The Gift of Life

How a small act of kindness lead to a big healing experience

By Madeleine Selian

Winter 2014, Living Well Magazine

“I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in October 2002. I went into surgery at the Freemasons Hospital on Melbourne Cup Day of all days.

I remember this time clearly. During my stay at the hospital I would walk along the corridors thinking only one thing – ‘I’m going to die from advanced cancer’. A lady stopped  to chat with me, a fellow patient.

As we got talking about why we were here she asked me “Do you know there are many things that you can  do for yourself? Have you heard of The Gawler Foundation?” I hadn’t.

She told me about this place and said there were some flyers about the Foundation at reception and I should take one. I didn’t know the first thing about meditation or the foundation’s approach and to be honest I wasn’t interested. I think she could tell I wouldn’t follow it up because one morning when I woke up the Gawler Foundation flyer was on my bedside table, this lady had paid me a visit. Still, I wasn’t interested. It was my husband who packed the flyer into my bag on my last day at the hospital and who put it on my bedside table on our return home.

One morning in December when I was too weak to leave bed I picked up the flyer for the first time and I called the foundation. I started the foundation’s 12-week Cancer, Healing and Wellbeing program facilitated by Siegfried Gutbrod a month or so later.

I only wish I knew who this lady at the hospital was so that I could thank her. Even as I think of this lady today, I think it’s because of her I am still alive. I often pondered calling the hospital to track her down but I knew they could not give out information about another patient.

The Gawler Foundation program was where I first learnt to meditate. One  of the most profound experiences I had during this program was when Siegfried, the facilitator, asked us to write down the first 10 things we would like to do in our current physical, geographical and financial situation if we were given only three months to live. He never asked us what we had written; he only asked us why if these were truly things we wanted in our lives were we not pursuing them right now? That was like a cold shower for me – a huge wake up.

A few months later my dear friends raised the money for me to attend the five-day follow-up cancer retreat at The Gawler Foundation, now known as Cancer and Beyond. When I came home I explained to my husband that instead of any birthday or Christmas presents ever again, all I wanted was to attend one Gawler Foundation retreat each year – which I have done.

Over the years I have attended retreats with Ian Gawler, Ruth, Siegfried, Craig, Paul, Maia and Robyn. The Healing Meditation retreats, Set Your Compass, the Women’s Retreat, Essence of Health, the Gawler Foundation conference, whatever is on I jump at the opportunity. To me the team at Gawler are like members of my family.

Attending The Gawler Foundation is a life-changing experience. Once you go there its part of the rest of your life.

The most important thing I have learnt through meditation and my time at the foundation was a level of acceptance of my condition. Although I was following the diet and the lifestyle recommended by the foundation,  my cancer had relapsed. While others were talking about ‘fighting’ their cancer, I decided to become friends with mine. I would talk to my cancer when meditating and say to ‘him’ (my cancer) “If I’m going to die, you’re going to die because you can’t live in a dead body. So we had better agree to live in balance. I’ll take care of you and you take care of me and we may live together”.

Once I found this new acceptance and changed my attitude and my feelings of fear, everything seemed to change.

My first priority when planning the financials for the year ahead is attending one retreat, as I promised myself all those years ago. Sometimes it’s a financial struggle for me and I have to save up the money to attend but I know the value of the program  is always so fantastic from beginning to end.

Every time I drive down the driveway of the foundation’s Yarra Valley Living Centre on my way to a retreat I’ve got that feeling that I’m coming home.

If I had the chance to go back and visit myself, Madeleine of 2002, in the hospital – feeling so down and so afraid, I would say to her “Life will be even more enjoyable than before cancer.” These twelve years have been the best of my life. Even though I’ve been growing older and I’ve been sick. Believe it or not, I’ve really enjoyed life after the diagnosis of cancer.

My biggest regret is the couple of months of my life that I lost after diagnosis, spent worrying about dying. That was before I attended the foundation. As soon as I walked through the door of the foundation I felt a sense of trust that these people could help me. Just as when I was doing chemotherapy I decided to have the attitude that I was doing something that would help me.

At the time of diagnosis I was told  I had a 20% chance of surviving  the surgery and then after that there wasn’t much left for me. Ovarian cancer is very aggressive. When I made it through the surgery I was told my chances had increased to 50% but that I had to fight for the balance. I felt confused; I am no medical expert. I had no idea what they meant, but now I do. They were right, I have taken responsibility for that 50% and I’ve built up a great support team around me, among them are The Gawler Foundation, my husband and my dog.

I hear others living with cancer say they don’t think meditation is for them. Don’t say that without really trying. Go to The Gawler Foundation, be patient, it will come and it can help you. I was open to what was available at the foundation and that really helped me.”