The passionate Prince

Prince Charles shares his lifelong interest in health during visit to Vancouver’s InspireHealth integrated cancer care centre

by Dr. Hal Gunn, B.Sc., M.D

photo by Joseph Roberts

Within moments of meeting His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the original excitement I felt about his visit to InspireHealth gave way to impressions far more profound.

Through the Prince’s Foundation for Integrative Health, Prince Charles has been, for many years, a strong voice and advocate for a shift in medicine towards an integrative approach, which supports health and the body’s remarkable healing ability. He is a patron of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, Great Britain’s leading integrative cancer care centre. Like Bristol, InspireHealth is founded on the same principles regarding health and healing. Recognized nationally as the leader in this rapidly important field, InspireHealth is a BC-based non-profit and a pioneer in the field of integrative care.

As the Prince settled into conversation with InspireHealth patients and medical staff about the opportunities and challenges of integrating the concepts of health and healing into medicine, it became clear that Prince Charles had explored these issues deeply and passionately. He spoke directly and intimately with each of the doctors and patients in the room, and his spirit shone clearly in his smile and his eyes and in the authentic way in which he shared from his own heart and passion. His kind heart and sense of humour shone through, as did his deep commitment. The depth and integrity of his work were quickly evident in our conversation as he shared his decades-long exploration of organic farming, sustainable architecture, humanitarian issues and the interrelatedness of all things.

photo by Chris Loh
Prince Charles with InspireHealth founder Dr. Hal Gunn (third from left) and staff.


The Prince was candid about talking about his lifelong interest in health and healing. He revealed that if the circumstances of his life had been different he would have liked to have become a healer. He spoke about society’s misplaced adoration and subjugation to intellect and our disconnection from intuition. We spoke about modern medicine’s profound disconnect from wisdom and the importance of honouring the perennial wisdom of the healing traditions, our own wisdom as practitioners and, most importantly, our patient’s wisdom. We spoke about how the power structures – law, politics, business, modern medicine, media and education – were all interrelated, and the important role that wisdom could play in shifting our view of each of these to a more spirit-based view of the world and the interrelatedness of all things. It was an honour to speak with the Prince at such a heartfelt level, especially as his interest and engagement were so tangibly evident; as our conversation deepened, the Prince inched progressively closer and closer to the edge of his seat, leaning forward with enthusiasm.

Prince Charles sees our current healthcare system as an illness treatment system, not one of healthcare. The more money we spend treating only the symptoms and the end result of disease and not the underlying causes, the sicker we are becoming. Nowhere in modern medicine is this more obvious than in field of cancer treatment where surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treat the end result of disease, but not the underlying causes of cancer. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on cancer treatment and research over the last 30 years, the overall cancer mortality rate has not changed. In contrast, by optimally engaging people in their own health, we could make a remarkable difference in the quality of care. Only five percent of North American cancer patients meet the minimal requirements for healthful diet, exercise and smoking cessation, yet each of these factors is strongly correlated with cancer recurrence and mortality. For example, exercise in women diagnosed with breast cancer is associated with a 25 to 50 percent reduction in breast cancer recurrence, as great a benefit as can be achieved by chemotherapy. People with colon cancer who eat a healthy diet may reduce their risk of cancer recurrence by 70 percent, a benefit far greater than can be achieved by chemotherapy.

Prince Charles believes in simple inexpensive, natural ways to support health. He reiterated the challenges within our current medical system and its focus on high-tech solutions. He recognizes the value in obtaining recognition for the large and growing body of evidence supporting simple approaches to health. For example, most Britons and Canadians have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D. This is especially true of Vancouverites, given our rainy climate. In a study recently published in the Annals of Epidemiology(2009 July), Garland et al concluded that supplementation with vitamin D (2,000 IU per day) “would prevent approximately 58,000 new cases of breast cancer and 49,000 new cases of colorectal cancer each year and three-fourths of deaths from these diseases in the United States and Canada.”

It is simply untenable that we are not doing more to engage people in this simple, safe approach to prevention. In addition to cancer prevention, vitamin D supplementation has the added benefit of substantially reducing our risk of heart disease, diabetes, strokes, MS, depression and even the flu.

We shared with Prince Charles the results of InspireHealth’s retrospective studies. They document the substantial survival advantage for InspireHealth patients compared to the standard survival curves for all the most common types of cancer. Intrigued by these research results and our work, Prince Charles offered a collaboration with his foundation – something we are very much looking forward to as we develop collaboration with other groups and organizations around the world interested in creating viable and responsive healthcare systems. With a wink reflective of someone with years of experience challenging orthodoxy, the Prince summed it up, “Safety in numbers, you know!” – a needed reminder of the power of collaboration.

It was clear from our conversation that Prince Charles sees organizations such as the Bristol Centre and InspireHealth as integral to an optimal healthcare system. He also sees it as his responsibility to shine light on the value of integrative approaches. Integrative care provides patients with the knowledge, experience and tools to support their overall health and wellbeing before, during and after cancer treatment. This broader approach to supporting health is increasingly being acknowledged as an essential component of an optimal cancer care system. Growing evidence exists showing that this integrative support of health is as important as conventional cancer treatment in reducing cancer recurrence and improving survival, at a tiny fraction of the cost of conventional treatments.

Like a growing proportion of British Columbians, InspireHealth patients are very grateful for this service; the only complaint we get from patients is that they wished they had heard about our program sooner.

I was touched by how deeply Prince Charles feels about integrative care and the broader social issues we face. Born into privilege, it would have been easy for him to choose a path supportive of the status quo. But it was clear that he had chosen to follow a different path – albeit a more challenging one. We were left with the impression of the ancient notion of nobility – a Prince trained in the spiritual and human traditions to be a leader.

What an honour and pleasure it was to meet Prince Charles, but not because of his title. My lasting impression of meeting Prince Charles was not the excitement of meeting a famous ‘royal,’ but of a kind, compassionate, humble and caring human being.

Dr. Hal Gunn is the co-founder and CEO of InspireHealth, Canada’s foremost, integrated cancer care centre. Since 1997, InspireHealth’s doctors have helped guide more than 5,500 patients to integrate research-informed natural approaches to health into their cancer treatment and recovery. InspireHealth is located at 200-1330 W. 8th Ave., Vancouver. 604-734-7125,

Leave a comment