Paying it Forward

Summer 2016, Living Well Magazine

by Ben Kerslake

Being diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma in Nov 2014, and being told at 32 with a young family that (worse case) I could have 4-6 months to live, was incomprehensible.

I was convinced right from the onset that I was not a statistic and was driven to explore all my options for treatment. So with the support of my wife, family and friends I started to look into ways that I could beat the cancer.

Right away I had surgery and radiotherapy on my head to remove a tumour, and following that we started immunotherapy. At the time I had numerous tumours through my brain, lungs and abdomen.

It was actually my mother-in-law who came across The Gawler Cancer Foundation’s retreat programs, and as soon as she shared the information with me I knew wanted to attend. I was eager to learn additional ways to tackle my diagnosis, over and above conventional treatments, and was grateful she came across the information in time for my wife and I to book the last two spots for the January 2015 Cancer Fundamentals Retreat.

The retreat was definitely a life-changing experience for us both. My wife and I learned so much through out the process and continue to use those learnings in our day-to-day lives.

Twenty-four months from my diagnosis, I am cancer and tumour free and doing really well!

I still meditate mostly every day. Having two small kids, I did find it hard to set aside time for meditation, I started practicing last thing at night after the kids were in bed but was often too tired and would fall asleep, so nowadays I get up at 5:15am (30 minutes before I need to) to get my practice in before I head off to work. I find the process of meditating difficult sometimes but remind myself that no meditation is a bad meditation; just the simplicity of quiet time and sitting in stillness with myself is really enjoyable, and has become an important part of my day.

I believe the role of the mind is such a powerful component for achieving goals, health-related or otherwise, and I never believed the worse case scenario handed down to me at the time of diagnosis, so I think remaining strong in mind has really helped.

Also the impact a plant-based diet has had on my recovery from treatments and general vitality is remarkable. I was eating fruits and veggies prior to attending the retreat, but was also eating a lot of animal protein, drinking alcohol semi-regularly and drinking a lot of caffeine. In hindsight, I was over consuming and putting my digestive system under a lot of strain. Switching to a plant-based diet wasn’t hard for me, the information and evidence imparted at the retreat was enough for me to know this was something I had to do and commit to the change, and I feel so much better for it.

In July 2015, eight months after the diagnosis, the tumours were reducing a lot from the treatments, and I feel those dietary changes and returning my body to an alkaline state had a lot to do with that.

I also exercise regularly, having returned to playing footy for the 2016 season, and now run a few times a week in the off season.  I’ve also tried a bit of Bikram Yoga and might explore that further.

The amount of support that has been extended to me through members of the community has been quite overwhelming. Because I couldn’t work, my brother and his wife set up an online fundraising campaign; and another group of my mates got together and organised a fundraising event called ‘Big Day Out for Ben’ which had music, food, drinks and auction items – over 600 people attended. The same group of mates also organised a ‘mateship marathon’ relay, where we swam, rode and ran from here at home in Adelaide to Port Lincoln (around 700km), and raised quite a bit of money in the process. Visiting the country towns during that event, I was blown away by the generosity and support of all the communities, and it left me wanting to give back – hence why I set up my own Foundation.

“The Kerslake Foundation” is a charity that has been created to raise money for two other organisations that have made a big difference to my experience with cancer – The Australian Melanoma Research Foundation and The Gawler Cancer Foundation.

The Australian Melanoma Research Foundation is an organisation that is close to my heart. I’ve had a bit to do with them over the past couple of years, and I really want to help them because the work they do is amazing!

Likewise, my time at The Gawler Cancer Foundation had such a positive impact on my life and my diagnosis. I believe what I learned at the retreat has played a huge role in my current state of health, and I really want to help other people who are facing a cancer diagnosis get to a retreat program. I’ve set up a bursary fund at the Foundation, where funds raised by us can be allocated to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to attend a cancer retreat. I had so many people pool around me and support me financially when I needed it, so I am really happy to be able to pay it forward now.

We had our first fundraising event a few weeks ago for the launch of The Kerslake Foundation and raised $5,000. We’re pretty happy with that, especially with it being our first event.

If you would like more information about The Kerslake Foundation, please email ben@kerslakefoundation.org.au and keep an eye out for our Facebook page and website, which will be launching soon.