09 January 2012

And another thing…

Firstly a big thank you to all those of you who have contacted me in the last week to offer support and reassurance in the face of the rather bizarre and false suggestion that I never had secondary cancer (The Age 31 12 11).

The personal messages, the letters to the Editor (see the comments section this week), and the many comments on last week’s blog (that make for inspiring reading if you have not checked them out yet) have all been very heartwarming.

There seems to have been a concerted challenge going on for the last few years that has centred on attacking the validity of my medical history, with the implication that somehow that undermines the work I have been involved with.

Much of this I have chosen to ignore, but maybe there is value at this time in clarifying the key points.

Firstly, it should be obvious that my work is not my medical history. It is true that this work grew directly out of my personal history of recovering from widespread, advanced bone cancer. But then from that initial starting point, some elements have been confirmed while others have evolved based on the next 30 years of continual research and formal study, the many workshops and conferences attended, as well as the input of the many great colleagues I have been fortunate to work with. But even more important in the development of what I have to offer, has been the vast amount of knowledge and experience gained from the thousands and thousands of people I have worked with over those 30 years.

Now that work has two elements. Firstly it offers hope, and secondly it has the lifestyle based self help techniques I and others teach.

The hope began with my own recovery and many people continue to take heart from the fact I am still alive. However, 30 years later there is even more hope available based on the recorded experiences of so many people who have used the techniques I have advocated.

Regarding the techniques, there is nothing “alternative” about what I teach. I have always been committed to an Integrative Medicine approach.

Integrative Medicine (IM) combines the best of what conventional medicine has to offer with the best of Complimentary Medicine and the best of what a person can do to help themselves. IM attends to the body, emotions, mind and spirit. IM practitioners function within a multidisciplinary context, working collaboratively towards the best health outcomes.

So within that IM context, my actual work focuses on what people can do for themselves. The work is about empowering people, and focuses on improving quality of life and extending survival times for those affected by cancer and MS particularly, as well as preventing illness and generating long-term happiness and wellbeing for anyone who is interested!

My cancer work was first documented in “You Can Conquer Cancer” way back in 1984. So anyone who was or is confused about what I may or may not recommend could easily check. If you want to know what I have to say about a vegan diet, why question what I actually did during my own recovery, consult the book and be clear about what I actually recommend in current time.

This is why I did not take the earlier challenges in the Medical Journal of Australia about my own recovery too seriously. For a start they came from my ex wife. Then Prof George Jelinek and my current wife Ruth responded in the MJA directly, and so at the time, no comment from me seemed the best response. Now it seems some more clarity may be useful.

Much of that earlier criticism revolved around mistaken timelines. It has to be noted that my medical history is complex. Despite my best efforts, the media nearly always tells it with some errors. Even Dr Ainslie Meares got some bits out of sequence when he first recorded my case in the MJA in 1978. I did not make anything of this at the time because it seemed of little consequence. It seemed like arguing over whether a woman was 3 months pregnant or 6 months pregnant at a particular point in time. She is still pregnant, she will still have a baby and by the time the child is 30, who cares?

Sure accuracy is important and that is why I agreed to my biography (The Dragon’s Blessing) being written by Guy Allenby, a respected journalist who was encouraged and authorised to speak with all my doctors, family, colleagues etc, and to get the facts right. If you do want the facts, check the biography.

But really, it is the work and the outcomes recorded by many other people that warrant the most attention.

However, now the personal attacks have gone deeper. Haines and Lowenthal have questioned whether I even had secondary cancer in the first place. This confusion arises because I did contract TB as a complication of my secondary bone cancer and TB can occasionally lead to calcification within the body. The esteemed doctors speculate that the boney lumps that were confirmed at the time to be metastatic osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) were in fact just TB and I did not have cancer secondaries.

To summarise what I wrote in last week’s blog, this is not correct because the authors, amongst other errors, failed to take adequate account of three crucial pieces of evidence.

i) The clinical experience and the medical records of the treating physicians

The authors did not consult the treating doctors: Mr John Doyle (surgeon in Melbourne), Dr. Ivon Burns (Oncologist in Melbourne), Dr. Alistair Robertson (Oncologist in Adelaide) and Dr. John Piesse (GP in Melbourne). They did not access their medical records, including their clinical histories and the extensive diagnostic investigations that were carried out.

An example of what might have helped them to draw a more accurate conclusion comes from the radiologist’s report from the initial diagnosis of the secondaries in December 1975:
“ Mottled calcified areas of varying size from 1.5 to 3 cms in diameter are demonstrated overlying the right sacroiliac region, the appearances of which are those of glandular metastases”.

If Haines and Lowenthal had spoken to my doctors, they would have clarified the basis for their initial diagnosis and how, years later they stand firmly by it.

ii) The available histology

The authors say that I did not have a biopsy at the time of the first diagnosis of my secondary cancer, but then discount the fact that histology was performed on a large boney mass removed from my left lung following pneumonectomy in 2004. That report cited:
“foci of coarse sclerotic and heavily calcified bone which are devoid of viable osteocytes. The latter appearance in particular is recognised as a change which may occur in osteosarcoma after chemotherapy”.

 iii) The effects of cancer related chemotherapy on active TB

The authors have overlooked the significance of me having received chemotherapy in 1976 with Adriamycin, Vincristine, Cyclophosphamide and D.T.I.C. (Dacarbazine). This treatment was administered because my condition at the time was actively advancing. It is well known this combination of chemotherapy is powerfully immunosuppressive. To give strong chemotherapy to a patient with widespread, active TB would almost certainly result in miliary TB and a rapid death. By contrast, I experienced no significant side effects.

Finally, having decided to speak up, there is one more matter. The Age quotes Haines: ''I've seen beautiful young girls with their whole lives ahead of them and they go into these holistic therapies and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and then in the end we have to look after them. They all eventually get to us''.

Last weeks blog comments contain great responses to the “beautiful young girls” and the costs and “they all eventually get back to us”. But just to be clear, “You Can Conquer Cancer” costs $27.95, my day workshops are usually around $100, the 12 week non-residential program that I set up in 1981 and continues to be presented by the Gawler Foundation staff and other people I have trained around Australia and in New Zealand, costs $450 at the Foundation, while those with a Health Care Card can attend for $120. The 10 day residential program at the Foundation’s Yarra Valley Living Centre – fully inclusive of meals and accommodation, costs from $2990 to $3490(all inc of GST).  Subsidies are available for those in real need and have been made possible by the Foundation’s fundraising efforts and big support base.

So what to do? 

It does concern me a great deal that some vulnerable and needy people may be misled by Haines and Lowenthal’s article and that the subsequent newspaper coverage may well prevent some people affected by cancer from realizing they can do a lot to help themselves. Therefore, in my opinion, what the two have done is dangerous.

How can you help?

It seems incredible that after 30 years there is still a need to get the self help message out there and to assist people with cancer to realize that they can help themselves significantly by attending to their lifestyle.

If you know of people who are confused by all that has been going on, please do refer them to my blogs of these last two weeks.

Letters to the papers, to doctors, hospitals, even politicians will be helpful; maybe you have something you would like to say to Assoc Prof Ian Haines at Cabrini Hospital, Malvern or to Prof Ray Lowenthal at the University of Tasmania; maybe add a comment on the blog.

And thanks for reading a long blog!

Next week, my workshop, Conference and retreat plans for 2012.

Ruth and I will be leading one meditation retreat in 2012, “Meditation in the Forest”, pre Easter (March 30 –April 5) at the Gawler Foundation.

Related Blogs

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

Recovery from cancer is possible

It only has to be done once

Link to The Age article


My biography which documents my case: The Dragon's Blessing by Guy Allenby

You Can Conquer Cancer which documents my cancer work

The Gawler Cancer Program: the CD that presents the paradigm I work with

Mindbody Mastery: online meditation program


  1. From Letters to the Editor, The Age, 2 1 2012

    SURELY that Gawler Foundation programs have treated more than 15,000 cancer sufferers, ''many of whom swear by his methods involving strict diets, 'mind training' and meditation'', is testament to Ian Gawler's sound advice for cancer management (''Cancer experts challenge Gawler's 'cure''', The Saturday Age, 31/12). There is a growing body of research that lifestyle changes can help with treatment of cancers and reduce the risk of their recurrence. For example, lifestyle changes can help reduce the recurrence and progression of prostate and breast cancer. In my clinical practice, I have witnessed the benefits that the Gawler Foundation program has offered patients with cancer. I have also witnessed patients with metastatic cancer improve their overall outcome with lifestyle changes. The Gawler Foundation does not advise patients to abandon orthodox care, but to use diet, mind training, meditation, lifestyle and support groups alongside standard treatment. All this sounds like good common sense to me and every effort should be made to research why these therapies may be helpful.
    Dr Vicki Kotsirilos, GP, Clayton
    Beware of biases
    AS A friend of Ian Gawler, I hope I am aware of my conflict of interest and motivation. I am also an emergency physician and consultant physician to the Coroner's Court of Victoria. Unlike Professor Ian Haines, who sees ''beautiful young girls'' who undertake holistic therapies and who ''all eventually get to us'', I see patients of both genders, all ages and of varying beauty who end up with ''us'' at both the emergency department and Coroner's Court as a result of the toxic effects of their traditional medicine, some of whom die directly from their treatment. However, I don't condemn chemotherapy as I am aware of the selection bias influencing the cohort of patients I see. Is Professor Haines aware of his bias? Ian Gawler accepted and encourages others to partake of all therapies, chemotherapy included. I encourage the authors to examine their motivation and biases.
    Sandra Neate, Carlton North
    Test holistic healing
    PROFESSORS Ray Lowenthal and Ian Haines have gone to great effort to challenge whether Ian Gawler's history included one or two episodes of bone cancer. Why? The professors say their work might prevent others from putting hope into the same self-help and holistic therapies that helped Dr Gawler. Hold on, are they saying that one case history should determine how people make their medical choices? Isn't that unscientific?
    Thousands of cancer patients have now gone through Gawler support programs and other kinds of holistic healing regimes, under medical or non-medical supervision. Wouldn't these professors be serving us better by seeking funding to study the outcomes of these patients?
    David McRae, Geelong
    A pointless attack
    I attended the late Ainslie Meares' meditation sessions for malignant melanoma in 1980, around the same time as Ian Gawler, and I know there are many others alive to tell the tale who underwent the same regimen. What do the authors of this report hope to achieve in this attack. Does it really matter anyway? Dr Gawler has helped many thousands of cancer sufferers, and I am sure will continue to do so. Methinks sour grapes at work here. After all, what wonder cures do the oncologists have to offer?
    Wendy Burns, Carlton North
    Meditation alone
    WHILE my father, Ainslie Meares, certainly treated Ian Gawler, he never suggested a ''program of alternative therapies'' including ''coffee enemas, massage and vegetarianism''. He treated all his cancer patients with meditation alone. Dr Meares wrote many books and had many articles published in medical journals on his work which make this clear. Ian Gawler undertook other therapies when not a patient of Dr Meares.
    Sylvia Black, East Melbourne

  2. Linda Garrett , Creative Seeds Healing ArtsJanuary 9, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    I have not read the article by Haines and Lowenthal and don't think I'll bother. As a survivor of cancer at the age of 25, I am forever appreciative for the brilliant expertise of the surgeons who removed a large tumour, and the oncologists who supported me through chemotherapy. However, as neuroscience has shown, our thoughts and emotions interrelate with our physical bodies, therefore naturally promoting the need for an integrative approach to healing. I believe the only way to do this is through learning the tools and techniques for self survival whilst holding onto a positive sense of hope and optimism for a healthy life, as prescribed by Dr Ian Gawler.

    Today, as a young 50 year old woman, I see the immense value in Dr Gawler's work. Having attended a workshop and through regular use of his meditation cds, I am most grateful for the enormous amount of work he is doing in helping others to feel empowered to help themselves in organic ways.

    Through the lens of his Integrative Medicine, I have no doubt Dr Gawler has made a difference in the lives of thousands of people around the world; a man who's integrity and intentions, I believe, are most honorable and I thank him for that.

  3. Healing the body.
    I thought all we are about here is healing the body. Surely these two professors have better things to do with there time than push a great healing person down. What Ian Gawler has done for many peoples lives and what he (and now many other professionals) has started for the future of many other sufferers is a path that certainly needs looking at. It would surely be worth our health system looking into all avenues of healing rather than the profitable ones only.
    Roger Collinge. Perth

  4. Good on you Ian . You are an inspiration to us all no matter what the so called experts say or hope to prove! I have written to the editor myself as I was incensed that this article may put others off and diminish their hope! I am recovering from Metastatic Breast Cancer and it is in my past as your Foundation taught me how to change my lifestyle, take responsibility and get on with it, despite the ridiculous prognosis i was given. I look forward to seeing you in my area on January 24th. Well done to you for never backing down or questioning yourself or your healing ability! Regards, Sam Aulton

  5. Like Ian Gawler I struggle to prevail in my earnest promotion of activity, improving nutrition, and meditation as well as other conventional treatments.
    So often I hear from patients "Nothing more can be done!" for chronic musculo-skeletal problems.
    Not in my opinion.
    I have attended his weekend seminars in Perth in 2009 and 2011 and am very impressed by the integrative approach promoted, and greatly valued what I have learned.
    Thanks and regards
    Dr John D H Bell Orthopaedic Surgeon MBChB FRCS (Edin) FRACS FAOrthA
    25 Florence Road NEDLANDS WA 6009

  6. What may I ask is the purpose of a witch hunt against Ian Gawler?

    I have read the paper by Lowenthal and have even emailed him in an attempt to understand the motivation behind the paper. Are the Authors suggesting that Ian and the foundation recommend avoidance of traditional methods? If so that is not my experience. 15 years ago my wife and I attended one of the residential programs. My wife with metastasised melanoma to the brain and a prognosis of three months and me as her carer. Without question the things we learned at the foundation (along with our use of traditional medicines) are the reasons why I can still reach out and hug my wife today.

    David Aaron

  7. Please do not be put off Ian. We are so glad to you for all the work you have done. This "put-down" in the disguise of a scientific paper should be challenged because it is just that and intended to discredit you and Integrative Medicine in general. I believe court action against the doctors concerned, the Age - for defamation , may put off doctors from using people's trust and confidence like this in the future although it would undoubtably be arduous and energy consuming.

  8. Thank you again for your recent blog. It is such a shame that you have to put up with so much nit picking from Lowenthal and Haines. It smacks of the 'tall poppy' syndrome. I think the number of people who have been very happy with your suggestion of investigating all avenues towards good health, is to be applauded.

  9. Ian, well done for standing up for yourself. The current doubt from this doctor reminds me of your comments years ago about the dismay from one of your original specialists when you returned to show you had in fact survived your cancer. To be proven wrong, to survive when one is predicted to die should inspire and create joy not disbelief or disappointment! Your work assists many people's quality of life, with or without cancer. Thank you!

  10. Ian, when my father developed a brain tumour he and my mum came to you for help. You inspired them both and gave them a refreshing, clear view, and hope. Our family owes you greatly for giving him a burst of positivity and inspiration in his final months. Others opinions of you and your supporters are irrelevant to those you have truly helped. Thank you.

  11. Last year, upon hearing that the breast cancer that was supposed to be cured with surgery and chemotherapy had spread to my lungs while on the standard protocol and being told that I was now incurable the first stop my husband and I made was the Gawler Foundation in Hawthorn. I didn't go expecting a cure - I wanted hope. I came away feeling supported and have attended counseling, a course in meditation and the 12 week program. I have never once felt any pressure to stop my use of traditional medicine but I have become empowered, to take control of my own journey with this disease. I actively pursue many avenues in my recovery - lifestyle, dietary, alternative, complementary, spiritual, traditional. I live my life for now. I have hope that I can influence my outcomes.

    I am fortunate to have mostly positive experiences with the medical professionals who are involved in my care and cannot understand the need that the authors of this article have to denigrate your story and slander your reputation and good name and wonder about their motivations. Every time I walk into and out of the centre at Hawthorn or talk to the friends that I have made I am filled with a sense of hope - a feeling I have never felt in my many hospital visits. We are individuals, not statistics, many like you defy the odds and perhaps the inability of the medical profession to explain these occurrences has them grappling for answers to maintain their sense of righteousness and power.

    Ian the work of you and the foundation has helped many to live better lives - short or long. It is simply appalling that you should be attacked in such a way without the scientific rigor that the authors of this paper believe is essential when discussing cancer treatments - a double standard indeed.

    I look forward to joining you for your course at Hawthorn this year and continuing
    to live my life fully, healthily and with hope that I can defy the dire odds I have been presented with.

  12. Hi Ian, How sorry I am that "The Age" chose to denegrate you when there are so many issues currently affecting people in the world today , worthy of front page coverage.
    After attending a course at the centre in the Yarra Valley two years ago I know the difference you and the foundation makes to peoples lives. You are a marvel and I will always be eternally grateful. As you asked I will spread the word and direct as many people as possible to your website.

  13. I look forward to the day when a person diagnosed with cancer can discuss with their Oncologist ways of implementing lifestyle changes as part of an evidence-based approach to improving health. Why is this at such a big ask when it is the norm for other specialists to recommend diet and exercise for improving health? If you survive a heart attack and see a cardiologist s/he will recommend diet and exercise; similarly if you have diabetes an Endocrinologist will suggest diet and exercise as part of managing the condition. While I follow a ‘Gawler approach’ to my condition I have seen several oncologists over the years and not once has diet or lifestyle ever been mentioned as a response to improving survival despite the over whelming evidence of benefit in many cancers.
    When will oncologists likes Haines and Lowenthal step into the 21 Century and join other specialists in recognising that the silver bullet approach won’t work for long term health?

  14. Interesting to read all these comments but there's an elephant in the room that no one has mentioned and that is Grace Gawler’s involvement in this attack. As Ian’s former partner and founder of the legacy, I wonder what on earth has she got to gain by attempting to demolish the good work that she and Ian did for so many years - which incidentally is a reputation she still thrives on in her own, successful health care business? I am puzzled as to why she doesn’t change her surname back to her maiden name if she is going to continue to attack and undermine the Gawler legacy.
    The only benefit I see in this whole sorry saga is that it is providing me with three people who I need to send love and compassionate thoughts to; Haines, Lowenthal and Grace.