11 October 2010

A Survivor's Bemusement

It is rather bemusing to be a long term cancer survivor and to have so many people claiming to be responsible for curing you and to have their own version of what you did.

During the thirty plus years since my recovery from disseminated osteosarcoma, I am personally aware of hearing the following people lay claim to my cure: one psychiatrist who taught meditation therapeutically, one chemotherapist, one naturopath, several shamanic healers, one rabid nutritionist, one Indian avatar (actually he did not make any claim, but some of his disciples did), and one ex wife.

Those who claim to have assisted significantly in the recovery include a surgeon, radiotherapist, counsellor, yoga teacher, one GP heavily into supplementation, several other GPs, diagnosticians and natural therapists, family members and friends!

Things that I took or did that others have claimed were what really cured me include food, juices, supplements, developing strong willpower, benefitting from good support, using meditation, imagery, yoga, exercise, spiritual healing, prayer, chemotherapy, taking injections of mistletoe and TB vaccines and taking various other herbs, elixirs and potions.

The fact is I did a lot and many of the above were really helpful. Perhaps it is no wonder that when my story has been retold by others, while the main points have usually been accurately presented, there have often been minor errors in the detail – usually to do with time lines.

My biography “The Dragon’s Blessing” was compiled by an independent journalist who had access to meticulous diaries I kept through my illness, my detailed medical records and to all the key people involved, including family, friends, healers and doctors. I believe it to be an accurate account of what really did happen during my life leading up to the diagnosis, my long and complex recovery and my life and work since.

One of the most common questions I have been asked over the years is “What did it? How come you survived when others did not? Were you just lucky? What made the difference?” Well in my view, the challenging reality is that there was not any single thing that “did it”. Most of the above were helpful. I attribute my recovery to a combined approach.

So was I just lucky? I do not think so. While it would be fair to say that I was a little bit lucky - I am still alive after all; in my view, the key points, the key points that usually have been accurately portrayed when my story has been retold, are these: the two things that helped me the most were my lifestyle generally, and my state of mind specifically.

My state of mind was aided greatly by the sustained practice of meditation. It enabled me to remain free of anxiety in the face of an extreme health crisis. My mind became clearer, more stable and better focused. As a consequence, I was able to think clearly, make good decisions and have the confidence, commitment and perseverance to gain the best outcomes from all that I did.

For the last thirty years I have helped others to take up a similar therapeutic lifestyle to the one I used and continue to follow personally. This approach is well documented in my book “You Can Conquer Cancer” which was first published in 1984 and has been updated since.

Based on my extensive clinical experience, and supported by the burgeoning amount of positive research in this field, I am of the view that a lifestyle program warrants implementation at the time of first diagnosis of cancer, just as it does for heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and MS. There is no doubt in my view that lifestyle factors can do more than just improve the quality of life for people affected by cancer; A therapeutic lifestyle can improve survival times.

While it is relatively easy to instruct people in the technical aspects of how to meditate, and what constitutes healthy food, drink and exercise, it is far more challenging to address implementation of such a lifestyle based program, as well as the emotional, mental and spiritual needs they experience.

Again, based on my clinical experience, this is where group instruction and therapy is so important. Inspiration, hope, safety, emotional expression, the search for meaning, the capacity to endure, cope with setbacks, failures and triumphs; all these and so much more is possible when self help, peer groups meet around a common theme with a well trained and skilled facilitator.

  1. Doctors to recommend a lifestyle program for all people at first diagnosis of cancer (just like they do for heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes)
  2. More research is needed on the therapeutic benefits of lifestyle specifically and long term survivors generally. Also, specific research is long overdue to investigate the effects of meditation on cancer survival.
  3. Increase public awareness so people know what a therapeutic lifestyle is, what its benefits are, where to learn about it and where to receive the support they need to implement it.
  4. Ensure access to suitable lifestyle based self–help programs led by well trained and authentic group leaders supported by sufficient ancillary staff and services. The Gawler Foundation, from which I am now retired, continues to provide what in my view is the world’s best practice model for this type of service.


NUTRITION: What constitutes a healthy diet for the average person and for those looking to recover from major illness? What I actually did eat through my own recovery - and what I eat now that helps me to be really well and happy!


  1. This is terrific. When will doctors recognise the benefits of lifestyle for healing and recommend lifestyle like they do drugs?

  2. Good to see this ongoing blog, Ian. Timely as I enter the last round of chemo, and a good incentive to keep up the juicing and get back into my exercise regime after surgery.
    On the latter- I've just bought a new bicycle and am really looking forward to getting out on it.
    Thanks , Diana H.

  3. Janis Malin... I'm always amazed that the message/advice seems so simple, fundamental and straightforward, but in a world where many people run around like chooks with their heads cut off because they are SSOO busy with their self-made complicated lives, is it possible for them to see the vital relevance in this "seemingly" simple answer to their ills... I wonder... As for me... heaven sent advice that I'm grateful for... Cheers ...