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Gillian Bertram in Bali in 2017. She combined holistic and conventional treatments on her road to recovery from brain cancer, and says: “I believe that cancer is an imbalance between the mind and body.” Photo: Gillian Bertram

Low-carb diet, meditation, affirmations every day helped brain cancer survivor beat illness after a ‘decade of debauchery’

  • Binge drinking, heavy smoking and fad diets were part and parcel of one Hongkonger’s jet-setting life – until she was diagnosed with brain cancer
  • She combined conventional and alternative therapies in her recovery, joined a cancer support group and now does integrative medicine to help others beat cancer

Hong Kong-born Gillian Bertram was living the glamorous life that she had always dreamed of. Aged 31 and a director with a top model management agency in Paris, she would fly around the world and rub shoulders with major celebrities. It was 2015, and she had it all – or so it seemed.

The stress from her job, however, was rising, and taking a toll on her physically and mentally. “There was tremendous pressure to look like the models I was managing, and I tried one fad diet after another in my quest to look skinny,” says Bertram, who was also binge drinking and smoking heavily at the time.
She was still coming to terms with the loss of her father five months earlier when she suffered a seizure. Doctors put it down to bereavement – but, when a second seizure followed six weeks later, a CT (computerised tomography) scan revealed that there was a large mass in her brain.

Bertram had surgery to remove the tumour, but the subsequent diagnosis was grim: she had malignant grade three brain cancer. Her life as she was living it skidded to a halt.

A scan revealed there was a large mass in Bertram’s brain. Her life as she was living it skidded to a halt. Photo: Gillian Bertram

“Cancer was a wake-up call for me that led me on a journey to take charge of my health and well-being,” says Bertram, who transformed her lifestyle and her career. She is now a nutritional therapist, functional medicine practitioner and integrative cancer coach providing support to cancer patients.

Bertram says her biggest fear was not the cancer itself, but the toxic effects of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy that her oncologists had recommended. Rather than doing any more harm to the body she was working to heal “after a decade of debauchery”, Bertram looked to more natural, holistic treatments.

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She turned to a book a friend had given her, David Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer: A New Way of Life. The author, a French neuroscientist, had discovered a tumour in his own brain at the age of 31. The book details the holistic treatment programme that he used to heal himself after his cancer diagnosis.

“Servan-Schreiber explains how we can inhibit the growth of cancer cells by making changes in our diet, lifestyle and managing our stress levels,” explains Bertram, who chose to combine conventional and alternative therapies.

She undertook six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed by another six weeks of oral chemotherapy. At the same time, she sought out natural treatments and consulted LifeClinic, an integrative health and medical clinic specialising in cancer care in Hong Kong.

Bertram undertook six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed by another six weeks of oral chemotherapy. Photo: Gillian Bertram

Functional medicine practitioner and clinical nutritionist Miles Price introduced Bertram to a holistic approach to cancer care, which entails four tiers: diet, supplements, detoxification and emotional support.

“Our goal is to find out what’s causing the cancer using the functional medicine principles that focus on nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, toxicities and gut health. By identifying the causes, we can keep the cancer from progressing,” says Price.

Bertram followed a radical anticancer diet, supplemented with vitamin D tablets and intravenous vitamin C therapy to boost her immunity.

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“An anticancer diet is highly nutrient-dense, low-carb and supports organ regeneration. Nutrient-dense foods give the patients what they need to replenish, low-carb helps to keep the insulin levels low, which is important, as insulin drives cancer growth,” Price says.

Bertram also had infrared sauna therapy and coffee enemas.

“Infrared saunas relax the body, reduce stress and improve the immune response. Coffee enemas increases the rate of liver detoxification, which is important, as the liver’s job is to detoxify and rid the body of dead cancer cells,” explains Price.

Bertram founded the Bertram Clinic of Nutrition in July 2020 in London. Photo: Gillian Bertram
“I believe that cancer is an imbalance between the mind and body. It is not simply a tumour in the body,” says B ertram who started practising meditation, using the emotional freedom technique (or EFT), tapping the body on meridian points to ease physical pain and emotional distress, and daily affirmations – repeating phrases such as “I am healthy, I am healing” to aid in recovery.
“I practised visualisation during my radiotherapy treatment. I imagined rays of light killing my cancer cells and I could see my cells becoming healthy, happy and dancing with joy,” says Bertram, who also practised restorative yoga and cardio training, including power walking, jogging and stair climbing, to become fitter.

“Yoga helped me slow down, focus my thoughts on my breath and stay rooted in the present moment,” she says.

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“The mental and psychological side of living with cancer was my biggest challenge. The general prognosis for my cancer is typically not more than two years, and five years if you are lucky,” says Bertram, who was able to face her fears because of the support she received from friends and family.

Bertram also joined the Cancer Fund’s support group in Hong Kong.

“I was paired with another person who was undergoing treatment for brain cancer. Meeting her and sharing our experiences leading up to our diagnoses and treatments made me feel that I was not alone in my struggle,” she says.

Bertram was inspired to become a nutritional therapist, specialising in supporting people with cancer. Photo: Gillian Bertram

Bertram did not have many side effects from the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy, which she attributes to the benefits of her holistic treatments. She was inspired to become a nutritional therapist, specialising in supporting people with cancer.


After four years of study at The Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London from 2016 to 2020 and apprenticeships with integrative medical doctors, she founded the Bertram Clinic of Nutrition in July 2020 in London. It supports people with chronic health issues including cancer, most of whom she consults online.

“My mission is to help people integrate their medical care with nutrition and lifestyle changes, to complement their care and not interfere with it,” Bertram says. She uses nutrition, lifestyle and mindset medicine to identify and remove risk factors for cancer.

“For me, cancer has been a gift, it has given me a second chance to live my life. I wake up every morning, feeling grateful and happy that I am healthy,” says Bertram.

She repeats a favourite quote: “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we only have one.”