A VICTORIAN psychiatrist has revealed she felt “propelled” to attend programs run by the Gawler Foundation after being diagnosed with cancer.
In a Reflections article in the latest MJA, Dr Tanya Hall (pictured left) said she was drawn to the program, founded by cancer survivor Ian Gawler, because she found it difficult to adopt the passive stance that patients were expected to take in Western medicine. (1)
“With my very survival threatened, I needed to believe that I could play an active role in my own recovery; Gawler provided me with this sense of autonomy, for which I remain grateful”, Dr Hall wrote.
She said she particularly benefitted from some aspects of the program, such as learning meditation, which was taught well and which had a reasonable evidence base.
“However, other aspects of the program are troubling”, Dr Hall wrote.
Her main concerns were the low-fat, essentially vegan diet with no added salt or sugar and no caffeine, and the idea that those with a certain psychological profile were more likely to develop cancer.
“Depriving people of the pleasure of tasty and satisfying food, inducing guilt every time we transgress the dietary straitjacket, condemning us to highly time-consuming activities, suggesting that our illness has been brought on by our own faulty characters — these are not benign interventions, especially for those whose conditions are terminal”, Dr Hall wrote.
Dr Hall’s article follows recent controversy about Gawler’s diagnosis and treatment for advanced cancer, and his claims that his recovery stemmed from adopting major lifestyle changes rather than conventional medical practices.
In an article published earlier this year in the Internal Medicine Journal, two leading Australian cancer specialists, Associate Professor Ian Haines and Professor Ray Lowenthal, offered an alternative hypothesis for Gawler’s recovery from advanced and incurable metastatic sarcoma. (2)
They suggested that the patient, having been cured of localised high-grade osteogenic sarcoma of the leg by amputation surgery, then developed advanced tuberculosis alone without metastatic cancer.
The hypothesis was vigorously disputed by Gawler. (3)
In her article, Dr Hall said the accuracy of Gawler’s medical history was not relevant to her experience with the Gawler Foundation.
“I accept that Gawler, and his staff, are well intentioned and appear to be motivated by what they perceive to be the best interests of people with cancer”, she wrote.
“No one would disagree that addressing lifestyle factors is important for cancer patients; my concern is that in my opinion the Gawler program goes too far, making far reaching suggestions that do not appear supported by evidence.”
Dr Hall wrote that while criticism of conventional medicine was accepted as part of the program, “there is an almost complete lack of critical analysis among participants of Gawler’s methods”.
“Surely one can argue whether spending your limited days juicing and meditating is a ‘better’ use of one’s time than, say, indulging in one’s passion for fine wine, coffee, or even a roast lamb dinner”, she said.
– Kath Ryan
Posted 21 May 2012Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.