The Gawler Controversy
The Editor, IMJ
I am a Melbourne GP and a contemporary of Ian Gawler. I read with great interest the article you published recently by Haines and Lowenthal “The importance of histological diagnosis…..”. My interest comes from having been a believer in and supporter of Ian Gawler ever since reading his first book “You Can Conquer Cancer” not long after it was published a good many years ago. As a melanoma patient myself, it was important to me to know “that there was something else out there” by way of treatment if ever I suffered metastatic melanoma. Fortunately for me I didn’t. Over the years I have told many cancer sufferers about Ian Gawler, who remains for me a brave man who has clearly helped many people to cope better with life-threatening diagnoses.
However having read Haines and Lowenthal’s paper and the response on Ian Gawler’s blog, and having sought clarification from the doctors on a number of key points, my attitude to the Gawler story has changed – given the evidence presented so far. I am saddened that the ideal of ‘conquering’ cancer using the Gawler approach has been shown to be just that – an unlikely ideal. Although ultimate proof one way or the other is lacking since biopsies of the ‘metastases’ were not taken, the balance of the evidence suggests strongly to me that Ian Gawler did not have metastatic osteosarcoma, and that his cancer was cured by his primary medical treatment. It is also sad, and instructive, that Ian Gawler appears never to have published any evidence to suggest that a cancer sufferer has conquered his or her cancer using the Gawler approach.
Yours sincerely, (Dr) Rod Anderson
Gawler did not have cancer: GP
April 16, 2012 in The Age, p2
A MELBOURNE doctor who has actively supported Ian Gawler says he no longer believes the alternative therapies guru had the secondary cancer from which Dr Gawler claims to have cured himself.
In December, cancer specialists Ian Haines and Ray Lowenthal published a hypothesis that the famous cancer survivor never had secondary cancer predicted to swiftly kill him in the 1970s, but instead suffered from advanced tuberculosis.
Dr Ian Gawler, OAM, has published best-selling books on fighting cancer with alternative therapies and tens of thousands have attended his programs and lectures on ”mind training”, meditation and strict diets to help them overcome disease. He has dismissed the hypothesis that he never had secondary cancer as ”ridiculous”.
Associate Professor Haines and Professor Lowenthal said they had consulted experts in infectious diseases and pathology who said their theory was plausible, and one of Dr Gawler’s surgeons told The Age in December that it was worthy of consideration because no biopsies were taken to confirm the secondary cancer diagnosis.
In a letter to the same journal that published the hypothesis, general practitioner Rod Anderson said although he had supported Dr Gawler, he now believed the ”ideal of ‘conquering’ cancer using the Gawler approach is just that – an unlikely ideal”.
Dr Anderson said he had supported Dr Gawler since he read You Can Conquer Cancer, in which Dr Gawler tells of how he survived secondary cancer, despite being given just months to live. Among other things, Dr Gawler, a veterinarian, says meditation, coffee enemas and controversial alternative healers in the Philippines and India helped cure his cancer.
Having been diagnosed with melanoma, Dr Anderson said he wanted to know that there was another option if he ever suffered advanced cancer, but had changed his attitude towards Dr Gawler’s story since he studied the tuberculosis hypothesis.
In a new letter, also published online this week in the Internal Medicine Journal, Dr Gawler said he was ”disturbed” the journal had published Professor Haines’ and Professor Lowenthal’s hypothesis without his permission and said ”this breach of anonymity and confidentiality over a flimsy hypothesis” was ”deplorable”.
He alleged the professors had made errors in their interpretation of his case history, but the authors disputed this.
Dr Gawler, who does not instruct people to reject conventional medicine, said he hoped patients would not be influenced by the new theory on his case. ”A real concern with this paper is that the controversy surrounding it may result in some needy cancer patients and their families being led away from valid lifestyle-based, self-help and support options being offered by many individual practitioners and organisations.”
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/gawler-did-not-have-cancer-gp-20120415-1x1vi.html#ixzz1sJ83WlXD
Too good to be true?
Julia Medew and Chris Johnston
April 21, 2012, The Age
Scott Stephens: “I’m living proof.” Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
AT HIS sickest, Scott Stephens asked his cancer specialist that most difficult of questions: ”How bad is it?” The doctor gave him a brutally honest reply. ”He said ‘You don’t get any more unwell than this’,” recalls Stephens, a tradesman from Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. This was in 2004. Stephens was 27.
By then he had endured several gruelling treatments after a skin cancer in a thigh spread to his chest, pelvis and bowel. As the young man contemplated his own death, a friend mentioned the Gawler Foundation, which runs programs based on the experience of Melbourne cancer guru Ian Gawler, who claims to have cured himself of secondary cancer in the 1970s.
Stephens looked into it and felt inspired and hopeful. He threw himself into the Gawler regime, which included meditation, positive thinking and a strict vegan diet.
The charismatic cancer survivor Ian Gawler, 61, in his trademark blue caftan. Photo: Joe Armao
It worked. Now 35, Stephens has been in remission for six years and has two children aged five and three.
His doctor maintains an experimental drug he took briefly helped him live, but Stephens is not so sure. He says the Gawler Foundation changed his fate and that the ”lifestyle medicine” it promotes healed him. Stephens continues to adhere to the foundation’s teachings, first outlined in Ian Gawler’s bestselling 1984 book You Can Conquer Cancer, which has sold 250,000 copies.
The thing that convinced him in the first place was Gawler’s own story of recovery from secondary bone cancer. Most of all Stephens thought: ”If it can work for him, it can work for me too.”
But did it work for Gawler? That is the question now as a groundswell of medical opinion grows around the vexed issue of whether one of Australia’s most famous cancer survivors ever had secondary cancer at all.
Gawler was diagnosed with bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in his right leg in 1975. The leg was amputated in an attempt to cure him, and over the next 18 months he was told he had secondary cancer in a lung, his pelvis and spine and had only months to live. Yet, after pursuing every alternative treatment he could find, including coffee enemas and ”psychic surgery” in the Philippines, Gawler is alive. He claims to be the only person in the world to have lived through secondary osteosarcoma.
Scott Stephens is one of many cancer patients who have been inspired by the extraordinary story of survival. Since 1978 Gawler has written five books. You Can Conquer Cancer has never been out of print.
About 70,000 people have attended programs at the foundation created in his name to learn from his approach to beating disease.
But on New Year’s Eve last year two eminent oncologists, Associate Professor Ian Haines of Melbourne’s Cabrini Hospital and Professor Ray Lowenthal, of the Royal Hobart Hospital, dropped a medical bombshell in the Royal Australian College of Physicians’ Internal Medicine Journal with a report arguing Gawler had not had secondary cancer but, rather, advanced tuberculosis, a disease they said easily mimicked certain forms of bone cancer.
Haines labelled the case cancer medicine’s equivalent of the death of Phar Lap or the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain – a mystery that many in the know had wondered about at the time.
This week another Melbourne doctor who has supported Gawler in the past said he no longer believed Gawler had secondary cancer. And leading German integrative oncologist Professor Alexander Herzog, who has revealed a similar case of advanced TB masquerading as bone cancer, said: ”It was clear from the beginning the Gawler case was TB. This was a misdiagnosis.”
Herzog said Gawler’s patients may have been ”misled” into believing they too could be cured by alternative means.
Gawler, a charismatic 61-year-old who wears a trademark blue kaftan and walks on his remaining leg with titanium crutches, said this week the questions being asked of him were an attempt to ”besmirch and denigrate what I represent … the notion that cancer sufferers have the right to influence their own outcomes”.
”I am a symbol of recovery that a lot of cancer sufferers hold to.”
But Gawler has also dramatically changed his message. In a long interview with The Saturday Age this week, he insisted he had suffered secondary cancer, but also maintained that his own medical history was not as important as the healing work he had done in the past 34 years.
Asked about apparent inconsistencies and omissions in the ways he has presented his own complicated medical history, Gawler acknowledges that over time some of the details have become muddied. But, he says, ”Who cares?” The real story, he maintains, is the people he has helped heal in the years since then. ”That is about my story, not my work. People can convert hope from that story into the reality that the work can offer. By trying to attack my diagnosis they [Haines and Lowenthal] are in effect attacking the work, which was clearly their motive.
”The people that know me would much prefer to think I did have cancer. Conversations now about whether I did or didn’t are unsettling for patients. You can pull anything apart with science and make it what you like. They have done what science is good at, which is fragment pieces but not look at the whole picture.”
Gawler says he would rather his reputation hinge on ”the validity of the work” than what happened in his case.
”These attacks,” he says, referring to the philosophical divide between traditional cancer medicine and the ”lifestyle” medicine he advocates, ”represent the worst of what’s going on in oncology” where conventional medicos think they are the only ones who can cure cancer and they should have a monopoly on it.
THE FACTS are as follows. Four years ago, Gawler’s ex-wife and companion throughout his illness, Grace Gawler, started to publicly question how his story had been told.
The two split acrimoniously in 1997. She thought that details of his sickness, and particularly timelines, in the Medical Journal of Australia had given the impression that meditation and a vegan diet had played more of a role in his healing than she had observed.
In 2010 she wrote a letter to the journal to dispute the previous publications about Gawler, and said, among other things, that he had not adhered to a vegan diet – a fact he later conceded.
But there was something else.
In 1978, Gawler was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Dr Alistair Robertson had looked back on X-rays taken two years earlier to see if the TB had been evident then. It was.
In the following years, Grace Gawler started wondering if Gawler’s cancer and TB were related. She discovered some medical theories that a TB infection could help an immune system fight cancer.
“Ian and I discussed this while he was writing You Can Conquer Cancer,” she says. ”He also had an interest, and in 1979 he went to Melbourne University himself to research it.”
Gawler says he discussed the theory with Grace, but thought it a ”remote possibility”. He says he can’t remember going to Melbourne University to research it. In 1984 Gawler published the book. But he chose not to mention his history of TB. ”It didn’t seem relevant,” he says. ”It didn’t warrant inclusion.”
After seeing Grace’s letter correcting details about Gawler’s case, in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2010, Haines felt the accumulated information about Gawler, including details in his 2008 biography, The Dragon’s Blessing,
suggested his TB was much more significant than it appeared.
As Haines read more about Gawler’s TB, he discovered some compelling details. Biographer Guy Allenby had written that someone had phoned Gawler from a hospital in 1976 to tell him they did not believe he had cancer in his spine, in the context of him not responding to radiotherapy. Gawler says he cannot remember the conversation, but disputes the reference and its interpretation.
Haines also discovered that no biopsy had been done to confirm Gawler’s secondary cancer in 1975. (Biopsies were not done as routinely in the ’70s as they are now.) He then joined forces with Professor Lowenthal, a long time critic of Gawler’s work.
They submitted an article to the Medical Journal of Australia but the editor would not publish it without Gawler’s approval. Haines then approached Gawler.
During their conversation in early 2011, Gawler told Haines he was interested in his theory and offered him spicules (minute fragments) of bone he had coughed up during his illness, for testing. He later withdrew the offer when he realised Lowenthal, a long-time opponent of alternative therapies, was on the case too. Regardless, Gawler thought the spicule tests unnecessary. ”If those spicules were shown to be calcified TB, it wouldn’t rule out that I had osteosarcoma.”
Since publication of the article in the RACP’s Internal Medicine Journal, Gawler says all of his doctors have told him they are confident the necessary tests were done to confirm secondary cancer.
Furthermore, he says that when his left lung was removed in 2004 due to damage from TB and cancer, it contained a large bony mass that doctors deemed was consistent with the way cancer would present following chemotherapy.
Dr John Piesse, a Melbourne integrative GP who saw Gawler twice in 1976, told The Saturday Age he rejected the TB theory and believed Gawler had secondary cancer.
But Alistair Robertson, who diagnosed Gawler’s TB in 1978, is less certain: ”I’m on the side of cancer, but I don’t want to discount the fact that it could have been TB.”
Dr John Doyle, the surgeon who amputated Gawler’s leg, has described the TB theory as ”very worthy of consideration”.
Others independent of the case have said they too are convinced by the TB theory.
Melbourne GP Dr Rod Anderson says he has followed Gawler’s story with interest, as a doctor and as a cancer sufferer himself, feeling that it offered him and others legitimate hope. But in a letter to the Internal Medicine Journal published this week, Anderson said he had now changed his mind. ”Although ultimate proof one way or the other is lacking because biopsies of the ‘metasteses’ were not taken, the balance of the evidence suggests strongly to me that Ian Gawler did not have metastatic osteosarcoma and that his cancer was cured by his primary medical treatment.”
As the controversy grew this week, Gawler’s second and current wife, Ruth Gawler, attacked Lowenthal and Haines. She said Haines had treated Gawler’s father, Alan Gawler, for cancer with traditional methods before he died in 2006 and had been ”emotionally affected” by Alan’s death.
Ian Gawler said this week Haines may be suffering ”burnout”. Haines rejects this and says his colleagues and patients would fully support that.
Ruth Gawler also accused Haines and Lowenthal of relying on Grace Gawler’s version of certain events despite her having tried to discredit her ex-husband in the past.
Grace wrote in a self-published book in 2008 that Ian had hit her with one of his crutches during an argument, leaving her injured and struggling to walk for months. She says she has challenged her ex-husband’s story because she thinks the public deserve the truth.
To the allegation that he hit his ex-wife, Ian Gawler says: ”What do I say about that? I’ll just leave it as an allegation. I don’t want to comment on my previous relationship in any way.”
Despite identifying himself as a ”symbol” for thousands of cancer sufferers – and influencing many lives – Gawler insists he cannot understand why he is being scrutinised. He would prefer to be judged on his work as a counsellor, mentor and healer.
All of the doctors contacted by The Saturday Age this week, including Haines, recognised that Gawler had done some good work and had himself overcome significant disease. They did not doubt the benefits of meditation and a healthy diet for some people. But all said the implication that he had been cured of cancer by alternative healing was dangerous given that he might not have had his secondary cancer at all.
Several said they had seen people die after favouring alternative therapies over conventional treatments. Edwina Golombek, a social worker at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre between 1988 and 1992, said Gawler and his team had made some patients feel like failures for either not trying or not succeeding with his strict programs. ”If you couldn’t do it, it was as if you weren’t doing it properly,” she says. ”It was disturbing.”
Dr Linda Calabresi, medical editor of Australian Doctor, says Gawler’s ”So what?” response ignores the fact that much of his personal success and that of the foundation derives from the idea that he is living proof of the theories he espouses. Although Gawler has given many people comfort, she says, his stance now puts him at risk of exploiting vulnerable people with life-threatening diseases.
”I don’t want to take away people’s hope, but at the same time you can’t make money out of a false premise,” she says.
”But there’s another matter here too. He’s used science to create this industry, he’s been quite willing to say this was a scientifically proved illness and that it reversed, so he can’t back away when the science doesn’t support it.
”You can’t take the science when it suits you and ignore it when it doesn’t.”
But many of Gawler’s followers say they really don’t care whether or not he had secondary cancer. They say so in blogs and letters to The Saturday Age and in conversation: he helped them, and that is all they know.
Scott Stephens, still in remission, says his survival of advanced cancer with the help of the Gawler Foundation speaks for itself. Sceptical friends have asked him about the TB theory. He tells them it doesn’t matter. ”I’ve practised what he preaches and I’m still alive. I’m living proof,” he says.
Julia Medew is health editor.
Chris Johnston is a senior writer.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/health/too-good-to-be-true-20120420-1xcgn.html#ixzz1soo1Flzc
The Ian Gawler controversy
I am the previously quoted GP who, having had cancer myself and been a supporter of Ian Gawler – I sent a good many people to him over the years – have been convinced by Haines & Lowenthal’s argument that he never had secondary bone cancer.
My question for Ian Gawler is this: Why was his successful treatment for severe tuberculosis never mentioned in his book “You Can Conquer Cancer”? Given his own training in biological science, that seems to be an extraordinary omission – especially since disseminated TB and secondary cancer could be confused. I would also very much like to know how many people have been cured of cancer using the Gawler approach.
As to the statement “Who cares?” attributed to Ian Gawler and echoed by a number of his supporters, about whether meditation really did conquer his cancer: Well, I for one care. Meditation is a fine relaxing thing to do. Until recently I believed that it might ‘conquer cancer’ – something that was comforting to believe, and to work hard at if ever my own melanoma returned. Should that ever happen to me, I won’t waste what precious time I have left putting a big effort into meditation. I’ll make sure that I spend that time with the people I love, and doing things that are important to me. I am sad that the legitimacy of the Gawler approach has been lost.
Yours sincerely, Rod Anderson