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Article an insult to doctors who diagnosed my cancer


Ian Gawler

I've seen cancer sufferers recovering against the odds.

AT FIRST the suggestion seemed laughable. ''Would you like to put your name to a scientific paper that will claim you never had cancer and that what you really recovered from so famously was widespread TB?''

It is not often in life one can be profoundly surprised. How would you respond if what you knew to be true was questioned? Would you simply dismiss it? Would you investigate or would you attack it?

This is the situation I found myself faced with in March last year when Associate Professor Ian Haines put this suggestion to me. Haines approached me as a friend.

But then to confuse the matter further, the article had already been written and Haines' co-author was Professor Ray Lowenthal, a long-term critic of my work.

What to do? I chose to investigate. I checked with all my original doctors. All were confident that the necessary tests had been performed to confirm the diagnosis and that the bony masses around my body were secondary cancer. The tuberculosis found in my lung had developed much later. A biopsy was not performed on the secondaries as it was deemed unnecessary. There was no doubt about the diagnosis.

Two of my specialists have expertise with TB. Dr Alistair Robertson said: ''I certainly do not think that it is at all likely that you just had TB.'' Dr Jonathan Streeton added: ''One gets calcification from TB, but nothing remotely of the appearances of your calcification''.

Furthermore, in 2004 my left lung was surgically removed due to damage caused by the TB and the cancer. The lung contained a large bony mass and the histology confirmed that it was consistent with ''osteosarcoma after chemotherapy''.

Another crucial point is that chemotherapy is well known to severely depress immune function, making even minor infections potentially life-threatening. If my disease had been widespread TB, not only would my oncologist, Dr Ivon Burns, have been negligent, the chemotherapy he gave me would have killed me.

So for Haines and Lowenthal to contend ''unequivocal evidence that the patient was cured of widespread metastases is lacking'' insults the doctors who established my diagnosis. Their article was not based on speaking with my doctors, or examining my X-rays and pathology reports. In my view, their theoretical speculation is scientifically sloppy and mischievous. It attacks me personally and they clearly aim to imply that if my case history was invalid, then my work is invalid. In my view this makes their article dangerous, as it could lead vulnerable and needy cancer patients away from self-help measures that could improve their quality of life and their chances of survival.

So, I said no to Haines' request. The Medical Journal of Australia refused the article without my permission. However, Haines and Lowenthal published in Internal Medicine Journal, which must have different standards.

It is common to accept things that reinforce and to reject whatever conflicts with our way of thinking. So if you were a busy oncologist and somebody did recover unexpectedly from advanced secondary bone cancer, what would you do? Would you dismiss it? Would you investigate? Would you attack?

Despite a lot of support, I have been attacked quite a deal over the past 30 years. Of course I believe in good diagnosis. Of course I believe in appropriate medical treatment. Of course I believe that people can influence their own wellbeing and the outcome of their disease.

What I advocate is best described as lifestyle medicine. It is to do with what you eat and drink, your exercise and emotional health, the power of your mind and techniques such as meditation. This is not ''alternative'' medicine. It is good medicine. It is safe medicine.

Also, there is a need to make it clear that my life is not my work. My work started with my life and my recovery, but 30 years later that work has evolved in response to new experiences and research and now stands in its own right.

Science advances by observing unusual events and investigating them. Over 30 years I have observed many people recovering from cancer against difficult odds.

Dr Ian Gawler is the founder of the Gawler Foundation and author of You Can Conquer Cancer. He believes he cured himself of secondary cancer in 1975 with the help of meditation, diet and other alternative healing.

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