11 March 2013

Ian Gawler Blog: The Cancer Council, the survivors and the book

Some week I have had! There certainly are some important things to voice, reflect upon and act upon; with lots of relevant links below.

Started with a radio interview with Jon Faine on Melbourne ABC’s Conversation Hour. Then the TV – asked to comment on the Cancer Council’s recent Position Statement regarding Complementary and Alternative therapies on Channel 10’s The Project. All this amidst a number of interviews for New Zealand as a prelude to speaking at their annual Holistic Cancer Congress soon.

Next, took part in one of the most inspiring evenings I can remember, when 3 other cancer survivor/thrivers joined me to share our stories.

Many thanks to (from) left Scott Stephens, Jess Ainscough, Dr Francis Macnab and Ruth MeGowan,; their presentations were deeply heart warming and highly informative. A tribute to the power of the human spirit!

Surviving Cancer was filmed and hopefully will be available soon. Definitely worth watching!

Same time, Dr Francis Macnab graciously and generously launched the new edition of You Can Conquer Cancer.

There is a lot brewing in the world of cancer treatment and management that warrants discussion, but first

Thought for the Day
This is your life, not a rehearsal.
Somewhere there is a score being kept, so you have an obligation to live life as well as you can, be as engaged as you can.
The human condition means that we can zone out and forget what the hell we’re doing. So the secret is to have a sense of your self, your real self, your unique self. And not just once in a while, or once a day, but all through the day, the week and life.
                   Bill Murray. Yes THAT Bill Murray – Ghostbusters, Ground Hog Day etc.

The Cancer Council’s position Statement on Complementary and Alternative Therapies (CAM).

There is a lot to like.

Firstly, the fact that the Council (CCA) has released such a document, given there are so many views on the subject, is to be applauded. This document provides a starting point for more public and professional dialogue.

As a general comment, when it comes to definitions, I consider it respectful and accurate to refer to Traditional Therapies, such as traditional Chinese medicine, in their own right, rather than including them as an “Alternative Therapy”, given that the word “alternative” is used so much these days as a pejorative.

Then too, the sooner Lifestyle Medicine is given separate recognition the better. Lifestyle Medicine is what people can do for themselves and it is what I teach. This is what the Gawler Foundation teaches and supports people to apply in their lives. This is definitely not Alternative therapy, not even Complementary therapy as such, even though it does complement so many other things. Again, Lifestyle Medicine focuses on what people can do for themselves and needs to be seen as a routine part of standard health care.

Secondly, the 7 recommendations generally make good sense and most would welcome them becoming standard practice.  For example it will be wonderful when people with cancer feel confident enough, as recommended, to discuss with their conventional healthcare providers (oncologist, general practitioner, care coordinator) any complementary or alternative therapies they are using or considering using, in order to minimise risk. At present we know at least 50% don’t, and clearly that is because they are often met with indifference, sometimes ridicule, sometimes lack of understanding, or not uncommonly, hostility.

So it would seem clear that if another related recommendation to be met, that the CCA: encourages healthcare providers to routinely discuss the use of complementary and alternative therapies with all cancer patients and survivors, in an open and non-judgemental manner, some training will be needed for doctors so that they can do so.

This training will require skills in communication, empathy and engagement; as well as a good factual base of what is going on in the world of CAM. This has to begin at the Undergraduate level, so when we hear of active lobbying by special interest groups like the Friends of Science in Medicine to cut CAM classes in medical schools, one wonders if they were to succeed how the next generation of doctors will cope and whether they will be able to meet the needs as recommended.

Now we reflect on another recommendation, that the CCA supports the right of individuals to seek information about complementary and alternative therapies, and respects their decision to use them, provided they are not at risk of being harmed, and wonder about the mention of the risk of harm and the question of bias.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) keeps records of adverse drug reactions. In its last year of reporting it cited over 1,000 deaths linked to adverse reactions to conventional medical drugs. For CAM there were only 6 or 7 suspected deaths. We need to keep some perspective here. Based on the evidence, the risks associated with CAM would seem to be relatively minor.

Anyone who knows anything about chemotherapy or even radiotherapy or even the risk of an anaesthetic or operation, would imagine almost any CAM therapy you think of has a far softer risk profile. Obviously even one death is one too many, but many people quite rightly are drawn to more natural therapies because in general they do have less side-effects and are safer. However, there does seem to be a bias in the professions and the media. I can imagine the front page drama if even one death was linked to practising too much meditation, or eating too much good food!

Finally for now comes this, the CCA recommends that the National Health & Medical Research Council funds further scientific studies to examine the safety and efficacy of promising and commonly used complementary and alternative cancer medicines, so that people who have been diagnosed with cancer and healthcare providers can differentiate between those that are not beneficial or are dangerous, and those that may be beneficial.

Please, yes please! For example, lets arrange an outcome study on how intense meditation affects survival times in people with cancer as soon as possible. The Cancer Council has the clout to push for this and I would strongly welcome and support such a study.

So what to do?

You could be socially active, read the ACC statement and write to Prof Ian Olver at the Cancer Council with your response. His email is available publicly: ian.olver@cancer.org.au.  

Speaking personally, I intend to write a more complete response to the Cancer Council’s Position Statement.

Then I plan to contact Prof Ian Olver myself, and ask how it may be possible to engage in taking this document and its recommendations forward.

Finally, it seems time to seriously consider developing a training for health professionals in Integrated Oncology. Such a course could offer an overview of what is on offer in CAM, how that relates to Conventional, Traditional and Lifestyle medicine; and something under consideration for some time now, how health practitioners could train as Lifestyle Coaches and support people to commence and sustain a therapeutic lifestyle – for cancer and maybe for the other chronic, degenerative diseases as well. Anyone interested? If so, please contact me via info@insighthealth.com.au

 It was filmed and hopefully will be available soon. Definitely worth watching!

1. Link to the ABC Conversation Hour interview with Jon Faine

2. The link to the National radio New Zealand interview of March 10 with Chris Laidlaw. Along with the Jon Faine interview, this is one of the better and more relevant interviews I have done in quite a while – great questions, and plenty of time for good discussion.

3. The Cancer Council’s Position Statement on Complementary and Alternative therapies.

4. The Project, TV interview – fast and furious! Would have liked to have some of what was edited out (A lot!) included. Such is life .

5. The new edition of You Can Conquer Cancer

6. The Holistic Cancer Congress, Auckland March 16 and 17

1. WA workshops coming soon:      Denmark April 6,      Perth April 13 and 14

A New Way of Living. Ruth and I look forward to catching up with those we know in the West once again, and to meeting new people. There is so much to share about new developments: neuroplasticity, epigenetics, telomeres, telomerase. All things that have been the subjects of recent major scientific breakthroughs and that translate readily into daily life for disease prevention, rapid recovery and lasting wellbeing!

I will be covering similar material in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane soon, New Zealand again later in the year.

2. Rigpa Melbourne Invites You To

Getting to Know Your Own Mind: the Key to Peace & Happiness

A Sunday Afternoon Public Talk with SOGYAL RINPOCHE
- world-renowned Buddhist teacher from Tibet and author of the highly acclaimed The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

With his remarkable gift for presenting the essence of Tibetan Buddhism in a way that is both authentic and profoundly relevant to the modern mind, Sogyal Rinpoche is one of the most renowned teachers of our time. The atmosphere Rinpoche creates is one of incredible warmth, love, and penetrating insight, as if he were speaking directly to the heart of each and everyone present.

Time & Location: 2:30pm, Sunday, 24th March 2013 Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Convention Centre Place, South Wharf, Melbourne

Tickets: pre-purchase online at: www.rigpa.org.au/ by phone (03) 9877 6811
or at the door from 1:30pm $35 full, $22 concession

Enquiries: Tel: (03) 9417 4488, email: melbourne@rigpa.org.au


  1. I reckon jon faine may be a bit more receptive these days judging by his comments - the huge problem in all of this is if you have no personal experience of say meditation, for example, or even perhaps meditation that has really worked for you it's all just in the realm of the theorteical - and therfor so easily dismissed - then they endlessly demand proof which ironically could actuually just be right in front of them and "in the pudding" so to speak - oh for a meditation "pill" then they would get a inkling - boy would that be hot property !!

  2. Gayle Jennings in the cenversation hour said something along the lines of "there is no evidence that meditation induces celluar change" -now "spontaneosus remission" western medicines favorite expression for a remarkable and against the odds recovery would involve rather alot of "celluar change" and to follow on - remarkable recoveries are statistically higher for people who have practiced techniques taught by the Gawler Foundation - not concrete evidence of course but surely a strong indicator and then of course there is all that anecdotal eveidence.......