Paying it Forward

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 and keep an eye out for our Facebook page and website, which will be launching soon.