Grace Gawler the woman behind the Gawler story
Grace Gawler: The Beginnings of a Life of Service
At 21 years of age in 1974, I became a proactive caregiver to a co-worker/ boyfriend who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the femur that resulted in his right leg being amputated.
The following year he became very ill and was deemed palliative with a short life expectancy when his oncologist presumed he had a recurrence of bone cancer. A biopsy was not performed but he became critically ill with mysterious symptoms.
His condition deteriorated rapidly and unbeknown to us or doctors at the time, but later confirmed; he was diagnosed with advanced TB. According to an expert familiar with TB, the TB was evident at the time of his diagnosed recurrence. These 2 concurrent medical conditions muddied the waters. The story is complex, but he survived.
During the 1970’s cancer support groups were non-existent. Being a sole caregiver was a lonely existence. The experience of closed doors and minds and lack of supportive care became the driver for us sharing the knowledge gained on the cancer journey with others.
At the outset, this was by way of support groups led by both of us and a phone-based help service I provided from home for cancer patients,
The Cancer Support Groups were an Australian first and were soon to be followed by my vision for creating a country retreat, the Yarra Valley Living Centre.
My vision was realised with financial support for a land purchase from another family who had personal experience with cancer, the Edgelows. The Centre became the home of the Gawler Foundation. Four children arrived and I studied and qualified in Natural Therapies/Herbal medicine. Life was full!
Grace Gawler's Milestones
1974: Aged just 21, Grace became sole carer of a critically ill cancer patient who survived against the odds. (Still alive in 2022)
1980: Based upon personal experience with supporting a cancer patient, co-founded the Melbourne Cancer Support Group and The Gawler Foundation – Yarra Valley Living Centre -Yarra Junction Victoria (1985)
· Recognised as a pioneer in the field of supportive care, CAM and cancer.
1979-1987: 4 years intensive study – then Graduate of Dorothy Hall College at distinction level in a broad range of Natural Therapies. QINS – Dip Basic Sciences.
1978-1984: Four children born – busy years!
1991: Created gender specific support groups and residential courses for women with cancer and breast cancer – an Australia first. The Cancer Council later adopted the support group model.
1994: First book published Women of Silence- the emotional healing of breast cancer- a best seller for its genre. Reprinted UK 2003.
1995: Women of Silence printed in Dutch language.
1996-1999: Invited to be a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Women’s Health Victorian government complementary medicine by the Hon Marie TEHAN.
1994-1995: New Zealand – promotes and leads first residential programs for women with cancer & breast cancer – Auckland
1996: Resigns from Gawler Foundation; unhappy with their changing direction and irreconcilable management issues. Creates ‘safe’ Supportive Care practice for women with cancer – Ellimatta Women’s Health.
1997: Presented a Grand Round for Graduates and Doctors Monash University Medical Centre: A privilege as speaker usually given to medical specialists. Subject: The importance of emotional support for women with breast cancer.
1997: Marriage separation, divorce, concurrent with life challenging medical condition.
1998: Receives the inaugural Rotary International Jean Harris Award for services to Women’s Health; South Pacific Region
2002-3: Following surgical complications (1997) Grace undergoes successful world first experimental surgery in The Netherlands.
2003: Promotes & leads first residential programs for women with breast cancer; The Netherlands. Pro-bono work whilst in long recovery from surgery
2002-2003: BBC radio interviews throughout the UK including Libby Purves, BBC Radio 4 London (4 million listeners).
2003: Invited Presenter, workshop leader for the London and Hereford Haven Trusts, the Helen Rollason HEAL Trust, Chelmsford Essex, Bristol Cancer Help Centre (now Penny Brohn Centre)
2003 Invited keynote speaker – Penny Brohn Memorial Lecture London.
2003: Invited to work in association with Oncology Professor Karol Sikora, Harley Street London.2004-2005:
Settled in Brisbane, Training practitioners in Supportive Care Medicine.
2005: GEM Psychotherapy Method. Named and supported by Dr Ilana Rubenfeld USA (RSM TM) with whom Grace trained. Dr Rubenfeld personally endorsed Grace’s extension of the work that she had pioneered and named it GEM.
2005 in Brisbane – Extended work into wellness – Key focus – Use lessons learned from illness to promote wellness.
2005 Member of and writer for Spa Asia and many other journals
2005 - 2016
2005: Assisted Reiki Australia Professional Standards Team training module: Providing Services for People with a Life Challenging Illness (module HLTCOM509A). Now included as an elective in many qualifications including the Health Training Package for use nationally. 2008-2022 – still Patron for Reiki Australia.
2005: Invited member to the International Advisory Board Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Elsevier Science Direct and in print. Articles published The British Medical Associations “Holistic Health” Journal.
2005: Speaker at the prestigious European Association for Cancer Education – 18th Annual Scientific Meeting University of Central England Birmingham, UK. Topic: Breast Cancer and Supportive Care.
2007: Presents Keynotes & Workshops at major Health Summits, Thailand and Manila. introduces her Wellbeing Model to the Global Spa Industry.
2007: Keynote Australasian Spa Conference Sydney. Speaker replacing Olivia Newton John who attended the event.
2008: Invited patron for Reiki Australia.
2010: Published in Medical Journal of Australia and reviewed in Australian Doctor
2010: Established the Grace Gawler Institute for Integrated Cancer solutions, Qld; a health promotion charity for expanding her cancer patient services, including support for male cancer patients with her partner, Pip Cornall.
2010: Converts her books to eBook format for worldwide distribution.
2011: A funding grant provided by Aurizon enables the institute to establish Prostate Mates website and services. Delivery of prostate cancer services in rural Australia.
2012: Grace and Pip invited to an innovative private oncology clinic in Germany. We offered a specialised service, travelling with patients to Germany, providing guidance and support.
2014: Ceased the service when clinic failed to implement our requested changes – better management, capping of patients fees. During this time, Grace met leading German cancer specialists, visited the Swiss Bio Strath production plant.
2014: Grace and a specialist GP create a dedicated practice for cancer patients on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
2016: Specialist GP retires. Grace continues collaborations with leading oncologists in Australia and overseas.
2016: New initiatives help many patients achieve Optimal Health Restoration. Includes many stage 4 and palliative patients whose survival outcomes exceeded clinical expectations.
2016: Brain Cancer without Borders initiative established, forming a global alliance with brain cancer specialists.
2016: Grace creates unique cancer navigation plans (Survive and Thrive) providing 10 hours of dedicated services.2010: Converts her books to eBook
format for worldwide distribution.
2011: A funding grant provided by Aurizon enables the
institute to establish Prostate Mates website and services. Delivery of
prostate cancer services in rural Australia.
2012: Grace and Pip provided intense
guidance for patients who wished to seek treatment overseas because they had no
treatment options. Connected patients with hospitals and Clinics where
medically validated treatments not yet available in Australia could be
2014: Ceased the service when a
referred clinic failed to implement our requested changes – better management
& capping of patients’ fees. During this time, on a sponsored trip, Grace
met with leading German cancer specialists in University hospitals to explore
what they could offer cancer patients. A visit was also organised to the Swiss
Bio Strath (Strath) production plant on a quest to further authenticate the
2014: Grace and a specialist GP create
a dedicated practice for cancer patients on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
2016: Specialist GP retires.
Grace continues collaborations with Gold Coast oncologists, Imaging groups,
hospitals, radiotherapists in Australia.
2016: New initiatives help many
patients achieve Optimal Health Restoration. Includes many stage 4 and
palliative patients whose survival outcomes exceeded clinical expectations.
2016: Brain Cancer without Borders
initiative established, forming a global alliance with brain cancer
2016: Grace creates unique cancer navigation plans – later called Survivorship Care Plans providing
10 or 15 hours of dedicated continual services at bulk cost
2017: Grace develops a strong scientific liaison with an Australian based genomic laboratory and oncologists who can refer patients to Genomic diagnostic services. She recommends patients discuss Genomic testing with their oncologist to assist with Survivorship.
2018: Name change. Grace implements a name change for the Institute to the Grace Gawler Institute for Cancer Survivorship and Research. The change to include ‘survivorship,’ reflects the large number of our late-stage cancer patients who survived & thrived despite their poor prognosis.
The inclusion of ‘Research’ in the new name indicates our aim to conduct research into these successful late stage ‘survivorships’ and with the permission of patients and input from their treating doctors; publish our findings.
2018: Survivorship Care plan: Terms of service was updated, and new additions were made to the Grace Gawler Institute website to reflect changes.
2019: Sponsored medical research trip to Taiwan and Singapore. Taiwan – University of Taiwan- Visit to a nuclear medicine facility – providing experimental brain cancer treatment.
Met with the Taiwanese distributor of Japanese functional foods and an abiotic gut health supplement to gain more in-depth knowledge about products already imported and used by our patients in Australia.
Outcome of travels: By visiting the source and place of manufacture of complementary medicines recommend by GGI and used by our patients, we confirmed our confidence in research evidence and quality control of these products.
Singapore: Meetings with a colorectal surgeon, oncologists, radiation therapy team at two hospitals with a view to furthering second opinions and referrals for our patients who need specialised surgical approaches. We gathered cancer support information during hospital visits to look at supportive care systems.
2020: Covid 19 year. Despite challenges including lack of volunteer and support staff, Grace guided the Institute to provide extended patient services; a challenge; given referrals overseas were ceased due to travel restrictions. During this period, Grace spent 50% of her time providing free advice for desperate patients who could not travel overseas or (at times) interstate, for treatment.
2021: The Melinda Ferszt Fund: thanks to friends and family of Melinda Ferszt, Grace will be authoring a handbook for younger patients who are diagnosed with colon cancer. This will be a first of its kind and will be available in print and e-book. The book is intended to provide a living legacy of Melinda’s journey and assistance to younger patients diagnosed with colon cancer.
Other initiatives continue – Increase Breast Cancer Services
Extra training relevant to Grace's Cancer service - Lectures and Workshops
1992 – 1994: Lectures Atended: Hilton Head Island South Carolina, USA National institute for the Clinical application of Behavioural Medicine (NICABM).
Post Workshop Training intensives attended, Hilton Head Island South Carolina>
USA National institute for the Clinical application of Behavioural Medicine (NICABM).
1992: Jon Kabat-Zinn PHD: Integrating Mindfulness into Behavioural Medicine (1)
Lawrence LeShan PhD: Author: Cancer as a Turning Point. (1)
David Lee-MEd LSAC – therapeutic storytelling
1993: Dr Emmett Miller, visualisation methods to assist patients.
Ernest Rossi PhD, the Psychobiology of Hypnotherapy (Ericksonian Hypnotherapy).
Ilana Rubenfeld, introduction to Rubenfeld Synergy Method (RSM TM)
Lawrence LeShan PhD: Author: Cancer as a Turning Point. Beyond technique: The Nature of Healing in a Therapeutic Relationship (2)
1994: Dr Emmett Miller – 2nd training: visualisation methods to assist patients.
Ilana Rubenfeld Art of Self Care (2)
Jon Kabat-Zinn PHD. Integrating Mindfulness into Behavioural Medicine (2)
Lawrence LeShan PhD: Author: Cancer as a Turning Point. (3)
David Lee-MEd LSAC – therapeutic storytelling – use of metaphors to assist emotional, psychological and behavioural change.
1995: Commence 3 x year intensive training New York: with Dr Ilana Rubenfeld USA (RSM TM) – Body Psychotherapy for 2 years. Incorporates Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, the work of F&L Perls (Germany), Gestalt, the neuropsychology, psychotherapy and other techniques to help patients integrate mind and body and deal with effects of trauma.
1995: Further workshop/studies:
David Lee MEd LSAC:
Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, Therapeutic Language.
Ericksonian hypnotherapy and therapeutic storytelling
Dr Rob McNeilly:
Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, Therapeutic Language.
Awards and Special Mentions
Awards and special mentions:
1998: In recognition of her unique contribution to breast cancer & women’s health, Grace receives the inaugural Rotary International Jean Harris Award, in recognition for outstanding service to the development and progress of women in society. Australia & South Pacific Region.
1996-1999: Ministerial Advisory Committee for Women’s Health: Invited member by the Hon Marie Tehan, Minister for Health (Vic) to join the new Victorian Government. Ministerial Advisory Committee for Women’s Health. The committee was chaired by Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, AC, DBE, former Australian politician who served as a Senator for Victoria from 1971 to 1987.
Grace's contribution to Cancer Care and Support
1995: Speaker: Ground Breaking Question of Hope conference, University of Bristol.
1995: Introduces intensive training for leaders of active cancer support groups. The Netherlands.
1995: Speaker: the Hospital As a Temple. Personal transformation through crisis. An international working conference for healthcare providers. The Netherlands.
1997: Speaker: The first complementary and Supportive care medicine practitioner to present a Grand Round Lecture, Austin Hospital, Melbourne.
1997-2005: Grace has personal medical crisis following surgical complications (1997), undergoes world first experimental surgery in The Netherlands. (2002-3)
2005: Invited to the advisory board of The International journal “Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice” – online (Elsevier Science Direct) and print media. Published in the British Medical Association “Holistic Health” Journal.
2005: Speaker: Birmingham UK, European Association for Cancer Education (EACE) Scientific Key Presentation, research on a therapeutic breast cancer support group model.
2010: Published in Medical Journal of Australia on importance of accuracy of a high profile cancer story. Also reviewed in the Australian Doctor.
2010-2021: Grace’s Key focus – evolving a not for profit organisation, the Grace Gawler Institute for Cancer Survivorship and Research. Builds professional liaisons with cancer experts worldwide, provide extra services for patients
Grace continues up-skilling with online trainings…
Vessel van der Kolk, trauma specialist. Series.
Singapore Sarcoma Webinar: How Cancer Evades the Immune System.
Webinar The Scientist Magazine
2021: What our microbiomes must teach us about our health and disease.