26 March 2012

Jim Stynes, acceptance and commitment

Jim Stynes, that delightful mountain of inspiration has died of cancer. His death has touched us all and deeply affected many of the people I have been talking to who currently are living with cancer.

Many of the media reports announced Jim had “lost his battle with cancer”. Some commentators have strongly challenged the usefulness of the war like metaphors that are so often used around “the fight against cancer”.

Yet most would find it difficult to deny that Jim Stynes was a warrior. Look at his exploits on the football field where he led from the front, demonstrating toughness, fairness, stoicism and fearlessness. It would be fair to say he fought for the disadvantaged youth of our time though his eminently practical and effective Reach Foundation. And then clearly, he approached his cancer diagnosis and all it brought to him with a resolute vigour that any warrior would have been proud of.

Let us not forget that Jim was faced with a very aggressive cancer. Following an initial prognosis of 9 months, he lived over 3 years, and in that time accomplished so much. He had extra time with his family, and his children will know how hard and how thoroughly he tried to survive and to be there for them. He resurrected the Melbourne Football Club (of which I am a proud member) and he inspired many, many people.

In my experience, cancer does not respond kindly to passivity. For those who sit idly by, the future with cancer is predictable enough. For those who seek to turn the odds in their favour as Jim did, the warrior spirit is helpful indeed.

But what sort of warrior?

There are two choices, the Rambo variety and the martial artist.

Rambo typified the aggressive, willfully driven, deeply insecure and unsettled warrior class. The martial artist brings almost a paradox. There is the unwavering and fearless commitment, yet there is an inner peace along with a sense of acceptance and contentment. Both make for formidable warriors, but both represent vastly different states of mind.

The key difference would seem to be the martial arts warrior’s acceptance of their situation. They accept death is a real possibility and are at peace with it. That acceptance seems to free them from fear; leaving them free to think clearly and act appropriately.

So with a major illness, these metaphors can be really useful. The martial arts approach begins with acceptance of the very real threats and challenges of the illness. There is no denial of the risks, there is no suppression of emotion. It is a great mistake to characterize positive thinking as some imposed state of superficial and fabricated joy and delight. Real positive thinking goes into the truth of the matter, acknowledges the possibilities, encourages feeling the attendant emotions, and then moves on to what can be done about it.

There is a big difference between wishful thinking and positive thinking. Wishful thinking is where you hope for the best and do nothing about it. Positive thinking is where you hope for the best and do a lot about it.

Jim Stynes did a lot. He knew what he was up against. He demonstrated his capacity to express his emotions. He displayed his preparedness to do whatever it took as he did all he could to recover.

Amongst many other things, Jim came to the Gawler Foundation’s 12 week program and I saw him privately, so it is not appropriate for me to comment on the relative merits of anything he did. But I think it fair to say from his very public story that he may well have come to cancer a bit like a Rambo warrior and steadily morphed into the martial arts type.

Certainly he is on the public record towards the end of his illness saying with great dignity, clarity and even humour that he had accepted he might well die of his illness. But that did nothing to stop him putting so much energy into his on-going efforts to recover.

Clearly too, Jim said that he had no intention to die wondering. He did everything he valued. He tried an incredible range of things, some of which have confronted others, particularly some of the more conservative types! Maybe at another more appropriate time I can discuss some of those things without referring to Jim.

So there was acceptance, and there was commitment. Acceptance of the situation as it was. Acceptance of the emotions that naturally flowed. Acceptance that death was a real possibility.

And then there was commitment. Commitment to life. A joyful, light-hearted, passionate commitment to life, and a willingness to do whatever seemed reasonable and possible to fight for that life.

My own sense of this is that Jim Stynes was more than a warrior. He was a crusader, that noblest of warrior that fights for good cause; who fights to preserve his own life, knowing how capable he is of helping others and how committed he is to that end.

Jim - you will be sadly missed. We are all the better for your life and smile.


1. One quarter of all cancers could be prevented by a healthy diet and exercise.

A major new piece of Australian research suggests that there will be about 170 000 Australians diagnosed with cancer in 2025. This represents an increase of about 60% on the 2007 incidence. Almost 43 000 of these cancers could be prevented through improvements to diet and physical activity levels, including through their impact on obesity. It is likely that this is an underestimate of the true figure. The most preventable cancer types in 2025 were estimated to be bowel cancer and female breast cancer (10,049 and 7,273 preventable cases, respectively).

The researchers concluded that is imperative that governments, clinicians and researchers act now if we are to reduce the significant future human and financial burden of cancer.

While the theoretical impact of primary prevention is substantial, motivating populations to improve their health status is difficult. Therefore, unless a concerted and significant effort is made to invest in and implement powerful preventive measures, the impact of primary prevention on reducing total cancer incidence over the coming decades will probably be relatively small.

Reference: Baade P D et al, Med J Aust 2012; 196 (5): 337-340.

Click here for full article

2. Blog format changes

You may have noticed some upgrades to the blog. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we now have the top ten most popular posts listed on the right hand side. Well, at least according to Blogger. Somehow their stats do not include all of the true top ten, so we have added a couple of those that missed out.

Now that the blog has been going a while, there is a great deal of stuff in the archive that may be of interest. Finding whatever else does interest you is best done via checking the categories that are used such as meditation, nutrition, healing etc. Happy hunting!

3. Is Roundup safe? Maybe not as much as we thought.

Glyphosate (G) is the largest selling herbicide worldwide; the most common formulation being Roundup (R). It is a herbicide that has been around for many years, been well tested in the past and many organic farmers consider it safe to use. That is what I used to tell people. I am not so sure any more for those who actually use it (this study did not examine its after effects, just the implications for those exposed to it via spraying).

Recent research findings indicate that G exposure may cause DNA damage and cancer in humans. This latest study examined the cytotoxic and genotoxic properties of G and R (UltraMax) in a buccal epithelial cell line (TR146), as workers are exposed via inhalation to the herbicide.

The researchers concluded “since we found genotoxic effects after short exposure to concentrations that correspond to a 450-fold dilution of spraying used in agriculture, our findings indicate that inhalation may cause DNA damage in exposed individuals”.

Reference: Koller VJ, et al: Arch Toxicol. 2012 Feb 14. [Epub ahead of print]

LINK the Archives of Toxicology.


  1. Of all the spiritual books I have read the one which has provided most clarity for me on the relationship between action and contemplation and from this the "right" form of action has been the Bhagvad Gita. That it is the action of a warrior gives it a pointedness. Fortunately, for most of us, most of the time, right now the our battles are more metaphorical.

  2. great blog
    loved jim stynes as a person and loved the article you posted about him

  3. Describing Jim Stynes as a crusader really fits for me. He had the air of a noble knight, yet he seemed a fair bit of a larrikin too. Maybe he was a larrikin crusader, but what an inspiration, what a lot of good he did!
    Thanks for this blog- it touched my heart

  4. I effectively support people affected by cancer. ACCEPTing people/situations, our bodies and most importantly accepting feelings and emotions. With "the LifeLine Technique" ~ which is content free ~ we harmonise subconscious emotional patterns of re-action, which bring about dis-ease in our mind and body. For more information please refer to our website www.carolynswellbeingsolutions.com.au
    Yours in Peace & Wellbeing.