04 October 2010


"It’s a great feeling to have recovered from cancer – to have been through it all and to be living a full, happy life again. I have done it. I have seen others do it and I know many more will repeat the process in the future"
This is how I began “You Can Conquer Cancer” when I first wrote it in 1984. Those lines encapsulated the elation I felt coming out the other end of a very difficult illness, the realisation that what had helped me to recover was already helping others and the promise of things to come.

First diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma and leg amputated in 1975, my cancer recurred later that year. Then given 2 weeks to live in early 1976 and yet almost miraculously, declared cancer free in July 1978.
Apart from being elated, was I just lucky? Or was there something repeatable in what had helped me?
I was convinced that it was the things I was able to learn and do for myself that had made the difference. This is not to minimise the terrific support I received during my recovery, but I felt a compulsion to attempt to help others with the key things I believed had the potential to make the difference between life and death. The key things that people can learn to do for themselves.
These key factors are best described as lifestyle factors. They are the things that we can do in the course of our daily lives that have so much influence on our health, our capacity to heal and our wellbeing. What we eat and drink, how much we exercise, whether we smoke or not. How we manage our relationships, our work, our emotional health, what we know of the workings of our mind and how we use its potential; and how our spiritual values and practices inform our lives; these are lifestyle factors. These are things we can learn about, study and practice. These are things which are within our own control and have the capacity to radically transform our lives for the better.
My work in this field had begun rather tentatively in 1981. Perhaps what had helped me might help others. In those early days there was an incredible amount to learn. And I asked questions. Many questions - of many people. In fact, most of the questions were directed at the large numbers of people who attended the groups I ran. What works? What works to make the groups function better? What works at home that you learn at the groups? What do we need to give more attention to? What is irrelevant? What is useful?
Many people reported many benefits and the groups flourished, You Can Conquer Cancer was written, an organisation grew to support the work. As the positive results became more obvious, we moved into preventative health as well as adding to the cancer programs with specific Multiple Sclerosis programs. We expended into the field of wellbeing – how is sustainable happiness to be found.
When I retired from The Gawler Foundation at the end of 2009 there were around 50 staff and many volunteers providing a wide range of services that focus on the capacity for lifestyle factors to positively influence health, healing and wellbeing. Happily the organisation has continued to flourish since I have stepped back.
It was a tough thing to retire. I am only 60 and there are so many people needing help. But as well as feeling the need for a break (which I could have accomplished with a sabbatical) and the need to allow the Foundation to fully mature and to establish its bona fides independently of myself; I recognise the value of stepping outside of what you are immersed in, to reassess and refocus. Being so committed to this work for so many years, it would be nice to think I had become a little better at what I was doing as the years passed by.
But being so involved, it is hard to think really freely, really creatively. My work has always valued innovation and creativity. Curiously, the core of the programs is very similar now to what they were in the early 80s. The value of good food, and what it is, the value of regular meditation and how to do it; these are the constants.
But is there a better way that I could be assisting people? It may be helpful to say that it felt to me to be a huge responsibility to step out of something that clearly was, and continues to be, so helpful to so many people, to step into the unknown and to explore new unchartered possibilities. Let’s hope something useful emerges.
Why then a blog? Well, firstly, I pretty thoroughly avoided computers for the first 60 years of my life! We had plenty of them at work and while enjoying learning about what they could do and being involved in developing good systems to use them, I never had one myself or used one personally. I love the feel and the flow of writing with a fountain pen.
However, one of the areas that I am bound to give my attention to in future blogs is the exciting new discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity – how the brain changes its structure and function depending upon how we use it. It adds good science to the old adage “use it or lose it.”
Personally therefore, I am choosing to stretch and work my brain by delving into what for me are new fields of IT and the web.
In the broader terms of what I have to offer, and how I might be helpful, a blog seems like a great medium to explore. Just like when I first started Australia’s first lifestyle based cancer self-help groups back in 1981, now I am interested in how new technologies can be useful – not just for people with cancer, but also those interested in the wider scope of lifestyle factors – that cover health, healing and wellbeing.
So, the current intention is to begin with weekly posts covering a range of topics. Please feel free to comment. Those early cancer groups were dramatically shaped by the feedback of their participants and as a consequence they rapidly grew into something useful. Maybe we can do the same thing here and use this medium to develop something that is really relevant and helpful.
Maybe the blog will be useful in its own right and will warrant development. Maybe it will lead to something else in IT land. Maybe my energies will be better directed into the garden?!
This then has been an introduction and a beginning. The first focussed blog is posted now too – on meditation. So, read on. Give feedback if you feel to. Unsubscribe if you prefer and lets see what happens.


  1. Congratulations, and welcome to the blogosphere!

  2. What a wonderful gift in my inbox today! I look forward to many conversations through your blog Ian :-) Sara

  3. Ian, This is wonderful. Thank you so much for all you do and in particular now branching out onto the web. It is just a superb communication tool.

    Would you be able to write online about sustainability as well and your concept of it through meditation and lifestyle practice? I am co-running an education day on sustainability in the classroom for teachers at our annual Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES) conference which will be held in Canberra this year from November 30th (teachers' day) until December 3rd. Sustainability has much to do with cancer survival. Perhaps you would even like to come to it? Thank you greatly. Namaste, Karen

  4. Hi Ian

    Well done for coming up with a needed blog site. I am sure it will also augment the programs at the Gawler Foundation. I have always been fascinated by what the brain can do and that has been reinforced by reading "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge.
    Good luck

    Helen Jones

  5. Yay Ian,
    Shake a Leg and welcome to the other world!! By all means please keep tending your veggies but a weekly dose of you in our inboxes is a very exciting prospect.
    I look forward to hearing more from you.
    Love Betsy (Bush,WA)

  6. It really made my day to see your email in my inbox! So looking forward to reading future blogs particularly regarding nutrition. Regards, Diane G

  7. What a very pleasant surprise to receive your message in my email. When you retired we thought we would not hear from you again. Nice to see that one of the greatest health and well being leader and educator is still around. Your teachings has been fundamental in my journey and will continue to do so. Wendy Howl Perth.

  8. Iam so glad that I have you on the net as well as listening to your guided meditations on my I Pod. I am a survivor and intend to stay that way. Many thanks Kay Vic

  9. What a lovey surprise to receive the email from you,Ian. It was as though you had knocked on my door to say "hello"and made me feel good. Look forward to your blogs.

  10. Thankyou for recognising the need that some of us have to read what you have to say and remain connected to you.

  11. Hi Ian
    I am glad to hear you well and not lost interest in what you believe in. We certainly believe in you. If it was not for meeting you at the melanomaWA meeting we would not have gone on your courses and not sure where I would be today. You have changed my life. I am truly grateful for having the opotunity of reading your books and help of your meditation cd.
    Belonging to a support group has helped me a great deal.
    Keep up your good work and once again Thanks for the encouragement.
    Michelle Slabbert WA

  12. Great to read your blog Ian
    Jo Perth WA

  13. Hello Ian, this is my first visit to the world of blogging. Thank you for the invite and I look forward to reading your wise words in the future.

  14. Hi
    Just found this checkng my emails while touring Europe!!! Very excited and look forward to having this communication opportunity,
    Thank you Ian

  15. Hi, Looking foward to getting more blogs from you. Attended the foundation in 2008 and still going strong.