How to heal thyself
By the time Scott Stephens' doctor leaned forward and said "You know what, mate?... You might just be cancer free," it had been an arduous road for the then 29 year-old.
After having a melanoma cut out of his thigh at 23, the cabinet-maker was a bit shook up. But, within two months, he was back to life as normal, "drinking beers, having bbqs and heading out on my surfboard."
But, nine months later the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. More surgery and 12 months on a trial drug followed before "the doctor whacked a remission stamp on me and sent me home."
He fell in love, got married and started building his first home. "I just returned from my honeymoon when I had a check up and found out the glands in my chest were up," he recalls.
"I was distraught. It wasn't part of the plan. Having your leg chopped open, you go 'yeah, alright' but to have your chest chopped open..."
Lungs scraped, a rib removed and a second surgery to correct complications left Scott feeling like a frail old man.
He spent a subsequent 6 weeks in bed, during which time a visiting friend mentioned the Gawler Foundation, which provides cancer retreats, support and alternative therapies to people with serious illnesses.
"It was kind of hippy stuff - it was eight years ago, but the first session blew my mind," he says. He learned to meditate, learned the importance of nutrition and exercise and, on retreats, was able to share his feelings with people who understood "about the demons that woke you up at 3 in the morning."
Suddenly he had a sense of empowerment at a time when he felt powerless. He meditated for three hours a day, practiced Qi Gong, ate only vegan organic foods and made vegetable juices.
Two years and two relapses later, he found himself sitting across from his perplexed doctor.
Looking over his report, the doctor couldn't see anything about the tumor that had been cut out of Scott's bowel in his last operation. "He said, 'That's weird, it's not there,'" Stephens says.
"I said, 'That's not weird, that's amazing."
That was over six years ago and Stephens, who maintained his vegan lifestyle and meditation practice, is now happy, healthy and cancer-free.
Psychiatrist and meditation teacher, Paul Bedson agrees it is amazing, but is not altogether surprised.
In the 20 years he has worked in integrative medicine, he has seen a dramatic shift in attitude towards the approach.
An integrative approach, he explains, that takes into account mainstream medicine, complimentary therapies and lifestyle 'medicine' such as exercise, nutrition and ensuring emotional support.
"An integrative approach is using the best of what's available," he says.
George Jelinek is Director of the Emergency Practice Innovation Centre at St Vincent's Hospital agrees.
In his 33 years as a doctor, he has seen huge changes.
"There's been an explosion of life-style related disease," he says. "Most doctors are seeing that a drug-only approach is bad medicine... we can't just pay attention to one part of the body without paying attention to the other parts."
An integrative approach, he says, is about "not only prolonging life, but having a better quality life."
The impact of an integrative approach is well-documented.
Bedson believes that this growing body of research, including a 2008 study by the University of California, has contributed to a more mainstream shift in perception.
The University of California study found that it was possible to change expression of the genes through changes in lifestyle.
"That was groundbreaking," he says. "The old thought was that we couldn't change what we were given."
With a growing realisation that "we do really have an impact on the prognosis," Bedson has seen more and more patients adopt an integrative approach to healing.
In a recent speech he recounted six patients "who have come to Gawler and outlived their prognosis. But, they're just the tip of the iceberg."
- Sydney Morning Herald