Sophomore Nicole Gardner had been growing her hair out since she was born. But, at age 20, she learned that she would have to slowly detach herself from it. She stepped in the shower one morning and began to wash her hair. As soon as she touched it, clumps fell out, grip by grip. The chemotherapy used to treat her ovarian cancer was saving her life, but was also destroying her hair.
As pieces continued to fall from her head she started to cry, but knew that she couldn’t. She knew she had to be strong. After her shower, she shaved off all her hair. She wasn’t going to go through the torture of letting it come out on its own. Though she was a little upset, she felt liberated and proud. And from that moment on, she grew confident, knowing that she would come out a winner.
Unfortunately, the cancer wasn’t the only hardship she would face. She’d been battling for years already. She battled five open-heart surgeries from age 1 to 13. She battled a stroke soon after that. Her stepmom died within that same year. In 2007, she was back at the hospital due to a broken back. Two years later she was diagnosed with cancer. Months after her diagnosis, her father was diagnosed with cancer and he died shortly thereafter. Yet through every painful situation, Gardner always found a way to battle it out and overcome. And today, she is three years in remission, stronger than ever and grateful that she won her fight.
“When they first told me I was shocked,” Gardner said. “My doctor came in and he was like ‘Hey Nicole … we have something to tell you. Please don’t be that alarmed. The biopsy came back and you have cancer.’ I was like ‘What!’ I was trying to be as optimistic as I could … I was like ‘I’m scared as hell, but I think I’ll be okay.’ ”
Not only was Gardner’s cancer in stage four, she also had a seven-pound tumor in her left ovary, which the doctors had to take out immediately.
“If it had gotten any closer, I probably would have died,” Gardner said.
Gardner admits that life has definitely handed her a fair share of trials, but she explains that she’s just happy to be healthy and alive to tell her story. During the course of all of her surgeries, Gardner was clinically dead five times, yet she’s still here.
“I don’t ask for much but I get dealt a shit ton,” Gardner said. “I’m here for a reason and I’d like to see what that is. I’ve died several times and I just keep coming back. There’s got to be something there. Someone’s got to be watching over me.”
During her surgeries and chemotherapy, Gardner found a lot of her confidence in blogging and would simply blog her way through the pain. She also blogged about her dad’s passing, which was due to throat cancer that spread so rapidly, the doctors weren’t able to stop it.
Gardner also gained support from her mother, Nancy Watson-Moreland, who she calls her hero as she had to tend to Gardner for many years, along with taking care of Gardner’s two brothers and being a single parent. However, Watson-Moreland explains that if anybody is a hero it is her daughter. She said that she’s proud of her daughter’s ability to go through so much yet still be so strong.
“To endure everything this child has endured, being a parent, you ask yourself, ‘Why is this happening to my child?’ “ Watson-Moreland said. “She never gave up and she most certainly could have many times.”
Watson-Moreland recalls Gardner being a fighter even as a baby, when the doctor gave her life’s worst ultimatum.
“When Nicole was born, the doctor asked us if we wanted her to have surgery or let her die. It was like he just reached in and snatched my heart. We had 24 hours to decide. I told the doctor I don’t need 24 hours. We want the surgery,” Watson-Moreland explained.
Gardner was born with a rare heart condition called Tetralogy-a-fallot, also referred to as “blue baby syndrome.” Since birth, she has had to have multiple open-heart surgeries. Her last open-heart surgery was when she was 13 years old. After this surgery, however, Gardner had a stroke which kept her in the hospital even longer. She also suffered pneumonia due to the harmful chemotherapy. Gardner explained that all of this suffering has given her a new outlook on life and has changed for the better.
“I’m definitely a lot more stubborn than some people because I refuse to give up on a lot of things,” Gardner said. “Even if it is really really hard, I will stick to it for as long as I can before I completely exhaust myself.”
Gardner now uses her stubbornness and inability to give up to focus on finishing school and completing her degree in public relations. She hopes to one day work for a publishing company. She also hopes to become a freelance writer and still continues to blog. Though Gardner knows that her goals are lofty, her younger brother Mason Moreland feels nothing is out of reach for his big sister.
”She’s always talking about how she wants to be a PR assistant,” Moreland said. “She’s always talking about how she’s going to make it out of this. Most of the time, I believe her and think she can do it if she really sets her mind to it. She beat cancer and all that other stuff, so this should be a piece of cake.”
Gardner feels that people should take every opportunity to enjoy their lives because you never know when it will be taken away.
“I fly by the seat of my pants,” Gardner said. “You just got to live life while you can because it can be taken away any moment and I am definitely someone that will know that because of everything I’ve been through and seen.”
Although life takes away at times, it also gives back. For Gardner, one of the greatest gifts came when she least expected it. She recalls it as an early Valentine’s Day present.
“My doctor called me after my blood test and said ‘Hey, you’re in remission now. You don’t have to go to chemo anymore. Your hair is going to start growing back,” Gardner said as she touched her full-grown hair and tucked it behind her ear.
To follow Gardner’s blog visit http://nicolgardner027.wordpress.com/.