His sister, Heather Gardner Starcher, had complained many times about pain under her arm. But doctors could not find a cause.
One day as she rolled over in bed, "the tumor popped out of her breast," Gardner says. Still, the doctor she had been seeing told her that women her age could not have breast cancer and sent her home.
She quickly got a second opinion, and the next day was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors said that from the size of the tumor, she could have had it for 10 years.
Still, Heather did not like that her doctor dismissed her concerns. Gardner says she wrote a letter to the doctor saying that she hoped she would never send another young woman home without checking things out thoroughly.
The doctor tried to reach Heather, but "Heather was a little stubborn" and did not want to have any more contact, Gardner says.
Watching his sister battle, Gardner formed a team in her honor for the National Race for the Cure. Initially, the goal was just to support her, not raise money.
However, the effort grew year by year, even after Heather died and their parents decided not to participate. In 2003, Team Heather raised $5,500. Now, the team raises more than $50,000 a year.
Gardner has also become a local spokesman for Susan G. Komen for the cure. The group got interested in the story, and Gardner has taped some public service announcements and testified in front of Congress.
His advocacy efforts highlight young women, but he hopes to raise broader awareness.
"I want people to just be aware of your body, of the women in your life," he says.