Cancer Convoy drives Melissa’s need to help

Cancer Support Group CEO Melissa Gardiner… “Great patients come through, it’s a very rewarding job, I’ve never had one like it.”

MELISSA Gardiner was in the right place at the right time when she came across an ad from the Cancer Support Group seeking staff.

Watching her mum recover from cancer and then having a close friend die from a rare bone cancer, Melissa was determined to get involved in any role available.

“I was actually standing in line to get on a plane to fly to Nepal when my husband rang me saying I’d missed a call from the Cancer Support Group,” she says.

Melissa ended up having the interview, over the phone, just before she was about to scan her ticket.

The Cancer Support Group wanted to go ahead with a second interview and said they needed someone straight away.

After the interview Melissa hopped on a plane, not to Nepal though, she was on her way back to Canberra even though the group couldn’t promise her that she would get the administration position she had applied for.

That Monday Melissa was offered a job as CEO.

“My heart’s in it, I have a big passion for the Cancer Support Group,” she says.

“Great patients come through, it’s a very rewarding job, I’ve never had one like it.”

Melissa admits she doesn’t know what the patients are going through, but she knows what it’s like to be a loved one of someone with cancer.

“With my mum it was really hard, you don’t like to think of your parents dying,” she says.

“This was 18 years ago, mum was only young and I had just had twins so I took it a lot harder.”

Another person close to Melissa was Mandy, who died seven years ago.

“Mandy’s death really hit me hard because before she died she called and I missed her call,” Melissa says.

“She was calling to tell me that her cancer had come back.”

“She died two days later.”

Since her death, Mandy’s father and her brother have also died from cancer.

Sadly, this isn’t uncommon and Melissa has seen multiple families, including a mum, a dad and a teen all get diagnosed within a week of each other.

“There was no Cancer Support Group for Mandy because she lived in another state,” Melissa says.

“Her partner had to give up work to care for their three young kids.”

The Cancer Support Group helps families in these situations but to do this they need to consistently raise funds.

One of the first things Melissa did after being hired in April, 2012, was to get the fundraising Cancer Convoy, a convoy of hundreds of trucks and hundreds of motorcycles that drive from Beard Industrial Estate to Exhibition Park in Canberra, up and running again.

“The convoy makes up about a third of our budget. It’s such an important event for us,” Melissa says.

This year the convoy will be held on Sunday, April 2, to raise money for local cancer patients in the Canberra and Queanbeyan region.

“We give cancer patients and families money for food and fuel vouchers,” she says.

“Obviously their immunity is low so we help with supplements, dietary supplements, electricity and gas bills, chemotherapy and medicine.”

“The big companies raise money all year and the day before they bid for their position in the convoy,” Melissa says.

The company that raises the most money will get the privilege of being the first truck to lead the convoy.

“We have live entertainment, a tribute band to INXS, the number one tribute band in Australia,” Melissa says.

“We also have merchandise for sale, food and drink as well as games for the kids.”

The Cancer Convoy will be followed by a family fun day at Exhibition Park. Radio presenter Chris Coleman and the 2CC team will broadcast the convoy’s progress live from 10am.

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