31 October 2016

Controversy – to speak or not to speak? And amazing photographic proof.

It is a difficult thing this. Six years ago, the accuracy of my cancer diagnosis was challenged by 2 oncologists. They put forward a hypothesis that the secondary cancer that created large lesions throughout my body, and from which I recovered, was not actually cancer at all – just tuberculosis (TB).

This is what they called TB – photos of my chest in 1976 showing extensive secondary bone cancer protruding from my sternum (the boney part in the middle of the chest). These lesions were solid bone - as hard as any bone in your body - the consequence of secondary bone cancer spreading.

The truth is that I did have both. I did develop secondary osteo-genic sarcoma first, and this was complicated later by a TB infection (in my left lung only) that most likely started after I had chemotherapy for the cancer, and that chemotherapy actually weakened my immune system.

Scientifically, the doctors were quite within their rights to put forward the TB only hypothesis. Not sure what their motive really was, but in the event, their challenge and the way it was reported in the Press appeared to attack not only my own credibility, but also that of the lifestyle based cancer support work I have been involved with for over 35 years.

The dilemma at the time was whether or not to respond in public to the hypothesis. 
My concern was that if it was not made completely clear that the hypothesis was wrong, then sections of the public might become confused and conclude that if the diagnosis was incorrect, then the work itself was in some way invalid.

This despite the fact that the work had been clearly shown to be helping so many people for over 30 years by the time this controversy unfolded. Clearly the validity of the work stands in its own right and is not dependent of my own personal medical history, but clearly also, the two are intertwined to some degree in the public view.

So I did respond in an attempt to prove the facts. Unfortunately, the press at the time seemed more intent on fueling controversy than establishing the truth.

Despite clear evidence the “TB only” hypothesis was incorrect, there has been no admition from the doctors concerned that they were wrong, and no clear statement in the scientific or popular Press they were incorrect and that I did in fact undoubtedly have secondary cancer.

Therefore, in some sections of the community, confusion was created and has lingered, some confidence has been lost, and some people in the ensuing years have stepped back from engaging with self-help programs – a very regrettable outcome.

Hence the difficulty. Given Google’s capacity to enable old material to remain prominent on the net for years, this uncertainty carries on in the minds of some. So do I just wear it as it were, or do I continue to respond?

Many suggest in these types of situations not to respond. There is good spiritual advice to simply accept personal criticism – good, sound advice. The PR spin doctors often recommend to keep quiet in the face of work criticism.
Yet six years after all this was first aired, there still seems to be some uncertainty amidst some sections of the community. It is of deep concern that it seems to be causing some people in need to be standing back and missing out on what could help them; maybe even missing out on what could make the difference for them between life and death. So what to do?

An invitation to speak
In the lead up to presenting a meditation retreat and then a specific residential program for people affected by cancer in New Zealand, I was invited recently to speak with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand.

There was no prior indication of what type of interview she  had in mind.

Kim is a senior and well-respected journalist who has a reputation for being “rigorous”. She prepares thoroughly, is very well informed and can be confronting.

Kim has a huge following of people who love the way she interrogates some, dismantles others and basically exposes people for what they are. She can be quite daunting! Alternatively, she also has a great capacity to be light and witty.

Having been interviewed by Kim some years ago on TV, I found her interrogative style provided an excellent forum in which to answer the questions many would think about our work, but maybe not have the gumption to ask for themselves. So I agreed to this recent radio interview, strapped myself in and awaited what would happen…

Shall we say it was lively? Kim dived straight into all the controversies with some vigor! From the diagnosis to coffee enemas and on to the basic relevance of the self help approach in cancer medicine - and many parts in between.

The Radio New Zealand website has published a synopsis of the interview, and so I have quoted it directly here for you to read. Or you can link to the podcast and hear the whole interview :

If the link does not work, put this into your search engine http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201821004

Thanks for the kind feedback and support that has been offered by many who have listened to it already; it seems many appreciated what they perceived to be the benefit of my meditation practice enabling a calm manner and voice to endure under tough questioning.

The proof of the secondary cancer diagnosis
What the synopsis has not included is the discussion around a key question asked during the interview – How can you be sure your diagnosis was accurate and the TB only hypothesis was false?

In another blog, 11 points have been recorded that clearly establish the truth of the secondary cancer diagnosis. The most incontrovertible of these in my opinion concerns the fact that I was treated with chemotherapy, and what the consequences of that treatment were.

The chemotherapy I received has no known activity against TB. This means it could not cause TB lesions to shrink. Also, as chemotherapy dampens the immune system, the world authority on TB – Dr Jonathan Streeton- who treated my TB was adamant that given how widespread my lesions were, if they had been TB, with no defences to resist it, the TB would have become rampant, and he was convinced I would have been overwhelmed with infection and died.

The facts of what did happen during the course of my chemotherapy are very clear. Firstly I did not get worse. Nor did I actually die! Secondly, the cancer actually did shrink in response to the chemo; not a great deal, but enough to be clear that it was having some effect on the cancer, not flaring up and aggravating TB.

This shrinkage was confirmed by photos taken at the time in a series once each month – and added below - along with a letter I have retained from the treating oncologist at the time who actually measured and recorded the size of the visible lesions on my chest at the start and the end of the course of chemotherapy.

What would you do?
So I must say I am curious… What do you think? Better to keep quiet? Or better to speak up? My sense is that this issue may well keep reappearing, at least for a while. I may be asked about it again in the future. What would you do?

The photographic proof
1. Photo of my chest taken at the start of 10 weeks of chemotherapy treatment - October 1976.

2. The date when the above photo was taken has been questioned by some, but it comes from the days when Kodak actually printed the dates of printing on the photo’s reverse, so just to be completely clear, here is the reverse with the date made clear.

3. Three groups of sequential photos taken monthly of my chest by my first wife from the start of chemotherapy - showing a clear response to that treatment that continued on until all the lesions had gone 18 months later. The dates were written at the time under each photo, but these dates  are not so clear when reproduced here.

4 Photo of my chest free of lesions taken on 25th April 1978 (printed May 1978)

5. Reverse of the photo above showing its date clearly confirmed.

Anyway, for today, here we go again – way Out on a Limb this time with the verbatim transcript copied directly from the Radio New Zealand website, but first

Thought for the day

Remembering that you are going to die 
Is the best way I know 

To avoid the trap of thinking 
You have something to lose.

You are already naked.

There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs

Dr Ian Gawler, who is in New Zealand with his wife Dr Ruth Gawler to run courses including a residential programme, talks with Kim Hill.

A synopsis from the interview put to air Saturday 22nd October 2016. 

And here is the link – CLICK HERE .
If the link does not work, put this into your search engine http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201821004

Dr Ian Gawler is one of Australia's most experienced authorities on mind-body medicine and meditation.

He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, over 40 years ago. His right leg was amputated, and then he was told the cancer had metastasised into a lung, his pelvis and his spine. He was given only two weeks to live.

That diagnosis and Dr Gawler’s claim to be the only person in the world to survive secondary osteosarcoma have come under scrutiny in Australia. He has become the centre of an argument about the ethics of the promotion of the mind’s ability to cure cancer. 

Dr Gawler says that after his diagnosis with osteosarcoma in 1975, he got the best medical advice he could, as well as scouring medical libraries. He could find no evidence of anyone living more than six months with a condition such as he had.

“The diagnosis was well established and the prognosis was very grim.”

He then had chemotherapy, which he says was not meant to be curative.

“It was meant to be palliative and buy me some time. And I think that’s what it did – it bought me enough time to get the benefit of these other things and I’m here talking to you now.”

Yet Dr Gawler wants to make it clear he’s not anti-science or anti-medicine.
“That’s never been the case. I’ve always been interested in how you get the best out of both worlds."

Cancer treatment has three aspects, as he sees it – getting the best medical help you can, looking at natural and complementary therapies that might be useful and, most importantly, doing what you can do for yourself.

He believes that through lifestyle changes “applied fairly intensively” people can greatly contribute to their own recovery and wellbeing, alongside other treatments they may be getting.

He says he's troubled that even though one of the major potential causes of cancer is bad diet, many doctors still get virtually no training in nutrition. Coming from a veterinary background himself, therapeutic nutrition makes very obvious sense.

“You go to the vet with a pet and one of the first things you’ll always be asked is ‘What are you feeding your dog or your cat?’ Because it’s important.
"Most people would go to a GP repeatedly and never be asked that question because the GPs for some reason just aren’t trained in nutrition, they don’t value it.”

When you get heart disease, a doctor will tell you at the first appointment how lifestyle change can have a positive effect on your disease, he says.
The fact doctors don't often have such conversations at the time of cancer diagnosis is “an incredible error of omission,” Dr Gawler says.

“In cancer medicine most patients aren’t being advised by the doctors that what they do with their lifestyle can have a significant impact on the future of their condition.”

A diet that aids recovery from cancer is anti-inflammatory and regenerative, he says.

“Having a sensible approach to nutrition and recognising what you eat has a direct impact on your health and your wellbeing and specifically your capacity to heal – that should be normalised, that should be a given.”

“At the very least get on to a diet that’s not going to be provoking the cancer more.”

He guesses his own cancer was caused by a "very high-meat diet" and his "typical cancer prone personality" (also known as the C-type personality).

“I’ve had close connection with about 20,000 cancer patients over these past years. I would say of those at least 90 percent would recognise this cancer-prone personality.”

So what is this personality type?

“Their way of stress management is to try and please people, to be compliant. They tend to be people who have difficulty saying no to requests and they tend to internalise their emotions.

"They’re not the type of people who get angry. They’re the type of people who like to keep the peace and they make a lot of effort to do that. They put other people ahead of themselves to the detriment of themselves.”

Dr Gawler recommends people diagnosed with a major illness start doing what they can to live as healthily and happily as possible. Being active in your own treatment can reverse some of the fear, he says, and even help people die peacefully.

“I’ve seen people who’ve had really advanced cancer, who’ve died of that cancer and who’ve died with virtually no symptoms – no pain, no difficulty – they’ve just died. They died well. They died without a lot of pain, they died in a good state of mind. They died knowing that they’d done all that they could.”

Again, here is the link – – CLICK HERE .
If the link does not work, put this into your search engine http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201821004

1. I have never actually claimed to be the only person in the world to recover from secondary osteogenic sarcoma as is stated in the synopsis.

What I have said is that when diagnosed with secondary osteogenic sarcoma in 1975, I could find no records in the medical literature of that day of anyone surviving more than 6 months. This latter fact is reported in the synopsis.

2. It could be misleading that it is said in the synopsis that my cancer “was caused by a "very high-meat diet" and his "typical cancer prone personality””.

Cancer is a multifactorial, chronic degenerative disease. While i agree that the 2 issues listed were significant, to be clear, there were other issues as well, not just those two. If you are interested, in You Can Conquer Cancer there is a full chapter on what i regard as the main causes of cancer, including detail of the cancer prone personality.

Ian Gawler's diagnosis - if it looks like a duck... Lists the 11 pieces of medical evidence that clearly establish my diagnosis of secondary osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) and dismiss the TB only hypothesis.

17 October 2016

Dramatic changes in cancer medicine over the last 35years

If you had been diagnosed with cancer 35 years ago, in all probability you would have approached it very differently to how you might today; and the treatment and manner in which you would have been treated would also have been very different.

It being 35 years since the very first meeting of the Melbourne Cancer Support Group (16th September 1981), it seems timely to record observations of these far reaching changes. So what follows is a major piece that examines the changes in many areas. This is longer than the average post by quite a way, so settle in; maybe a cup of tea???,  but first

     Thought for the day
Physical quietness 
Seems the easiest to achieve, 
Although there are levels and levels of this too, 
As attested by the ability of Hindu mystics 
To live buried alive for many days. 

Mental quietness, 
In which one has no wandering thoughts at all, 
Seems more difficult, but can be achieved. 

But value quietness, 
In which one has no wandering desires at all 
But simply performs the acts of his life without desire; 
That seems the hardest.

                                        Robert Persig

Changes in Cancer Medicine over the last 35 years


Has gone from being very much on the fringe and treated with generalized suspicion, to having a powerful Evidence Base and widespread support amongst Health Professionals and the public.

In cancer medicine specifically, there is very strong anecdotal evidence for meditation’s widespread benefits. The Evidence Base for quality of life benefits is so strong that they have to be accepted. However, remarkably, despite over 7,000 studies having been published on meditation, including for many health interventions, there are still no outcome trials published with meditation as a therapeutic intervention for cancer.


Has gone from being virtually unknown as a word or technique in 1981 to the flavor of the month that has no prospect of going away.

Mindfulness has been branded as secular meditation and as such has overcome many of the boundaries meditation faced in earlier days.

The very positive anecdotal evidence (as in what people say about their practice) and the strong Evidence Base is similar to that for meditation – and overlaps quite a deal.

Therapeutic Nutrition

Has gone from being ridiculed at worst and misunderstood at best by the medical profession, to now having an emerging Evidence Base that is becoming compelling.

However, despite this, most doctors seem to fail to grasp the powerful, positive therapeutic potential nutrition offers to those affected by cancer. This failure is still reflected in the community where therapeutic nutrition is still often undervalued and therefore overlooked.

The single most powerful determinant in this error of omission – failing to recognize the value of, and actively promoting, therapeutic nutrition – is the ongoing lack of nutritional training for doctors.

As a veterinarian by my own original training, I continue to be amazed by this deficit, and feel a deep sadness for all those people who would be helped if their doctors encouraged them to attend to what they eat.

Emotional Health and Healing

Has gone from being a non-issue in society to becoming highly visible.

In 1981, as a young decathlon athlete I had my right leg amputated through the hip. My surgeon was a kind, compassionate man and I felt his distress and compassion; however, no one offered me any counseling, no one addressed my emotional health. No one considered how my emotional state might affect my future – either in terms of risk of suicide, general wellbeing or regarding a relapse.

These days, depression and suicide are such big community concerns the whole landscape has changed. These issues are spoken of openly and the link between emotional state and body function is clear.

Mental Health, State of Mind and Healing

Often labeled as “Positive Thinking”, in 1981 this field had popular support amongst the community. Doctors often said “well, can’t imagine it will do any good, but at least it probably will do no harm”. So it, along with our groups, was tolerated and generally thought of as being somewhat useful.

Around a decade ago, there came a fad to attack Positive Thinking. My own understanding of this was that the criticism grew out of a lack of understanding. There is a big difference between Wishful Thinking – where you hope for the best and do nothing about it, and Positive Thinking – where you hope for the best AND you do a lot about it.

My sense is the criticism was aimed at Wishful Thinking, and this seems fair enough. However, some did not realize that Positive Thinking is not just a state of mind. Positive Thinking is an invitation to hard work, to doing a lot about fulfilling good intentions – like actually changing what you eat and meditating regularly, not just dreaming about doing it some day.

In cancer medicine specifically, the field of Psycho-oncology has emerged as a major specialty that studies and therapeutically applies the links between emotions, mind and body. The peak body for practitioners in this field is the International Psycho-oncolgy Society; a group I have been a member of for about 20 years.

Death and Dying

Yes, things have changed here too!

In 1981, this was close to being a taboo subject across the community.

Along came Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (fond memories of her visit to our centre in the mid 80s) and the conversations opened.

My life’s work and the Gawler Foundation itself may well be known for helping people overcome the many challenges cancer presents, however, one thing we have done particularly well since those very early days – and we do not seem to be so well known for this – is that we have helped many people along with their families and friends to experience a good death.

Cancer Medicine

In 1981 mainstream cancer treatment was all about surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Five year survival rates on average for all people diagnosed with cancer was about 50%. Often the treatments were pretty tough on the patients.

In 2016, there is a general acceptance amongst the Oncology world that the limits of future benefits achievable from better forms of surgery, chemotherapy as it was and radiotherapy may well have been reached. This being said, improvements in these fields has taken the 5 year survival average to around 65% - a significant gain, and management of treatment side-effects is much better.

What is emerging are new “Biologically Elegant“ forms of treatment. The most notable of these has been the recent emergence of Immuno-therapies that can activate and target the bodies own immune system against an individual’s cancer.

These treatments of real hope for longer term survival for some (often small) groups of patients, but come at high cost (often $100,000 - $150,000 per person per year), can have tough side-effects and are currently somewhat unpredictable in who they will actually help.

However, clearly what these treatments do prove is that the immune system can be a powerful therapeutic force in cancer medicine. I remember being ridiculed for putting forward this hypothesis as a way of explaining the regular spectacular long term recoveries we saw back in those early days of the ‘80s (and continue to see). Times do change…

Worth commenting too - it seems far more younger people are being diagnosed with cancer, and for them, their cancers often seem to be more aggressive. Highlights the need for more attention going to prevention

Palliative Care
In the ‘80s people were often told by well meaning, and often quite disappointed doctors (who to be fair often did not communicate all that well) that there was nothing more that could be done for them medically except to refer them to Palliative Care.

Palliative Care in the ‘80s was about caring for people as they went through the process of dying. No treatment as such was involved.

In current time, I suggest that in Cancer Medicine, Palliative Care is better described as Palliative Treatment.

Nowadays many are maintained on chemotherapy, all too often vigorously, and one has to wonder at the balance between quality of life issues and the small gains that maybe follow in survival times.

There is also much comment in the medical literature regarding the financial costs of this palliative Treatment and what economic forces are driving it.

One major effect of this change is that in the ‘80s, people in a Palliative Care situation knew where they stood. They were told nothing could be done for them medically, so if they still aspired to recover, they knew they needed to be very thorough.

These days many are between camps as it were.

Please be clear here. I am not against medical treatment in any form. Much of it is particularly useful and effective. Obviously. Yet equally obviously we need to be able to observe and comment when it is limited, is not used well, or has unwanted effects on those it intends to help.

So, today, many people affected by cancer that have a poor prognosis are being offered Palliative Treatment. This is not intended to cure, but may help with symptoms and extend survival. Good intentions.

In fact, what this means is that many of these people pin their hopes on the external treatment. Many in fact form the fantasy that the Palliative Treatment will actually become curative, despite being told this is highly unlikely (again to be clear – unlikely, but not impossible. I have known people who have used their own resources to create a cure around a palliative treatment, so this whole field is somewhat tricky.)

But for many, their attention to self-help options is lessened. In my experience, this may well diminish the chance of unexpected, long-term recovery.

The media
Wow! How this has changed. In the early years, the Press consisted of the print media, radio and TV. All were genuinely interested in this work, gave us very good press, and when they arranged debates gave both sides a fair and equitable voice.

In more recent times the media has become incredibly diverse. Social media has emerged as a major means for communication and spawned a whole new field of expertise that many has left behind and made it much harder for small groups to reach their audience. Tabloid journalism has become a much bigger influence on people’s opinions.

Another new phenomena is that courtesy of Google, anything adverse has the potential to stick around for years. Some media experts would advise that even speaking of this is unwise, but it is a very unhelpful fact.

Enough to say that since 1981 there have been many thousands of people deeply grateful for attending the cancer groups and personally, I am very grateful to the media for helping to change community awareness when it comes to what a person affected by cancer can do for themselves.


In 1981, there were very few cancer self-help books.

The Simonton’s Getting Well Again (first published 1978) focused on Guided Imagery and psychology and was well on its way to becoming a classic, while Larry Le Shan’s You Can Fight For Your Life: Emotional Factors in the Treatment of Cancer (1980) was another great book of the few that has stood the test of time.

Most of the nutrition books represented particular viewpoints like The Kelley Diet or Gerson’s A Cancer Therapy – results of 50 cases.

You Can Conquer Cancer was first published in 1984 and was possibly the world’s first book on the truly integrated approach to cancer management from the patient’s perspective. It has remained in continuous print since, has been majorly revised recently and translated into over a dozen languages.

Giving You Can Conquer Cancer to someone recently diagnosed with cancer remains my best suggestion as a starting point.

Those directly affected by cancer
Back in the 80s, most people came to our cancer groups driven by fear. They suffered from a lack of information and often felt like they were in a hopeless situation.

From the groups, they learnt there was so much they could do (the groups were a source of
information), that recovery was possible; maybe not easy, but possible – and hope was created.

Many did have unexpected long-term recoveries, many extended their lives significantly. Most found a new level of meaning, purpose and inner peace. It was amazing to be a part of it all.

Now in 2016, some do still come to the groups driven by fear, however, many more come recognising that there is a lot they can do to help themselves and that they need help to learn how best to use their own resources to manage their illness and to contribute to their survival.

Most come over-loaded with information. From the groups they learn more about how to prioritize what they could do – what is useful, what to leave out. The groups act as a filter for all that information.

Having been in existence for over 35 years, these groups are the repository of so much information and experience that we can talk to people directly – from the research and from the accumulated experience of so many people who have attended over the year. It continues to be amazing to be a part of it all.

In1981 there was virtually nothing in this field.

In 1984 I was invited by the Peter Mac Hospital to consider a joint research project with them and the Anti-Cancer Council as it was in those days. This suggestion was quashed by the Anti-Cancer Council.

As an organization, during the late 80s we then put quite some energy into developing our own in house research project. We actually attempted too big a study and could not manage it.

We then began ongoing collaborations external research projects examining quality of life benefits,
and one that looked at survival times. These collaborations have continued on over the years and I imagine would still be taken up as new opportunities present.

We did combine with Monash Medical School and all its resources, headed by Dr Craig Hassed, and twice approached the Cancer Council for major funding for an outcome study. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all, these were not successful.

The lack of research into the impact of a Lifestyle Medicine based self help group on cancer patient survival seems an area of omission. Cynics say there is no money to be gained from finding out if self-help interventions are effective.

For me, I just look forward to when some major organization or philanthropist puts up the fairly considerable amount of money required to fund such a study. My sense is many people would like to see the results.


We change.

Life changes.

Cancer management changes.

It continues to be amazing to be a part of it all.

Are you contributing to change?

Resisting change?

Or just going with the flow???


Meditation Retreat - coming very soon!
Ruth and I, with the help of Liz Stillwell, will personally lead our next 7 day meditation retreat in New Zealand :  October 22 - 28.

Next Aussie one, April 2017 in the Yarra Valley.

In NZ, we will give attention to the major experiences of deeper meditation – stillness, clarity and bliss. We will explore these states experientially and examine their relevance in an ongoing and satisfying meditation practice.

This promises to be one of the very best retreats – well worth travelling from Australia to attend, or making the journey to the glorious Mana Retreat Centre from anywhere around New Zealand.


Specific cancer residential programs 

8 days In Wanaka New Zealand 
- November 3 - 10
This is a comprehensive program focusing on activating and targeting the immune system, accelerating healing, much more on a therapeutic lifestyle, along with a range of strategies for heightening emotional health and wellbeing.

Again we will have the incomparable help of Liz Stillwell and the amazing Stew Burt - the ideal starting point for everyone affected by cancer.

5 days in the Yarra Valley : November 14 - 18
More designed as a follow-up cancer program for those who have done a previous program with Ruth and myself, the Foundation, or one of its affiliates. Call the Foundation for details of eligibility.