Grace Gawler – Who is Grace and why is she Motivated to Assist those with Life Challenging Illness?
Cancer Navigation Pioneer & Advocate for Minimally Invasive Treatments: Grace was the Australia/New Zealand pioneer of patient advocacy & cancer navigation services. In the early 1980’s, she co-created Australia’s first cancer support groups & has co-founded, directed 2 cancer charities.
Grace was the founder of the original Gawler program having supported her partner, then husband, throughout his recovery from osteosarcoma and leg amputation.
Not only is Grace Gawler a survivor of multiple traumas herself; but for over 4.5 decades she has been the ‘rock’ for thousands cancer patients who have sought her guidance. Grace’s work is not only about cancer; she has also assisted those who struggle to manage adversity and uninvited changes that life challenging or life threatening illness can bring.
As well as relating her own story of surviving and thriving herself; Grace has distilled the essence of stories and information from her clients’ questionnaires and letters that ‘cherry pick’ their wisdom; their secrets of surviving often through difficult medical treatments by re finding their passion to live and rekindling the ‘fire in their belly.
At just 21 Grace became a full-time care-giver for her boyfriend, a cancer amputee who’d been given just a few weeks to live.
Despite his prognosis they married. In the earlyeighties, after he survived, they established a non profit organization to support people going through the trauma of cancer and other life challenging illness. These years provided Grace’s learning field for working with women. She went on to create Australia’s first breast cancer support groups and residential programs in the early nineties which led to the publication of Women of Silence; the emotional healing of breast cancer’; a best seller in 1994. The book was updated and reprinted in the UK 2003. To this day, Women of Silence remains a ‘bible’ for women with breast cancer.
Recognized as someone keen to build bridges between medicine and naturopathy; Grace served on a Victorian Government committee for two and a half years in the mid – late nineties to create a new Women’s Health Plan that included complementary medicine approaches. Her work was recognised in 1998 by being awarded the prestigious inaugural Rotary International Jean Harris Award for Services to Women in Society.
But life took a sudden change. Grace experienced not only the collapse of her marriage; but was soon hospitalized, dealing with her own life challenging issues when post surgical complications from a routine surgery created a major health crisis. For 6 years, horrendously ill, she faced death many times eventually discovering a surgical procedure in the Netherlands; a world ‘first that gave her back life and vitality. Grace Gawler has not only survived, she has thrived and is passionate about helping others to walk in the field of all possibilities. Grace is a mother of four children and grandmother to four children.
Grace Gawler is an Australian pioneer in supportive care for cancer recovery. Grace has built a reputation around guiding the ‘hopeless prognosis, end-stage or palliative’ cancer cases through to successful outcomes. An expert on living well with cancer and cancer support strategies, as well as the prevention of cancer; she is internationally renowned as both a public and keynote speaker who can inspire and motivate. Her bestselling book is Women of Silence – The Emotional Healing of Breast Cancer and her Memoirs: Grace, Grit and Gratitude were published in October 2008. CLICK HERE to purchase eBook version
Grace’s remarkable and challenging life has allowed her to gain insights and develop practical solutions to a vast cross section of life’s adversities.
Grace is recognized and respected by the medical profession and complementary healers for her balanced approach to the treatment and healing of cancer. Grace uses wisdom from her 30-year experience with illness as a transformative process to help inspire wellness, prevent illness and promote health.
As a corporate speaker, Grace focuses on a revolutionary paradigm of mind, body and spirit management which releases the potential within. Gentle, fun and often interactive; the power of Grace’s presentations are greatly enhanced by her extraordinary and inspiring story
The Grace Gawler Story – Early Years:
Grace’s name is recognized worldwide in connection with therapeutic supportive care approaches for people who are dealing with cancer or other life threatening illness. She won the respect of many when in her early twenties; she stepped into the support- care role for her boyfriend who was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma – a highly malignant bone cancer that 30 years ago had little hope of cure; especially when secondary cancer appeared.
They had been working in a veterinary clinic together in the country town of Bacchus Marsh in Victoria when he was diagnosed in 1974 In 1975 he had a full leg amputation and both their lives were changed forever. Secondary cancer appeared eleven months later. Despite an intensive dietary approach and even more intensive meditation – his condition deteriorated.
Fuelled by the power of love, faith and hope, Grace became a highly proactive carer and, despite many ups and downs and at one time, a prognosis of just a few weeks, they married – he survived and an entire patient support care movement was born out of their experience. Ian Gawler was later to say that one of the central factors in his recovery was –‘experiencing love – not only a feeling of love, but the manifestation of it, the care and attention Grace gave me’.
Grace had been the driving force in developing a total healing program that included conventional and complementary medicine and became known as The Gawler Approach.
She learned a massage and healing technique while in the Philippines in the mid – late 70’s and was to give Ian more than 5000 hours of healing during his critical phase. She honed her hands-on skills by engaging in formal studies in a body psychotherapy training in a method called Rubenfeld Synergy (RSM) with Dr Ilana Rubenfeld in New York. Recognizing the importance of ‘safe-touch’ for cancer patients; Grace is Patron for Reiki Australia – although is not a Reiki practitioner herself.
The Founding Years:
Grace and Ian’s first child was born in Adelaide in 1978 – the year (& the day) that Ian was both declared cancer free-but diagnosed with TB that it seems he had acquired at the outset of his diagnosis of secondary cancer. In fact there is now conjecture that he had advanced TB that mimicked bone cancer. Grace believes this is likely to be correct given there was no biopsy! However this also does not detract from the fact that he was given up by his doctors, hope for recovery was taken away and he did survive. Likely he would have died from TB . There are many unknowns in this now famous case.
After various re locations they returned to their home state of Victoria. It was in Melbourne where they founded The Melbourne Cancer Support Group, The Melbourne Living Centre and eventually The Gawler Foundation in 1985.
Grace inspired and was the visionary for The Yarra Valley Living Centre. She drove the vision with a passion, ensuring that unlike their own situation, that cancer patients would have somewhere to go and someone to talk with about the uninvited change that has entered their lives.
During those years, which included regular study, Grace also gave birth to three more children. She remembers these as pioneering days – building their future home on 15 hectares in Yarra Junction, living in a small pine “shed” without electricity and modern conveniences and three home births joyfully experienced in the ‘shed’.
Whilst all this was happening, Grace would often take 20 –30 calls each day from people affected by cancer or their carer givers. Over the years, the service expanded rapidly and was very successful – but the Foundation took a toll on their personal lives. Issues regarding ethics and equal opportunity made an inroad into their relationship and working life.
Feeling that it had become untenable to create change; in 1996 Grace left The Gawler foundation and followed her passion in Women’s Health with an emphasis on creating a “safe” practice for women’s who sought various wellness therapies. Psychiatrist, the late Dr Renuka Sharma was instrumental in inspiring Grace to pursue her passion in this area. She also received invaluable assistance from two former volunteers at the Foundation – Robyn & Morgan. These girls made it possible for Grace’s work to continue.
And so – Ellimatta Women’s Health was founded – it was also then that she was invited by The Late Marie Tehan to become a member of the Victorian
Government’s advisory committee for women’s health. While at Ellimatta Grace was nominated and received Rotary International’s highest award – The Jean Harris Award: For her work promoting the progress of women in society.
Her greatest test was yet to come when, without warning, Ian left the family home for a new life in 1997. Grace was ill prepared for this rapid change and the grief and shock soon found her admitted to hospital and undergoing surgery for a uterine prolapse.
The procedure however did not go well and she was left with permanent nerve damage to her colon. Being on her own with a condition that literally paralysed her colon was a challenging experience. Grace remembers this as one of the most difficult times in her life—but in wearing the shoes of a seriously ill patient herself, she was determined to meet the challenge and transform adversity to advantage once again.
The Next Step:
Diagnostic procedures, more surgeries and eventually most of her colon removed – an ileostomy and several colostomies, activated Grace to search – as so often she had done for her clients – for other options.
Many months of searching through journals on the Internet, saw her travelling to The Netherlands after convincing a surgeon to take her on as an experimental patient for a neuromodulation program.
It had not been tried for her condition before – but after several visits the surgeon recognised Grace’s tenacity, spirit and determination and set a date for an experimental procedure in Rotterdam (September 2002). Grace eventually found her solution with Dr Schouten and his team at The University Hospital in Rotterdam and in January 2003, she had a permanent bionic device permanently implanted that now operates what remains of her colon. She is now a bionic woman! Grace says…. “I never lost the vision of complete recovery despite the damage which seemed to be permanent – even when there appeared to be no options left – I never gave up and searched diligently until I found one – the only one that could have helped me!”
In more Recent Times, January 2009, Grace travelled to Singapore to have replacement bionics. The battery that powered the system failed and after 2 surgical procedures in Australia had failed – she found herself in Singapore after approaching government, medicare, various doctors and medibank private; help was not forthcoming in Australia.
Once again – she almost died and, as before with her Dutch surgeon, she now owed her life to the skill of another amazing surgeon Professor Francis Seow-Choen
She also owes her life to the generosity of friends and strangers who fund raised and provided loans so that she could have the required surgery without which she would not have survived.
Damage to her compromised colon left her unwell in 2009 until a doctor friend recommended a new type of formulation. It did the trick and within a short time her colon was working efficiently again. Grace has been able to enjoy fruits and salads for the first time since the surgical accident. The new supplement is heralded as making medical history and Grace is now using it with cancer patients with great success. More information is available on her website.
Grace is now a survivor of 28 surgical procedures since 1997.
Since her career began, Grace has lectured at major conferences throughout the world, presented on national television, radio and in popular print media both here and globally. She has been a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator for such groups as The London and Hereford Breast Cancer Haven Trust, The Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford (NHS Trust), HEAL – Helen Rollason Charity and The Bristol Cancer Help Centre, where she presented the second Penny Brohn memorial Lecture. (Penny Brohn co-founded BCHC).
She has articles published on Elsevier Science Direct, in the British Holistic Medical Journal, Cancer Nursing Practice UK, Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) – Pub Med.
Grace’s work has also been welcomed in Cork , Ireland where she delivered a keynote lecture to a crowd of more than 300 people affected by cancer for The Cunamh Cancer support Group – The Bon Secours Hospital. These lectures were gratis to these charities that aligned with Grace’s work, while overseas she has had many interviews on BBC including with Libby Purves on Midweek- a program with more than 4 million listeners.
Grace writes for many journals and for many years has held an honorary position on the editorial board for the International UK Journal – Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
Indigenous peoples and healing practices have always been of great interest to Grace and so she was delighted to be personally asked to a Marae in New Zealand in the early nineties where she was formerly welcomed into the Maori spirit of healing at a specially held ceremony. She has also enjoyed special relationships with various indigenous Australian tribal peoples and has an interest in cross cultural healing practises.
A grandmother of five and mother of 4 children – now in their mid to late 30s, Grace delights in her family, her life and … her vocation! Although her medical situation has created many personal and physical limitations – her work reminds us about the tenacity we can all display when our life is threatened.
Adjusted to fighting her battles alone and not looking for a relationship, Grace was visiting her mentor and colleague, Ilana Rubenfeld, In Oregon, USA. It was Valentine’s Day 2007 when Ilana threw Grace a magazine to read. it fell open on an article about restorative justice written by her old PE teacher, Pip Cornall, from Geelong High School in Australia. (class of 1970)
Pip, was in congress at the time promoting a youth peace bill so they missed meeting up. When he returned to Oregon, where he’d lived for 13 years, he found her email waiting for him. They soon found many similarities in their work and goals and within a month Pip flew out to Australia to join forces with Grace. Grace had said she’s hardened her heart against men after her bad experiences but noted a ‘flutter’ when he stepped off the plane.
Turns out it was the relationship they’d both dreamed possible but had never found in reality. They have been together 24/7 since and in just 12.7 years the relationship has had many hard road tests with Grace nearly dying in 2009 and the struggle to keep working with cancer patients without the resources of a foundation that Grace had previously had. A deep love and common goals has been the fuel that enables them to Survive & Thrive.
Thanks to former cancer patients & corporate generosity, a non profit institute for Grace’s constantly evolving work was created in September 2010. The new Grace Gawler Institute for Cancer Survivorship and Research is helping many patients find success on their cancer journeys.
FOOTNOTE: Oct 2019; in the past 10 years the Grace Gawler Institute has helped 1000s of patients safely navigate the complex cancer maze.