Ian Gawler


Ian James Gawler (born 25 February 1950) is an Australian author and a prominent advocate for the therapeutic application of mind-body medicine and meditation. In 1987, Gawler was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) for his contributions to the community.

Gawler was born in 1950 to Alan Gawler, an engineer, and Billie Gawler (née Gray) in Melbourne, Australia. After graduation from the University of Melbourne, he worked as a vet in a mixed practice at Bacchus Marsh and Melton, Victoria in 1973 with a special interest in horses and surgery.

In 1974 Gawler was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Resultant surgery involved amputation through the hip. Late in 1975, it was believed that the bone cancer had metastasised and spread to lymph nodes inside his pelvis and mediastinum before spreading more widely on the surface of his sternum and through his left lung.

In December 1975, with the assistance of well-known Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, who believed meditation could alter the course of, or even cure cancer, Gawler had adopted a regime of intensive meditation. He also followed a Gerson diet and pursued an intense program of research, introspection and personal development. In February 1976 his doctors gave him only a few weeks to live.

In February 1976, Gawler had some palliative radiotherapy and in October 1976 he underwent three cycles of experimental chemotherapy. In 1977 he also had an audience with Sai Baba. He was eventually declared clear of cancer in 1978. At the same time he was diagnosed with TB which responded rapidly to conventional treatment supported by lifestyle-based self-help techniques. Gawler’s recovery from cancer was documented by Meares and, 30 years later, the fact that he was still alive was also documented.

In 1997 Gawler separated from his first wife, Grace Gawler. They divorced in 1999. In 2010, in response to an article in the Medical Journal of Australia about Gawler’s cancer recovery, Grace Gawler disputed some of the facts and timeline regarding his recovery.

In the December 2011 edition of Internal Medicine Journal, the online journal of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, two oncologists, Ian Haines from Cabrini Hospital and Ray Lowenthal from Hobart, published a report that no biopsy of Gawler for secondary cancer had been made and suggested that all of his symptoms were consistent with tuberculosis and that this may have been his actual medical condition.

Lowenthal has long been a critic of Gawler’s work. In an hour-long debate on ABC-TV show Couchman, Lowenthal challenged Gawler to produce 50 of his best cancer recovery cases for review. Gawler agreed on air and welcomed “the opportunity for some serious research”. The review has not happened, despite the fact that the 50 cases were made available by the Gawler Foundation at the time. Lowenthal was reportedly unable to receive funding for the study.

In response to Lowenthal and Haines’ report, Gawler maintained that the diagnosis was confirmed by his eminent team of physicians of the day who still stand by that diagnosis.[7] He said that Haines and Lowenthal did not consult with any of these people in preparing their speculative hypothesis and, therefore, did not take account of his clinical history or the many diagnostic tests performed and deemed to be adequate by those physicians to confirm the diagnosis. Gawler’s original physicians maintain that the TB developed as a complication of Gawler’s osteogenic sarcoma, probably after chemotherapy weakened his immune system.

Gawler has always maintained that he recovered from both conditions using an integrative approach; that is by combining the best of what the conventional medicine of the day had to offer with the best of his own abilities to heal, activated by lifestyle-based, self-help techniques. Gawler also said that “The nub of the argument [Haines and Lowenthal’s] is whether inadequate testing was done on me. But I don’t feel any regret that no biopsy was done for the secondary cancer because we did all the things that were necessary.”
After recovering from cancer, Gawler resumed work as a vet for short periods in Geelong and the Gold Coast before moving to Morphett Vale, near Adelaide, South Australia in 1978. He then moved with his wife and young family to commence a new practice at Yarra Junction, Victoria in 1980.
In 1981 Gawler co-founded the Melbourne Cancer Support Group, a lifestyle-based self-help program for people with cancer in Australia. The 12-week program was holistic in scope and based upon Gawler’s own belief and experience in bringing about his recovery. Each week’s session revolved around a central theme, providing members the opportunity to express doubts and fears, but then having a positive, solution based theme to return to. Participants were taught dietary principles, relaxation, meditation, imagery and pain management skills. Other sessions included techniques to develop emotional health, the power of the mind, philosophy and the capacity to come to terms with and integrate the real possibility of dying through cancer.

The program was documented in Gawler’s first self-help book, You Can Conquer Cancer. The book has been printed in over 13 languages. In 1984, the Gawler Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable organisation, was established. The foundation currently has around 50 staff and conducts a range of lifestyle-based self-help programs for people affected by cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as meditation retreats, wellness programs and training and conferences for doctors and other health professionals.

In 1995 the Gawler Foundation published Inspiring People, a collection of the personal experiences of cancer written by 50 people who had survived “against the odds”. In 2008 another collection of personal experiences, Surviving Cancer, was written by 28 people who had survived cancer and who had also attended the Gawler Foundation’s programs. It was launched by the late Chris O’Brien, former director of the Sydney Cancer Centre based at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Gawler worked at the Gawler Foundation as therapeutic director until 2009, teaching self-help techniques to the people who came to the cancer groups, multiple sclerosis groups and meditation retreats. He still contributes to some programs on a part-time basis.

Gawler has been a keynote speaker at many conferences, including the Royal College of General Practitioners’ “Happiness and its Causes” international conference. In 2009 he received the Winsome Constance Kindness Medal for his contribution to animal welfare.[ He continues to write as well as lecture nationally and internationally. Currently he is working on innovative ways of helping people using new technologies.

Gawler married Ruth Gawler (née Berlin), a medical doctor, in 2000. They have worked together since 2001.