Fierce, flamboyant, unforgettable. And those words pale in comparison to the way Calgarian Jennifer Gardiner saw the joy in every moment before she died of complications from colorectal cancer last month.
Gardiner turned her cancer diagnosis into a campaign to raise money for medical research, and chose to seize the opportunities it created. “Life is meant to be lived fiercely. And lived out loud. Cancer be damned” was her motto.
“Despite the prognosis uncertainties, fear and pain the past near two years has laid out, the life liberties, freedom and joy I've come to know because I've faced my potential demise has been the most wondrous experience. I honestly wouldn't trade the past 22 months for anything. I'm immensely grateful and hugely blessed to have been given and lived this gift. I wish everyone could experience such insight, love and grandeur…without the cancer, of course. Cancer can truly look like whatever you want it to look like. Cancer can be what you want it to be. There are great opportunities of choice in life. It's easy.”
Gardiner’s walk-in closet was filled with outrageous wigs, costumes, and shoes that even the likes of Cher would envy, reported the Calgary Herald. According to her obituary, her fondest memory from working at Berkshire Hathaway was getting founder and billionaire Warren Buffett to wear her rooster-feather hat.
Gardiner created an alter-ego named Jen Unplugged to inspire others facing the same disease. Her battle was captured in a documentary called “The Uplife Project: Jen Unplugged” as well as chronicled on her Facebook page.
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“Jen grew up believing she was the secret lovechild of Liberace and Cher and had been born a fabulous gay man in another life,” read her obituary, which was published on Wednesday.
Gardiner did not want a funeral, reported the Herald. Instead, friends, family, and strangers will toast to Gardiner in a celebration of life on Saturday at the No. 1 Legion in downtown Calgary.
“If you knew or have been inspired by her, honour her spirit by supporting a member of the LGBT community, wearing an outrageous hat, living life to the fullest, and pursuing your wildest dreams,” her obituary read.
Gardiner raised more than $35,000 for clinical cancer trials in Alberta; her Jen Unplugged Experience Fund will continue to collect donations.
Gardiner died Feb. 22 at Foothills hospital. She leaves behind her husband, Sean Dunnigan, a provincial court judge, and two adult stepchildren.