Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Competitor. Human. Another life affected by Cancer…
To say she is stunning would be an understatement. To say she is strong, fierce, focused, determined, passionate and a fighter… that would sum her up in a nutshell, but only a small one. Canadian IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner is all of that and more. And to those who have known her, she has always been those characteristics. To those who have gotten to know her over the last few years within the health and fitness industry, that would sum her up perfectly. But to the group that has gotten to know her and her journey this last year and half would say that Melanie is bigger than all of that. She is an inspiration, a hero, a survivor and someone who would not give up doing what she does best… living.
IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner has been involved in the fitness industry for several years and has graced the stage on numerous occasions competing in Figure. She took to the Ontario Physique Association stage in 2008, and from that day on with the support and guidance of Coach Jason Green and Team Green they created a physique that earned her an IFBB Pro Card in 2013 at the Arnold Amateurs. It was around that time that – unknown to all – Melanie was in the middle of dealing with what seemed to be a minor health concern; however, that was not the case. In March 2014, IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As anyone can imagine, a diagnosis of cancer is devastating and debilitating. So many questions one wants to ask. So many more go unanswered. Then the question of how severe is the cancer? What stage am I at? And… what next? Try dealing with all of this, while at the same time trying to live the life you have fought so hard to achieve and become. Now what?
Recently, I had the pleasure to talk to IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner about herself and what her life has been like since she was first diagnosed. IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner shared with me her thoughts and outlook on life not only in this interview, but for all of her fans and followers on social media. She wanted to show each of us what cancer looks like – the good and the bad and the reality and fears. It is with her openness and honesty, that so many were able to relate to her story and struggles, as well as, the numerous friends and family offering an outpouring of support because she was not afraid to hide from the truth.
IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner has been able to demonstrate that strength comes from within and not only when in the gym prepping for the realities of this industry or competition but life.
When did you start competing and how long have you been involved in the fitness industry?
My first show was in 2008 at the OPA Ottawa classic. I decided 12 weeks out I'd give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing and it sure was an eye opener. You really need a good coach to do well. Since that day, it has been a big part of my life.
What it was like competing at the Arnold’s and winning your IFBB Pro Card?
Competing at the Arnold's was so much fun. It was fast and intense and was about three hours long from start to finish. There were 19 girls in the Medium Class and I was the last number called in the first callouts. I had no idea where I placed because they called out seven and only moved me in one spot. I thought I was battling for 5th. I was blown away when I won and even more shocked to win overalls and then awarded with pro status.
What has competing meant to you?
Competing to me means pushing myself to the next level. If I didn't have the stage to answer to I would never be as strict with diet and training. I love seeing the end result.
Who are some of your role models?
My role models in the industry have been our very own Canadian girls Nina Luchka (who helped me with my first posing class and suit rental), Mindi O'Brien, and Rosa Valente. Each one of these beauties has been part of my journey.
How important is this industry/competing in regards to who you are/who you have become?
To be totally honest, competing is a hobby… something I do for myself and an escape from my crazy busy life as a single mom of an extremely athletic 8-year-old son, a business/property owner, and a full-time stylist. Life gets overwhelming, so it's nice to have competing just for me.
In the last year, you have undergone a huge life-changing event with regards to your health, what happened, what was/is your health diagnosis and what has life been like for you since that day?
This last year has been a nightmare. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in February 2014 after fighting with our system for answers since April of the following year. I fought tooth and nail and finally had to go to the states and pay out thousands of dollars to get answers.
I underwent a right mastectomy and lymph nodes dissection, tons of therapy to get full range of motion of my arm then chemotherapy started in May 2014.
I recently just finished my six rounds of chemo and now waiting to start the radiation treatments. This will be five days a week for 5-6 weeks… diagnosis when I'm finished is great but I will always have fear in the back of my mind that it will return.
An experience like this is life-altering. I eliminate all negativity and only embrace positivity. I live in the moment. I cherish my loved ones and I remember to breathe deep every day. I have a whole new appreciation for life.
I followed a very strict protocol from some alternative doctors. I feel blessed to have had Hari Ghuman and Dr. Bob Rakowski work on this and design it for me. It kept my strong through the chemo. I managed to still work and train with only a small handful of down days.
How has this changed you?
I feel it's my purpose now to reach out and share what knowledge I have and experience to help others in any way I can. If my story helps inspire and motivate then something good has come out of all if this.
You have mentioned that you plan to make a comeback in 2015 to the IFBB Pro stage. How will you prepare yourself for your comeback and will you be working with a coach/trainer/team?
I do have some very big things happening in the new year, both personally and through the fitness industry. I have been asked to write monthly articles for Eat Sleep Train, I am working with James Hergott on the Transformation Challenge reality show, and I am planning to hit the stage in May 2015 at the New York Pro and June 2015 at the Toronto Pro representing my sponsors Advanced Genetics, X2X, Tamee Marie suits, and new coach Darren Mehling of Freak Fitness.
Looking back, what did you learn about yourself as a competitor over the years, when you were competing, and then during your battle with cancer?
Looking back on all of this I have realized I need to live more in the moment instead of pushing so hard for what's next. Life is short, life is precious, love deep, laugh lots, and delete the negative. Always see the positive because if you look hard there is always positivity in everything.
Fighter. Warrior. Inspiration. That is who the new IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner has become. As she begins the next phase of her recovery with an intensive couple of weeks of daily radiation, she looks forward to the future when this is part of her past and another chapter of her life that she is able to close the door on with a positive outcome.
IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner will be participating in the Run for the Cure on October 5 in Kingston, Ontario and she hopes to take part in other events for cancer awareness in 2015. Follow IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner on social media as she prepares her comeback to the IFBB Pro stage in Figure in 2015.
I would like to thank my friend, IFBB Pro Melanie Gardner for her time, openness and honesty in sharing her personal story. I know I speak on behalf of all of us when I want to wish her all the best with the radiation treatments and to a cancer-free future.