I have a very dear friend who I believe is a Unicorn in disguise. To me, a unicorn is a rare, mythical, magical and extremely colourful creature that brings joy, happiness and love to all who are near it. My friend Gary is precisely that. Gary, 36, was recently diagnosed with having Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and despite treatment, cancer has spread. Through his greatest battle, Gary has unknowingly given all those who love him the greatest gift of all; a poignant reminder of how fragile life really is and how important it is the make the most of every moment.

I first met Gary almost 20 years ago, he was an aspiring Fashion Designer at one of Sydney’s most prominent design schools and I was still deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up. Gary never had it easy and was raised by his single Mother who had more expenses than money but did the best she could with what she had. As an eccentric gay European young man living in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, Gary never felt as though he fit in. I remember him telling me once that when he was little most of the boys were playing with trucks and guns, while he was dressing Barbie. Proof right there and then he was a unicorn in the making. On the other hand, I grew up in Sydney’s North Shore, was offered a private school education (didn’t really make the most of it) and was given everything I wanted.

As the years went by and I finally did grow up, we always stayed in touch. It never ceased to amaze me how hard Gary worked and how determined he was to build his own brand. His work became quickly recognised and he was often featured in the press as ‘a designer to watch’. While everything looked great from the outside, not many people realise how hard Gary worked to keep it all going. With no outside investment, Gary often had to work two jobs and put everything he earned into keeping his dream alive. Not to mention the fact he would often live and work in the same space, tirelessly creating and never giving up on the dream he had fostered since the days of dressing Barbie. Meanwhile, I was living in a luxurious city apartment with the help of my parents and quite frankly enjoying a very cushy existence.

Every time we caught up, Gary would be sporting a new hair colour and a fabulous new pair of kaleidoscopic glasses. His outfit never matched theoretically but it always worked on him. Just being in his company made you want to go out and buy a new wardrobe filled with crazy colours and perhaps even a touch of glitter. Gary had, and still has, his own personal style and has never been afraid to flaunt it. How wonderfully vibrant, rich and colourful the world would be if we all had the courage to dress precisely how we felt at any given moment.

It reminds me of a night out I shared with Gary only months before he was diagnosed. On this particular night, he would teach me a lesson I will never forget. We were at a dinner party in the city and he agreed to walk with me to my car to top up the meter (oh how I love Sydney parking). On the way back Gary needed to use an ATM and the only one available was in a pretty rough looking pub. This time I think I was the one protecting him. As we walked in, I was shocked at the looks we were receiving. Gary’s purple and green hair and unconventional outfit seemed to rub several people the wrong way. As we walked out I even heard a few derogatory remarks shouted out above the dingy room.

I was so bothered by the encounter and started telling Gary how upset it made me. To which he replied “Don’t you remember what you once told me. Remember you said it doesn’t matter what people say or think about you. They will only think about you for a minute and then forget. Remember, only you are the one who thinks about you all day every day”.

I was gob-smacked, first of all, because he had remembered a conversation that had taken place years and years ago. Secondly, here he was, a living example of that very lesson. I was good enough to say it but not brave enough to live it. Even though my own life journey in comparison to Gary’s was a walk in the park, here I was the one held captive by limiting beliefs and an overwhelming fear of other people’s opinions. His magical unicorn powers once again shone through and illuminated my world.

If there is anyone who can pull through the challenges Gary faces today it is Gary himself. His spirit has proven time and time again to be stronger than anything life can throw at him. In the meantime let us not waste the invaluable lesson that is on offer. That being, no matter who you are, what you have been through and where you are now, you are unique, you are valuable and your life is special. Make the most of every day and never stop believing in your ability to make your dreams come true.

Dearest Gary,

As much as I did say that people would only remember you for a minute and then go on thinking about themselves; that only really applies to those who don’t know you. To all those who know and love you, however, you are unforgettable and we are all praying for your full recovery. Thank you for being a colourful guiding light and without even knowing it, inspiring us all to really stop, reassess and be grateful for our life and especially for the fact you are in it.

Love and magic

Carlii xx