The Grace Gawler Story – by Pip Cornall

What happened to Grace Gawler?

I run this story again because after years of high profile pioneering work with cancer patients at the Gawler Foundation in the 80’s and 90’s, Grace Gawler was invisiblised when her marriage ended.

Many ex-cancer patients whom she helped and guided for years no longer knew how to contact her.

This is a remarkable story about a great woman –  please pass it around – Pip Cornall

Early Years:
Grace’s name is recognised 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 just 21; 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. He would later become Australia’s most recognised cancer survivor.

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 (Gerson) and intensive meditation – his condition deteriorated.
Around this time Grace landed a lucrative modelling contract which would have paid her way to study veterinary science. A choice point as she put it. Pursue a career choice or tend to a fellow human being in need. Fuelled by the power of love, faith and hope, Grace became a highly proactive carer and, despite many ups and downs including advanced secondary tumours and at one time a prognosis of just a few weeks, the time that they married – he survived and an entire cancer support movement was born out of their experience. There is a clue to the calibre of this young attractive woman. She married a cancer amputee when he had just a few weeks to live – because she believed he would get better and seh believed in the power of love in action.

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”.

It is worth noting that Grace had been the driving force in developing a wholistic healing program that became known as The Gawler approach.  Just one aspect of this approach was a massage method – she had learned a massage technique while in the Philippines and was to give Ian more than 5000 hours of hands on during his critical phase. ( see videos you Tube on home page: Grace, Grit and Gratitude) This evolved into a ‘body-psychotherapy’ model she now call GEM and is taught to therapists.

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 during the cancer journey. (x-ray evidence indicated it was present for at least 2 years before his remission.

After treatment they soon decided that they would return 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 which became the Gawler Foundation. 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 carers. Over the years, the service expanded rapidly and was very successful – but the Foundation took a toll on their personal lives. Issues regarding therapist ethics at the Foundation were the final straw.

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 that 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 Ian suddenly 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.

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 and Grace remembers this as one of the most difficult times in her life but now wearing the shoes of a patient herself, she was determined to meet the challenge and transform adversity to advantage once again. She still had three children at home – one with special medical needs.

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!”

With the bionic working well, Grace was able to pursue her work again and eventually settled in Brisbane with her adult son she still cares for.

New Relationship: In 2007, on Valentines Day, while visiting her mentor/trainer in body psychotherapy, Ilana Rubenfeld, in Oregon USA, she came across an article written by a past PE teacher from her high school days.

They began communicating and soon he moved to Brisbane to build their ‘rafting for recovery’ business – taking cancer patients deep into the wilderness.

In more Recent Times, January 2009, after her pacemaker stopped, her new partner, Pip Cornall, raised funds on the internet and from friends so they could travel 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, because, after approaching government, Medicare, various doctors and Medibank private; help was not forthcoming in Australia.

Once again – Grace 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 survive. Grace is now a survivor of 20 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).

Graces 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 practices.

Now married to Pip, this grandmother of five and mother of 4 children – Grace delights in her family, her life and her vocation!

Please visit her website at