.
During her graduate work, Sgarlato gravitated toward teaching.
“She really fell in love with teaching,” said Amy Arnett, Sgarlato’s sister.
She always wanted to know everything about everything, Arnett said.
“Even her cancer was that way,” she said.
Sgarlato made friends easily, and Missoula was no different.
“I’ve never met anybody like her, actually,” said Sarah Trueax, who skated with Sgarlato in the Hellgate Rollergirls.
“She really knew how to be in the moment with everything,” Trueax said.
Sgarlato, who went by Joan Jolt at the rink, was a good teacher for other roller derby skaters and would often give them tips or show them a new skate technique.
“She could do pretty much everything effortlessly,” Trueax said.
“She was a really good, patient teacher,” she added.
Sgarlato never lost her individuality. She forged her own way.
“She definitely followed her passion,” Sgarlato’s father Gary Causby said.
“She did exactly what she felt she needed to do,” he added.