Cancer. Politics, dogma... yet hope
1993 was not a good year.
In the midst of my international business career that involved
extensive time away from our Singapore home and long days in remote
parts of nearby Indonesia, I discovered a lump under my left arm
whilst showering in my Jakarta hotel bathroom.
Three days later upon returning to Singapore where under surgery the
lump was removed by Dr Richard Chew. who then broke the news:
“I am sorry to tell you that the lump is in fact a secondary tumor
that has originated from a melanoma. We call it metastatic cancer
meaning the cancer is malignant and it has already spread. Your
prognosis is not good.”
Two weeks later we were packing our bags, selling our apartment and
heading back to Perth – one of the ‘homes’ of skin cancer – where I
would start cancer treatment and my wife Katherine would start to
look for a new home, a new car and a new school for our two
children, Brenden and Lisa.
These were dark and lonely days. I was referred to a leading
Perth-based oncologist who told me I would need extensive treatment
including in-patient chemotherapy over four months plus 25 regimes
of radiotherapy. I was informed that ‘chemo’ would probably make me
sick, affect my hair, taste, hearing and worst of all my immune
system - the very thing I thought I needed to help me survive.
“The immune system is of no use anyway”, my oncologist explained,
“as it has no effect combating the cancer, so what we need to do is
try and kill the tumor.”
Following the treatment, I was informed that despite the treatment
‘going well’ my prognosis was still poor; maybe three years at best.
It was during 1994 I was to meet Dr Ian Gawler OAM, a qualified
veterinarian, who had pioneered the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra
Valley, Victoria. Dr Gawler’s work was based on his own experience
and research and attracted many people affected by cancer who wanted
to empower themselves by using complementary therapies and lifestyle
choices to try and improve their general health, and possibly their
Much of Dr Gawler’s work was based on the principle that it was
possible to use therapies that would stimulate the body’s own immune
system – that is tricked by cancer cells to turn itself off – and
allow it to do what it was designed to do; to keep the person not
only alive, but in good holistic health.
Over the years Dr Gawler has recorded many ‘remarkable stories’ of
people who after following his model – that did not usually conflict
with any medical treatments – recorded significant improvement in
their health and cancer prognosis.
Fascinated by Dr Gawler’s work I visited Mexico where I met with the
daughter of the renown Dr Max Gerson. The Gerson Institute was
driven-out of the USA for what they called ‘quackery’ and
‘misleading’ claims about cancer treatments that included drinking
up to 13 glasses per day of freshly prepared vegetable juice
complemented with coffee enemas.
Once again, Gerson believed that through his program, the juices
could activate and feed the body’s immune system allowing it to
‘attack’ the cancer cells. The results with his patients were
impressive, and in particular for melanoma patients, that resulted
in me deciding I would drink five–six glasses of self-made vegetable
juice every day for the rest of my life.
Today, 26 years-on, I continue to drink my life-giving juice, along
with meditation, exercise, a balanced diet and a renewed sense of
spirituality, all designed to ensure my immune system could keep me
in good general health, including relieving me of arthritis that had
also impacted my life.
Not only have people such as Gawler and Gerson been ridiculed, the
medical establishment maintained a strong position that the only way
to fight cancer was to use drugs to ‘attack’ the tumors.
In his book, The breakthrough: Immunotherapy & the race to cure
cancer, (2019), award-winning author Charles Graeber highlighted
that as recently as 2011, ‘most oncologists and scientists dismissed
cancer immunotherapy (stimulating the body’s own immune system) as a
dead-end, peopled by quacks and true-believers who confused hope
with good science.’
Yet some years earlier Dr James P. Allison Ph. D and his colleague
Dr Tasuku Hojo Ph D., were questioning this broad mindset within the
medical establishment that the immune system could not help destroy
cancer cells, and asking could this mindset be wrong?
In October last year, both Dr Allison and Dr Hojo received the Nobel
Peace Prize ‘for breakthrough discoveries in stimulating the human
“By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor
cells, this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have established an
entirely new principle for cancer therapy,” Nobel Assembly Secretary
Thomas Perlmann noted in announcing the award to Dr Allison and Dr
Whilst most Australians would not have noticed or been aware of this
award, one group within our population did notice: Melanoma
Within the past few years, the acceptance of immunotherapy and the
introduction of specific drugs to help stimulate the body’s own
immune system has turned the treatment of metastatic melanoma ‘on
Patients who were facing almost certain premature death, were
starting to turn-up a support groups hosted by MelamomaWA and
relating experiences of complete remission.
In my own case, the treatment that I suffered
through in 1994 – using chemotherapy augmented by radiotherapy – has
now been deemed as having very little efficacy in treating
metastatic melanoma. This raises an interesting question: If my
prognosis in 1993 was so poor, and my treatment (chemotherapy) was
mostly ineffective, why am I, 26 years later, alive and living a
vibrant and healthy life? I have never in all these years been asked
for my opinion on this question; after-all I am just a patient and
the doctors know best. On three occasions my pathology tests have
been re-examined because doctors could not understand why I had not
seen a recurrence of further primary and secondary cancers?
Only my dermatologist came close last year when he
posed the thought that my family, including my now 94-year-old
father, had a “high likelihood of being affected by melanoma, yet
also appeared to have a high likelihood of not dying from from it.”
Why? Our immune system perhaps?
I am sure that I still have melanoma cells in my
body, but it appears that my immune system does an excellent job of
keeping them benign and non-active, allowing me to ‘live’ with
cancer rather than ‘suffer’ from cancer.
The work of Dr Allison and Dr Hojo is now being
extended to consider if the same incredible results with melanoma
can be achieved in the treatment of breast and prostate cancer. The
possibilities, now that the medical establishment have opened their
minds, are incredibly exciting and ground-breaking. Is cancer
finally on the run? Perhaps.
Am I still alive today because of my medical
treatment? Almost certainly not. Am I alive due to the complementary
therapies that may have worked by stimulating my immune system back
in 1995, two years after my diagnosis? I don’t know, but as a
long-term cancer survivor what I do know is that the role of the
body’s own immune system and its ability to do the job it was
designed to do – to keep us well and alive - has been a critical
As we celebrate these two remarkable scientists
who challenged the thinking of their medical and scientific
colleagues, I cannot help but reflect on the work of Dr Gawler and
Dr Max Gerson, and I wonder if funding should also be directed to
include research into patient-based immunotherapy rather than just
drug induced immunotherapy; it is cheaper and maybe even more
And perhaps we also need to remind ourselves that ‘keeping an
open-mind’ on critical issues such as science and medicine should
always be a mantra; not just a cliché.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the current patron & past president
of the Cancer Wellness Centre in WA. He a former chairman of Breast
Cancer Care WA, Cancer Support WA & author of ‘Living Simply with
Cancer’. Ross is also the president of the Perth-based Indonesia