Nutritionist Samantha Gemmell’s relationship with her mother Barbara has transformed over the years, from being a source of friction to the unbreakable bond it is today. Since nursing each other through cancer, now they are confidants, friends and roommates with a shared fascination of health and wellness and bold dreams for their future.
Growing up I was a rebel during my teenage years. I was close to my dad but my relationship with mum fluctuated a lot and we regularly butted heads. I was 19 when they separated and I didn’t see much of mum for some time.
After having radiation therapy and throat surgery when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer my immune system was shot and I was sick all the time. I was forced to reassess what was most important. I rebuilt my relationship with mum, and with her nursing background, she gave me a lot of advice and practical help. It was when my health improved that I decided to study nutrition.
Natural health was an area of common ground for us, as mum was always interested in health and wellness. I remember hating it when she’d bundle us off to a friend’s birthday party with a plate of carrot sticks and homemade healthy dip. When I started studying I’d try and browbeat her into eating and drinking certain things. It didn’t work very well! In my second year, I softened my approach and started slow. We shopped together at the local farmers market and organic store, and now mum wouldn’t shop anywhere else.
A lightbulb came on when I encouraged mum to try a different approach to help her digestive issues. I helped her substitute her diet with kombucha and other foods to encourage good gut health and she was able to stop taking medication.
I was in my final year of study when mum was diagnosed with cancer. It was easily the biggest challenge we’ve overcome together. Funnily enough, mum enrolled in a naturopathy degree a few weeks before I graduated.
The relationship between mum and I now goes both ways. I still need motherly love and advice from her, and mum comes to me for health support. We brainstorm on ways to manage the rare genetic condition we both have called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a disorder that affects the connective tissue. We are family, friends and roommates all rolled into one.
Something I’ll always look back on and laugh about is the early days of mum’s study. I remember her excitedly telling me after class about the amazing things she’d learned. I’d nod along and listen until I’d eventually say: “Mum, that is fascinating but you’re preaching to the converted. Go and talk to your friends and family and spread the good word to them instead!”
Once mum has graduated I’d love for us to work together. I’m currently a freelance health writer and nutrition consultant and I’m planning to release a recipe book with my partner that I’d love mum to contribute to as well. I love the fact our relationship has come full circle and that we’re now so integrated into each other’s lives.”
“Sam was always popular at school - people seemed to gravitate towards her. We had quite a push-pull relationship and she was pretty rebellious at times.
After her thyroid cancer diagnosis, Sam moved in with me and I was able to help her recover. When she started studying her nutrition degree I vaguely paid attention, but. it wasn’t until Sam encouraged me to try an alternate approach to treat my digestive issues that I thought ‘hang on, maybe there’s something in this’. After going with Sam to an Open Day at Endeavour I decided to enrol in a degree.
I’ve long held an interest in natural health. I remember mum teaching me how to make bone broth as a child. I found a children’s nutrition book from the seventies to help me choose nourishing foods for the kids, and it became my bible.
Sam and I have grown much closer since her diagnosis. It really knocked her down for a while but she grew so much and we have a really fun relationship these days. We have learnt to respect each other’s space more and now enjoy more of a friendship. I was diagnosed with cancer last year and had to take several months off work. Sam became my rock and did everything for me. I wasn’t used to being looked after but she was there for me and I was able to see her as an adult.
I admire Sam’s determination. She has experienced an incredible journey in the last 12 months, having worked in private practice, to now developing a new career and finding her niche. At times it can be frustrating trying to get her to understand someone else’s point of view when she doesn’t want to compromise.
Recently we ran a market stall in Mulgrave, and the weather was wild with strong winds. As we set up the stand our whole marquee was swept away by the wind, tumbling through the carpark. Sam chased it down the road and latched on for dear life before it hit anyone or anything. She dragged it all the way back and we got on with it without missing a beat. That’s the type of person she is.
After I graduate I want to incorporate my naturopathy degree into my nursing career. At the hospital we have quite a few patients using alternative therapies and I can see there will be more opportunities opening up for nurses with natural health degrees. I’d also love to use my knowledge to work with remote Indigenous communities. I’d love to work with Sam – one of the best things about the world of natural health is how it has brought us even closer together.”
If you have a passion for natural health Open Day is the perfect opportunity to be immersed in the Endeavour College experience. Speak with lecturers and students, find out all about our Bachelor degree courses, explore our campuses, learn about educational pathways and study options, and find out if a career in natural health is for you.
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