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Mod Mom's journey has become her work

Emily Gard survived cancer as a teen and now works for Sanford Health

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Emily and Nick stay busy parenting their 5 children: Catherine, twins Claire and Olivia, William, and Emily's bonus daughter Genevieve.
Photo courtesy of Ten Little Chickens Photography
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Emily Gard is a wife, mom to five children (including twins!) and the director of the Internal Medicine department at Sanford Health in Fargo. While her days are busy, she never takes them for granted as these are all roles she never thought she’d get to experience.

At 16, Emily was enjoying life as a typical teenager – hanging out with friends, going to school and playing hockey. But during a workout in her basement, she noticed a lump on her rib. Confident nothing was wrong, Emily went on with life, but eventually she felt sick. After x-rays, MRI and doctor visits, Emily learned she had Ewings Sarcoma, the second most common bone cancer that typically affects children between the ages of 10 and 20. Survival rates are worse than other childhood cancers, and treatment is aggressive.

Team Campbell was born. Friends, family, neighbors and people from far and wide offered an outpouring of support with cards, letters, food, head-shaving parities and more. “I could not have faced my battle without the team that was Team Campbell,” she said.

Emily faced intense treatment — a 48-hour stay in the hospital for chemo followed by two weeks off when she was bedridden. After that, for five days in a row, she’d go to the Roger Maris Cancer Center for eight hours of infusions. This cycle repeated over an entire year and during that time Emily was only able to attend school three days a week every three weeks. It was a tough journey, but one that would inspire a lifelong love of helping others.  

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Nick and Emily will celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary this fall.
Photo courtesy of Ten Little Chickens Photography

“I knew I wanted to serve others but knew that I didn’t like blood. This was a problem in the medical field,” she said. “My advisor, Dr. Guy at Concordia introduced me to social work. I am forever grateful to her for seeing my potential and knowing this was a perfect fit for me.”

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Emily went on to earn a master's of social work from the University of North Dakota, where she also met her husband, Nick who is a mental health therapist. Over the course of her career, Emily has focused on helping individuals who were hospitalized with chemical dependency and mental health concerns. She’s held several roles that have allowed her to grow her impact on others. She’s also volunteered a Kamp Kace, an organization that provides a camp experience for school-aged kids with cancer and is also involved with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, ND.

“Cancer changed my life and helped me to be the person I am today,” she said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the support and love I received that gave me the strength to keep going. It’s my life mission to pay it forward!”

Who inspired you during your cancer fight?

I was fortunate to have the best survivor friend, Diana Schimmelpfennig, who told me as she sat with me on my bed some very important words; “Emily, you are a survivor since the day you were diagnosed.” I carried these words close to my heart and still do. I now have a tattoo that says this.

How did your journey impact your perspective on life? 

I am forever grateful that I got a second chance at life (and fresh hair as it re-grew, ha). Cancer is a reminder for me to be thankful and not take one moment, one breathe on this earth for granted.

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Emily Gard survived cancer as a teenager and is now the director of Internal Medicine at Sanford Health.
Photo courtesy of Ten Little Chickens Photography

How has becoming a mom impacted you?

I am so thankful I get the chance to be a mom. There were many days when I didn’t think I would get this title. Being a mom has taught me it's okay to ask for help and to experience anxiety, even though it sucks. Seeing life through the eyes of a child is amazing! They live in the moment.

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Were you surprised to learn you were having twins? 

YES, YES and YES. This was not on our radar at all. My husband was with during the appointment. He has an intense sense of humor and stated, “It looks like there are two in there” to which I gave him a shove on the shoulder and told him to stop! (ha). Turns out, he was right.

Favorite thing about your kids? 

Their smiles (and sense of humor)!

How about your husband? 

His passion to serve others.

Best life advice?

Everything in life is temporary, the good and the bad. This has helped me during the most difficult times in my life. I would also say that people need people! It takes a village to do this life and we all need our authentic selves to show up and be there for each other.

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What is the one thing you’re most proud of yourself for? 

This is such a hard question. Being a mom. It’s the best and hardest job ever.

We learned about Emily and her story from a reader! Do you know an amazing mom or dad whose story deserves to be told? Tell us about them in an email to moms@forumcomm.com .

Melissa Davidson is a mom to three girls and writer for Click Content Studios, a marketing and video production agency. In addition to writing, she’s passionate about health and wellness, wishes she could get through all the non-fiction books out there, and thrives on learning new things, like the cello!
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