WHO ARE YOU ?
In short, I am a little person in a big scary world, learning who I am and what I love!
When I look back to who I was as a child, I remember this introverted, quiet person; sometimes afraid to speak up but always extremely expressive in many ways. I learnt who I was through dancing, drawing, art, photography and I had a love affair with 90s grunge music. I was also addicted to a life that took place decades before I was born in an era where elegance, charm and beauty evolved into freedom of fashion, style and pop culture expressionism. So it’s fair to say I am a lover of all things vintage and retro.
As I grew older, life experiences forced me into predicaments that were unfamiliar for me; that voice started getting louder, stronger and more determined… in this time a traveller was born and independence took on a survivorship role that still burns bright today. Many of my friends say that I bear an honesty unlike any other and a fierce sense of loyalty to the ones that I love.
I do agree, this is who I am.
What I am, however… is a student of life, I seek to find the joys that light me up and wade through the unknown. I spent many years; half my life really, serving others in executive corporate roles that I often found personally unfulfilling, yet I strived hard and I burnt the candles at both ends.
Who I became unfortunately, was a patient grasping for a second chance at life.
WHAT DOES THE CONCEPT OF UNRAVELLING MEAN TO YOU?
When I think of the word ‘unravelling’ I am taken back visually to an image of an orange… when one delicately attempts the task of peeling the skin, ever so artistically to make a long continuous spiral; but somehow the spiral breaks, even when we try our very hardest to keep the spiral going. So we take up the task again, and we repeat the process… ever so delicately stripping away the peel to reveal the juicy fruit of the orange. This is the prize! This is the goal, and this is where I believe, we metaphorically reveal and realise our own truth.
Unravelling is an evolution, through a series of hurdles to understand who we truly are. It can be brutal, but in the end it can also be beautiful!
COULD YOU SHARE A STORY ( OR TWO) OF A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU HAVE UNRAVELLED ?
The most unravelling story of my life, is one I am still living and no doubt one that I will continue to live with for the rest of my days. The story began ten years ago, in the Queen’s country while I was embarking on my most exciting adventure of my life. I had been living in London for a year and half at the time, I was travelling, working and giving away my heart; everything was bright, beautiful and exciting… until a pesky mole on my arm began to really bother me. I had gone to a GP back home in Brisbane before I embarked on this overseas adventure but it turned out that I had been misdiagnosed and this mole was in fact melanoma.
Alone, except for my adopted foreign family, I underwent surgery, treatment and rehabilitation in a foreign country, under a medical system I was unfamiliar with. And soon, I returned home. Clear of disease.
Seven years passed and I often return to the thoughts I had at the time that “I had dodged a bullet” with my health, but those thoughts would come back to bite me with a recurrence of intransit disease in the year of 2013, when my partner and I had only been together ten months; love and adventure were all that were on our minds. Soon intransit disease metastasized and after numerous major surgeries, radiation therapy and rehabilitation my cancer progressed to terminal with the disease spreading to my lungs, and inoperable.
It was three days before my 33rd birthday. We had just brought a puppy, a French Bulldog named Winston, who we had hoped would bring happiness into our lives; and he did but he also took on his own role of becoming the “healing pup” and distraction that we so needed to focus on while living through this tough period.
In Australia, at the time, there were very few treatment options for my disease mutation, I had missed out on a clinical trial and I had agreed to undertake a drug treatment in a hope that it would keep me alive long enough so that I could access future treatments. During this time, I went through major life shifts. I had to relinquish my career in order to reduce the stress in my life and focus on my health, with that came the dramatic loss in income, and independence; a pressure on a new romance, facing daily fear and the need for acceptance that “yes, I may die a horrible, painful death… very soon”.
On top of this I had to come to terms with the fact, that I had no control.
A new hope came in May of 2014 with my application being accepted in a compassionate drug program for an immunotherapy treatment named ‘Keytruda’. I refer to this moment as the “lotto win” of my life. Immediately we saw results and in October 2015 I was confirmed NED (no evidence of disease). This drug not only gave me hope, but it gave me time extension and quality of life (while on treatment); an experience that not many cancer patients are afforded.
I became a vocal member in the melanoma community, supporting and campaigning the need for a modernised review and approval system of Australia’s access to immunotherapy drug treatments, namely Keytruda for Advanced Melanoma patients. It became an important mission for me to ensure that other patients like myself, had the right to treatment options. Now I can happily say that through the tireless work of some incredible Melanoma Patient and Research bodies, Australia is seeing amazing advancements in this space and that Keytruda is now being used as the first line of treatment for Advanced Melanoma patients through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But sadly this drug does not work for everyone, it is not a cure, but it is chance… and a ‘chance’ is all a cancer patient wishes for.
Today, I continue to be NED and I am closely monitored by my oncologist. Of course, there is a very real possibility that my cancer will return, but for now I take each day as it comes.
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN THROUGH THIS UNRAVELLING PROCESS? HOW DID YOU SUPPORT YOURSELF DURING THIS PERIOD OF TIME?
I learnt the importance of self-care and being extremely self aware.
For me I personally see cancer, and any disease really as a warning sign. I try not to think… “this is the end”, but rather, what can I do NOW? How can I support myself through this pain, this trauma NOW? How can I unload the burden and the emotional strain? What can I do? And how can I support my immune system?
This is where I have focussed on nurturing my soul, my heart and finding peace in myself through joy and gratitude. I have become a massive student in myself and in life (in general).
I will never say that I am grateful for cancer; I don’t think I have healed enough for that, but what I can personally say is that I am grateful that I have had a chance at finding out who I truly am. I see this experience as a constant evolution into myself; like an explorer discovering an unknown land for the first time, I am gradually and often emotionally navigating the landscape in search of my truth.
And my truth is to choose joy, always.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOURSELF IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO THIS MOMENT OF UNRAVELLING?
Accept help, you are not alone.
I look back to the time when I was in London at the age of 25. My coping mechanism was to ‘just keep going’, not fully accepting or understanding the enormity of what I was facing. I pushed the reality way back into the reserves of my subconscious. I thought, “if I could be perceived as coping, I therefore was coping”. There is a lot that I physically can’t remember from this time.
When my cancer returned (far more aggressive), that unresolved emotion from seven years prior resurfaced. It is here where I realise that I should have felt what I needed to feel at that time. That it was okay to accept help and to let others in.
For me, I still struggle with asking for help (that pesky “fierce independence” is engrained in me!) but I honestly don’t know how I would have carried on if it wasn’t for the constant love, optimism and craziness that my partner, and now husband, Anthony has brought in to my life. (We got married in the whirlwind that has been my cancer journey.) He allows me to be me, to feel, to get angry, to cry when I need to, and he reminds me not dwell. But more than anything he brings light and happiness to my life. A fence is nothing without it’s posts, supporting and weathering the storms; Anthony is this for me.
It is for these reasons, that I saw the importance in not feeling alone, especially for a young adult facing cancer, so I started The Naked Gardiner, a comical play on my name, by giving voice to my feelings. Through this platform I was able to progressively heal, and in healing I was able to move through the stages of acceptance and truth. My admissions then in affect allow the space for others to feel, heal, and I hope feel less alone, which stems my ambitionthat The Naked Gardiner inspires others to see beauty and joy in the little things.
WHAT BIG DREAMS DO YOU HAVE RIGHT NOW?
I have been blogging for almost three years now and sharing my story so intimately, but I feel it’s time to start returning to the core joys of my youth, back to my roots and begin… creating.
It’s time to move on from the past and step in to light that is possibility.
I have always been a natural teacher, and I thrive on empowering others, so my passion will be a visual representation of what I hold dear in my heart with a purpose of making someone’s day special. Everyone faces some sort of hardship or illness in our lives, but we all have the power to make someone smile and that is where my heart’s purpose lies.
Of course that means more learning, playing and a whole lot more of opening my heart to joy!
HOW CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOUR BIZ/ WORK ? (Facebook or Instagram)
Currently you can find me at my website The Naked Gardiner
Instagram - @thenakedgardiner
Facebook - @kathymgardiner.tng
Twitter - @nakedgardiner
I am also a Director of The Naked Gardiner Foundation, a not-for-profit health promoting charity for Advanced Melanoma Patients. We are currently in the process of running fundraising events with a hope to launch and pilot a giving program for Stage IV melanoma patients in Queensland next year.
Instagram - @thenakedgardinerfoundation
Facebook - @tngfoundation
Website (is under construction) - www.thenakedgardinerfoundation.org.au