13 April 2015

Integrated oncology - why cancer management necessitates a broad approach

This is an important post that I hope you might share with anyone you know affected by cancer. It sets out my concerns for many facing a diagnosis of cancer today; they may well be missing out on what could dramatically improve their quality of life, as well as what could even save their life.

Here is the thing. For many years I worked as a veterinarian. I loved that work.

Over the last 30 years I have worked with people affected with cancer. I continue to love that work, but let us be very clear.

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 attend an educational support group to learn how to manage their illness and give themselves the best chance of recovery is severely limiting their chances.

So this week, lets go Out on a Limb once more and examine why this is so and 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. The cost was modest. 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. Often expensive. Sometimes there are contradictory test results. Interpretation is not so easy. Sometimes 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.

Most are becoming incredibly expensive.

Clearly too, 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. Just about everything warrants attention.

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 simple 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 Cancer Council, the survivors and the book
This is an important post that chronicles the Cancer Council of Australia’s position statement on Complimentary and Alternative therapies. If you have not seen it already, it is must reading and it may help inform discussions with some medical staff – if they need reminding of what their guidelines are. Another vital post to share with those in need.

You Can Conquer Cancer This is an ideal introduction for anyone affected by cancer who is interested to know what they can do to help themselves, or how they can help the one they love.

CDs or Downloads
The Gawler Cancer Program: Outlines how cancer develops and how this self help approach can help the healing.

What to do when someone you love has cancer: Essential listening providing clear guidance for those supporting people affected by cancer, whether family, friends or health professionals.

Ruth and I really enjoy leading specific cancer residential programs together, as well as the much more general meditation retreats we present.

In 2015, we will be presenting two follow-up 5 day residential cancer programs for the Gawler Foundation plus another in New Zealand for Canlive. We will also present one full 8 day program (also in New Zealand for Canlive) that will be well suited to anyone who has not done a program with us before – see more details below. Australians are welcome in NZ and vice-versa!

Also, The Gawler Foundation (where I am no longer on full time staff) presents regular cancer residential programs that are world class (in fact I doubt that there is anything to reasonably compare with the quality of what is being presented by the Gawler team!) Link here


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. Jess is featured in the related blog linked above. I was fortunate to know her over the years and was deeply saddened by her death.

It has been even more saddening to read some of the ill-informed commentary on her life choices and her influence since she has died.

Those of us who had the good fortune to know Jesse well knew her for what she was – an incredibly bright and positive person who made considered choices in the face of her own very difficult circumstances, and who inspired many with hope in a well measured way.

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


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.

FULL DETAILS Click here 


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.



  1. Hello, Ian. I tend to disagree with the Thought of the Day. I have been supporting cancer patients for more than 6 years. Most of them were seeking a "mum" in me or in their oncologist. According to the research by Dr. Eisenk and Dr. Grossarth-Maticeck, individuals with cancer live longer and better if they learn autonomous behaviour. Therefore I see my job in developing their inner strength and the ability to "grow" so they do not need a "mother" anymore. They have a better chance of survival then.

    Olga Beliak
    Naturopath at Olgarithm

  2. Olga makes a good point. Sense of "control" is vitally important in cancer self-care (which is very much a part of integrative treatment and management). How "control" and self-care is expressed, however, may include placing faith, to whatever extent, in a "mother" figure, or drawing strength and empowerment from a group. There is no black and white in this, I think. As Ian says, cancer self-care is complex and personal.