13 November 2017


She propped herself in the corner of a sofa so she could stay upright. Her head wobbled and from time to time her eyes seem to loose focus and wander uncontrollably. The time was the 16th of September 1981; the lady in question had an advanced brain tumour and a prognosis in terms of weeks. The occasion was the first ever meeting of the Melbourne Cancer Support Group and my friend from way back then is still alive.

At 2pm on Friday 24th November 2017 I will conclude my last cancer residential program.

During these past 36 years I have experienced and witnessed so many remarkable things.

People learning how to live well and to die well.

People recovering against the odds.

People combining to help and support each other.

The delight of shared human experience.

So much gratitude for the many outstanding people who contributed to this work. So much frustration with the lack of interest, understanding and uptake by large sections of the medical profession; the welcome and increasing support from those with more vision and base intelligence.

And a blend of satisfaction and disappointment with the slow but steady increase in availability of the programs more widely - happy to see so many groups around the world offering this work; dismay that my own Foundation needed to cease offering the non-residential cancer programs for lack of uptake and now is reducing the 10 day residential program from 10 to 5 days to match demand.

What we can be certain of is that everything changes. It is time for me to change and so this week, time for gratitude; time to acknowledge some of the wonderful pioneering people who have made what has been accomplished so far possible, but first

Thought for the day : The Ultimate Attainment

The past is already past;
Do not try to regain it.
The present does not stay;
Do not try to touch it.
From moment to moment,
The future has not come;
Do not think about it

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments
To be kept;
There is no filth to be cleansed.
With empty mind really penetrated, 
The dharmas have no life.

When you can be like this,
You have completed
The ultimate attainment.

P'ang Yün - 8th century Zen Master

The full list of who to thank goes on forever, but maybe it is possible to thank those who were the first in their respective arenas; the pioneers…

The first to thank is my first wife Grace who helped establish the Melbourne Cancer Support Group and then the Foundation. Grace used her experience of helping me to recover and went on to study naturopathy with Dorothy Hall. She spoke to so many people on the telephone in the early days, led some groups and helped develop the program; a huge contribution.

First publicity
Back in 1981The Age featured my story on its Saturday edition the week before the program started. This informed the public of what was on offer and ensured good attendance right from the beginning.

The first group
Much gratitude to that first group. They trusted me enough and were inspired by my story enough to give what was on offer a go; and in doing so, established that the program was worth persevering with. It all developed from them.

First therapist
Mike Sowerby was a vet student when he developed cancer of the kidney. He recovered without medical treatment, joined us with little relevant training but  used his experience, intelligence and insight to become highly effective. Mike went on to study Jungian psychology amongst other things and continues to work in WA.

So many exceptional, dedicated, compassionate, wise therapists have followed in Mike’s footsteps.

First receptionist/administrator
Barbara Bowman came when we opened our first pokey little office in a suburban shopping strip in Mont Albert and did her best helping us to develop systems to support the program.

Then so many amazingly dedicated staff over the ensuing years; so many.

Not always easy working in the pressure cooker of helping those facing major illness, but so much gratitude for the dedication and the ability to put the needs of those we were helping first and foremost and for creating such a welcoming, supportive and healing atmosphere.

                                                                                                  Staff Christmas party 2009
First volunteer
Not sure who this would have been as many people came forward from the very earliest days with offers to help. At one stage in the late 80s, The Foundation had provided extensive training to a team of around 200 volunteers who provided individual support to every person who joined the Melbourne Cancer Support Group; but then we have relied on volunteers in so many aspects of this work.

First President
In 1983 The Foundation became an Incorporated Association - a not-for-profit, charitable institution with tax-deductible status. First president was Morrie Watts, husband of Bessie who had experienced a remarkable recovery from breast cancer after attending the groups.

Over the years there have been many Presidents, many board members and being those who take ultimate responsibility for the Foundation everyone involved owes them much gratitude.

First patron/ mentor
Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop was father to one of my University friends and took an interest in this cancer work from its earliest days. While never a “formal” patron, Weary launched You Can Conquer Cancer while Patron of the Anti-Cancer Council as it was back then and gave strong support to our work helping people with cancer to help themselves. It was a privilege and a delight to meet with him regularly, to discuss and seek his wise counsel on issues as the unfolded around the Foundation.

First major donors
Dorothy and Ken Edglow, Bill McHarg and David Bardas combined to make the purchase of the Yarra Valley land possible in 1984 and gave the impetus to its on-going development.

It is obvious that without tremendous community support from donors big and small the Foundation would have been unable to help as many people as it has; maybe it would not even still exist today; so these people deserve a great deal of gratitude.

First researcher
Embarrassing, but I cannot remember the name of the man who in the late 80s dedicated 2 years of his time in an attempt to set up a research program for us. (Can anyone help me with this name?) Those were the days when computers were rudimentary, and in the end nothing publishable was accomplished.

It is a deep regret that we were never able to develop an effective research program at the Foundation. To be frank, in the early days we were poorly advised around what to do; in later days when we did employ qualified researchers and collaborated with external researchers, what we were able to accomplish was simply inadequate - mostly due to lack of funding and support from external people and institutions.

I do wonder how expensive the new drugs need to get before someone seriously looks at what we do for so little cost and researches it seriously. It is amazing that over the 36 years, there has only been one really good study on outcome - the Ornish study from way back in 2005; and that it demonstrated singifican t benefits and yet no one to date has even tried to replicate that study. Cannot imagine that outcome if the study had shown the benefits of a new drug!

Maybe one day ….

First business manager
Scott Crisp was the first to take on this role and laid the foundation for many good people to come.

First cook

Dorothy Edgelow set up the Foundation kitchens, established the first menus, wrote the first cookbooks.

Dorothy set the tone for the kitchen catering staff becoming a focus of care and nurturing for all those who attend residential programs.

First gardener
Peter LeRay, a dedicated biodynamic and deeply spiritual gardener set up the Foundation’s first garden at Yarra Junction.

It had a wonderful circular layout; is where the open ground for Chi Gung and yoga is now, and moved up the hill to enable larger scale fruit and vegetable production.

What a great team of gardeners have built on Peter’s legacy!

First masseur/body therapist
I think this would have been Trevor Steele. Trevor was a wonderful, whimsical and deeply caring therapist and an excellent masseur. There has been a wonderful team follow in his footsteps.

First musician
Hans Henzler had a night job at the famous Cuckoo Restaurant in the Dandenong Hills, a wonderful deep bass voice and an infectious warmth that got people into communal sing at our early residential programs.

Since then we seem to have specialized in harpists, but many other musicians have added the meditative healing benefits of their talents.

So to conclude; a profound sense of deep gratitude to all who have contributed to this cancer work, and to repeat

The past is already past;
Do not try to regain it.
The present does not stay;
Do not try to touch it.
From moment to moment,
The future has not come;
Do not think about it

Everything changes…


  1. Dear Ian - Your books, blogs, workshops have been so helpful and important - I do hope you are intending to continue your blog even if you are retiring from your retreat programs. I would so miss your wise words.

    1. Current plan is to continue writing Jinty and so the blog will continue :)

  2. Thank you Ian and all those who, like you, had the vision and dedication to accomplish what has been accomplished and to have helped and inspired so many others along the way.

    There is a sense of sadness to the perceived loss of your active participation in the programs but I have faith that even better things are awaiting us and I want to appreciate and celebrate the trails that you leave for this to happen.

    May you continue to walk in that light that ever brightens!

  3. Thank you Ian and good health for your future. I have enjoyed reading your articles immensely.

  4. Congratulations on your extraordinary contribution to humanity's progress, Ian. I honour you and your work.

  5. “Every public action, which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time”
    Francis Cornford, academic
    Thank you Ian for all the firsts and for all the ways in which you have helped to make so many lives better and their experience of cancer more meaningful. Forever grateful. xxx

  6. Every time I look into my son's bright eyes I thank you and Ruth for your wisdom and support and Charlie Teo's words to him. "You are fine. no need to come back"

  7. Thank you for your inspiring life-time of work, helping so many respond with courage to the diagnosis of cancer with dignity and peace. Breathe deeply and relax. Enjoy your life. Barbara Day.

  8. Thank you for your life's work which has helped so many deal with with cancer with dignity and peace.

  9. As a participant in your 10 day residential retreat in March 2008, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this deeply healing experience (still alive today and cancer free), what you have created for us all at the Foundation, and for changing the ‘story’ of this illness. I told you and Ruth 10 years ago that I would one day come back and work with you. Well, life had other plans but I just wanted you to know that I now do very similar work at an amazing centre in Canada, mostly based on your approach. Your books have helped many people over here, and they take great delight in your, and ruth’s, Australian accent with the guided meditation cd’s. Many blessings

  10. Thank you Ian, for all that you have done to inform and inspire and above all, educate us with the knowledge that we can conquer cancer.
    I am now at almost 7 years since my diagnosis of chronic myleomonocitic leukemia, and told I might have only 1-2 years without treatment. The first words out of my mouth were 'that's not going to happen '. I have had no conventional treatment but have gotten my platelet count from a terrible 60 ( normal is 150-450) to, at last test in August, 270.
    This is thanks to books like yours and Anticancer, by Dr David Schervin Schrieber and a change of diet and a mindset of no fear of the disease.
    I like to say, I am not fighting cancer, it is fighting me, and I am winning.
    It is a battle to combat the medical and pharmaceutical industries and hopefully one day people will see that an Intergrative approach is the way to go.

  11. Best wishes Ian as you step into the next 'season' of your life! I hope you and Ruth enjoy every wonderful moment it brings! You have given us all the power of knowledge, to look for options and make choices in our lives. Congratulations on your amazing journey! Thank you for sharing it with us! I look forward to continuing to receive your blog.

  12. Dear Ian,
    thank you for your work and service to Humanity.

  13. So many thanks for all you have done-the books you have written & the wisdom you have dispensed at your retreats_ especially the 10 day retreat in 2006 for which i am forever grateful
    Very best wishes for ever

  14. Thankyou Ian that all the people on your blog that you have inspired plus alot more have tuned in to your wealth of knowledge I thank God that I did,I have learned alot in the past 2 years,I'm pleased I got to go to your seminars to meet you in person.Im at peace now in life or death thanks to you.I thankyou from the bottom of my Heart. Many blessings to you.Chez