23 March 2015

Why people with cancer who do not follow an integrated approach are missing out

For many years I worked as a veterinarian. I loved that work and learnt a few things. A dog with a broken leg has a simple health issue to manage. It does not need to attend a support group to learn how to cope with its illness and give itself the best chance of recovery.

By contrast, any person diagnosed with cancer who does not manage their illness in an integrated way, including attending an educational support group, in my considered opinion is severely limiting their chances of survival and of living well beyond cancer.

So this week, lets go Out on a Limb once more and examine the differences between a broken leg and cancer, an why an integrated approach to cancer management is mandatory, but first

Thought for the Day

May you find in me the Mother of the World.

May my heart be a mother’s heart, 
My hands be a mother’s hands.

May my response to your suffering 
Be a mother’s response to your suffering.

May I sit with you in the dark, 
Like a mother sits in the dark.

May you know through our relationship 
That there is something in this world that can be trusted.

Anonymous letter from a young Medical student

Working as a veterinarian, much of it was simple in the relative scheme of things. Take repairing a broken leg for example. The cause was something everyone could agree upon. Little Johnny left the side-gate open, the dog ran onto the road, the car hit the dog. Broken leg. Simple.

Diagnosis was usually simple. Maybe a clinical examination was enough; if an X Ray was needed the benefit far outweighed the risk. Simple.

Then repair would involve immobilization, maybe even surgery, but again, simple.

The healing phase too was straight forward. A dog can eat just about anything and a broken leg will heal. The dog’s emotions seem to be of no concern to the healing process; and what is going on in the dog’s head, its thoughts, just like its spiritual life – no problem. In fact, it is all simple!

Best of all with a broken leg, the final outcome is generally good. They nearly always heal. Well.

In fact, it is common knowledge that as broken bones heal they often over-compensate so that the part that was broken often ends up stronger than the original bone. This fact spawned the New Age healing saying “We get stronger at the broken places”.

Contrast all of this with the complexity involved when a human being is dealing with cancer.

When it comes to the cause, cancer is known to be a multi-factorial, chronic degenerative disease.

People commonly ask after diagnosis

“Why me? How did this happen to me?”

While much is known in answer to the basic question, for the individual concerned, the full story it is usually far from simple.

Then there is diagnosis. Often complicated. Sometimes there are contradictory test results,
interpretations. Sometimes not accurate enough and diagnosis is missed or delayed.

When it comes to treatment it is a sad fact that most current cancer treatments are quite tough on the person involved, and by extension, their families and friends. Clearly, not everyone survives a cancer diagnosis. Around one third die in the first 5 years. Far from simple.

Then when it comes to the healing phase, that phase that accompanies and goes on after any medical treatment, just about everything you can think of has some part to play. What someone eats influences outcome. Exercise. Sunlight. Emotional health. Mental state. Accessing the power of the mind. Spiritual life. Mind-Body Medicine.

All these thing warrant being taken into consideration. For some, the choices they make in this arena can truly make the difference between life and death.

Then there are other things to consider. Complementary therapies. Alternatives. How family and friends are coping. How they can be helpful rather than a hindrance. Financial issues. Finding meaning. Life after cancer. Reconciling death. And on and on.

Clearly, every aspect of cancer management is complex.

If someone diagnosed with cancer were to concentrate on just one aspect of the disease, like the medical treatment, they would be missing so many other important aspects. If someone diagnosed with cancer was to attempt to sort out all the complex issues on their own, how could we possibly imagine they would succeed?

Management of cancer demands an integrated approach. This means approaching the significance of the disease, its personal meaning, and its recovery by considering the body, the emotions, the mind and the spirit.

An integrated approach also involves working with an integrated team of health professionals as well as giving a pre-eminent place to consideration of what the person can do for themselves.

Attending to the latter effectively, learning what to do for yourself, is most effectively accomplished in a group setting. Residential programs are ideal as they provide the opportunity to withdraw from day-to-day life, to find genuine hope, to experience the recommended lifestyle changes such as the therapeutic foods and meditation, to learn from peers, to be inspired, to learn and to make good choices.

Sometimes I do miss the simplicity of my old veterinary days when treating broken bones was a delight. But actually, working with people amidst the complexity of managing cancer, seeing how well people do in body, mind and spirit when following this integrated path, helping to sort out the complexity, finding peace of mind amidst all this; being a part of all this is even more extra-ordinary – and wonderful.


The world lost one of its bright flames recently. Many who read this blog will have come to know Jess Ainscough, The Wellness Warrior in some way. I was fortunate to know her over the years and was deeply saddened by her death.

Jane Treleaven has written a wonderful piece on her own reaction/ response to Jess’ death; it is highly recommended. LINK HERE

                  Jess speaking at a Cancer Survivors meeting in Melbourne

NEW BOOK – also highly recommended

Time to Care
Robin Youngson is a New Zealand Anaesthetist who I had the good fortune to meet some years back. He offers a powerful voice for bringing more compassion into medicine and speaks in a way his colleagues can relate to. He is the founder of Hearts in Healthcare.

In today’s beleaguered healthcare system, burdened with epidemic levels of stress, depression and burnout, Time to Care offers health professionals the opportunity of renewal. Here are the secrets to building a happy and fulfilling practice, wellbeing and resilience.

Youngson bravely relates his own transition, from detached clinician to a champion for humane whole-patient care; at times poignant, sometimes funny and always brutally honest.


CANCER and BEYOND  May 2015   Monday 4th at 11am to Friday 8th at 2pm

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley

This program is specifically designed for those with cancer or in remission, along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, have a real rest, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.


Eight day Residential Program in New Zealand   May 15th  –  22nd , 2015

All welcome with a diagnosis or in remission; attendance with a partners and support people welcome.

This program will guide you through all the self-healing principles:
. Therapeutic nutrition
. Practical positive thinking
. Therapeutic meditation, plus the healing power of imagery and contemplation
. Accelerated healing
. Healthy, healing emotions
. Getting the most out of conventional medical treatments and minimising side-effects
. Being most effective as a support person/carer, and to looking after yourself in the process.

I will be leading most of the main sessions, with support from Ruth and 2 exceptional New Zealanders. We live-in for the full program so there is plenty of time for questions and personal interaction.

This program is organized and supported by Canlive New Zealand.


THE CONNECTION – There will be a screening in Melbourne soon of this excellent film length documentary film, followed by a forum with questions, answers and discussion led by Dr Craig Hassed, Prof George Jelinek and myself

Wednesday    April 8th    7pm
Classic Cinemas      9 Gordon St    Elsternwick



  1. I really like how you explain ways to follow an integrated approach and how you compare it to a dog having a broken bone. Thank you for sharing once again. On an another note, I am surprised to learn that Jess is gone. I used to read her blog and may be one or two more blogs found through your website. But the truth is that I gave up on blogs and e-mails, because your blog Ian allowed me to remained focused, to work on what I believe on. Thank you for being there, for sharing so simply what you do, know, and believe in. To me, you are an inspiration backing up what I learned and still learn from my parents and family members. Your articles and information are always good to read.

  2. While it is certainly desirable to follow an integrated approach, for those of us who have little money it is very difficult. Organic food costs more (often MUCH more) than non-organic food, supplementary vitamins etc. cost money, inspiring programs and complementary therapies cost money. For those who are struggling just to exist, all of this is out of reach. Fortunately, there are some things that are free ... meditation, practices like QiGong for example. But I would dearly love to see someone addressing the issue of people with cancer who lack the financial resources to take advantage of and 'integrated' approach.

  3. Dogs are considered as one of the most active pets that any pet parent can have. They are generally athletic and full of energy to roam around the house and lawn. This amount of stamina can provide hours of enjoyment and interaction between the dog and its pet parent. However, accidents may happen along the way that may injure a dog. See more http://dogsaholic.com/care/dogs-broken-leg.html