By Pip Cornall
Grace Gawler, a vegetarian from age five, went on to work in a veterinary clinic while still at junior high school. Thus the vegetarian interested in health and natural treatments became grounded in science, pathology, bio-chemistry, anatomy and so on. She had a desire for all things natural including an interest in natural cures for cancer in animals. Over the years, when appropriate, she experimented with natural medicine as a complement to conventional veterinary treatments. Eventually she concluded that both systems of medicine need to be utilized for the best outcome. Thus was born her integrative approach.
It followed that Grace’s cancer work, which began when her boyfriend, Ian Gawler, lost his leg to bone cancer, was a blend of both forms of medicine – conventional and alternative. Now with 35 years of cancer experience behind her, Grace describes her work as integrated cancer support medicine and is known for this stance within the medical community.
But not every cancer practitioner practices integrative medicine – there is still too much ‘either/or’ medicine. So what is needed to end the polarization between the cancer healing medicines? This is a topic we’ll be tackling in our new Grace Gawler Institute for Integrated cancer Solutions.
This article is an exploration of that question and is dear to both our hearts–my perspective coming from training in mediation and peace work.
Integrated Cancer Medicine is a relatively new buzz word in cancer. It is touted as a ‘new paradigm’ for the cancer industry and offers a lot of potential-if it is done correctly. At our centre—The Grace Gawler Institute for Integrated Cancer Solutions—an extension of Grace’s life work—the focus is ‘integrated cancer medicine,’ but what does that mean? Sadly we’ve seen that many so called integrated cancer practitioners are not practicing true integrative medicine—and some may not even know it. However we find it difficult to find integrative GPs who provide a sufficiently balanced approach that meets our standards.
Generally speaking new paradigms fail because the participants have not been able to change old behaviours—despite good intentions, and cancer medicine is no exception. What results is new paradigm medical talk riddled with old paradigm behaviour—quite misleading and ultimately dangerous to cancer patients. It’s dangerous because patients and practitioners think it is new paradigm medicine but it is not. In a follow up article I’ll explain in detail what true integrative approaches entail.
Personal change is required by participants involved in integrative medicine but herein lies a problem. Personal change is by its nature very hard work, no matter what discipline we are talking about – medicine, politics, law, education and so on. For change like this to succeed a critical mass of integrated participants must be reached—people self discerning enough to make changes on a behavioural level. Continual vigilance and a desire to ‘practise what is preached’ must be the intent but an authentic self enquiry requires sophisticated personal psychology and self awareness—the integrated person. For integrated medicine to be successful practitioners, patients, their families, friends and media (including internet) need to be educated and responsible in what they practice or promote.
More than ever before the polarisation between conventional and alternative medicine appears to be growing. It’s an ancient ‘either/or’ mindset which appears in most disciplines and ironically remains the enemy of all new paradigms. Even well meaning friends of cancer patients need to become more responsible if a new paradigm medicine is to succeed. They need to be more educated and aware, especially of personal bias when passing on stories of today’s new whiz-bang cancer cure. At this level of awareness the friend would realise that only skilled cancer professionals have the ability to discern whether a cancer cure claim is sufficiently evidence based and peer reviewed to warrant further investigation.
Most people will need to be very well cancer educated to achieve this—websites promoting alternative ‘cancer cures’ are increasingly sophisticated and may appear to have good evidence backing their claims—it often takes someone with a science background and in depth knowledge of cancer to see if they are credible.
Sadly most people, driven by a desire to help, will continue to steer their friends in the direction of their bias—alternative or conventional. I’ve observed more naturopaths making this mistake than I have conventional practitioners but the latter group seem more willing to take a team approach. Team play is the key to integrative cancer medicine and that means reliable record keeping and sharing.
The best resolution of the cancer healing wars—as some have called it, is not to be found through our ancient human behavioural habit of polarisation or ‘demonising’ those who hold opposing views. While some aspects of ‘big pharma’ are money driven, ‘big alternative’ or ‘big nature cure’ can be just as greedy.
Nor is the solution to be found in compromise. The real challenge is for both sides to work together toward integration at that higher level where opposites no longer seem so irrevocably opposed, where the expressions of alternative cancer medicine and the requirements of conventional medicine achieve a fuller harmony—this is complementary or integrated medicine.
In an integrated and mature cancer aware world, friends, public and media promoting cancer cures would take their responsibility seriously knowing that promoting unproven or disproven cancer therapies the wrong information can cause harm, even death to cancer patients.