When my mother was first diagnosed with lung cancer, I did what anyone would. I read everything I could get my hands on about cancer. I came away with far more questions than I did answers.
She went into hospital the same day she was diagnosed, giving me plenty of opportunities to question nurses and to try to talk to the oncologist. No one wanted to tell me much. I got the type of cancer off her chart and pressured the oncologist to tell me what stage it was and if it had spread. When I learned it was a stage 4 cancer, I knew it wasn’t good.
I’d read about the stages of cancer, the type of cancer, the prognosis. Not one of those things told me anything I wanted to hear. Instead, I started to look for a miracle.
I started digging through the dodgiest websites you can imagine because frankly, the credible ones gave me no hope.
I read about a man who cured himself by maintaining a diet of nothing but blueberries in various forms. From memory, it was a long, diary-style account. At the end there was a post script from his daughter that the cancer had returned (I’m not sure it ever left) and he had died. Another account was someone who did nothing but sleep and sleep until they were “cured”. I read about additives, chemicals, miracle juices. I read that sugar caused cancer, fed cancer, spread cancer. That cancer was really a fungus. That probiotics and organic foods were essential.
My rational mind went out the window. I grasped at anything. I bought mum organic shampoo free of SLS because it might help to limit her exposure to anything that MIGHT cause or exacerbate cancer. I tried to get her to eat more yoghurt. I wondered how to get her to drink blueberry juice. At one point, the hospital allowed her to come home. I dragged my Dad to the shops and filled his trolley with expensive organic produce and groceries. Like most people who are that ill, she couldn’t eat more than a mouthful of what I’d cooked for dinner. The next day she passed away.
Rationality returned after a while. I can clearly see now that I would have tried almost anything to save my Mum. But organic food and expensive shampoo and juices? They were never going to cut it.
With all that in mind, reading about the rise and fall of “health and wellness” blogger Belle Gibson has been pretty interesting. Her initial story of terminal cancer captured the attention of literally thousands of people. She developed The Whole Pantry, billed as the world’s first health, wellness and lifestyle app, which was immensely popular. She was in glossy magazines, had released a book, been on television and she had a following on social media of literally hundreds of thousands of people. Her app, The Whole Pantry, was promoted by Apple, who wanted it to be a first-wave launch app for their new watch.
Gibson’s cancer appeared to be well under control, despite having been told she had mere weeks to live. She told her followers she had turned away from conventional medicine when it could no longer help her. Instead, she began a “clean eating” regimen among other alternate therapies. That didn’t stop this cancer from returning, now and then, but the ever inspirational Belle Gibson wasn’t going to let that stop her.
I can absolutely appreciate the idea of looking for other options if conventional medicine can’t help you anymore. Although it hasn’t happened to me personally, I know how I felt when I learned my Mum was dying. Although I never discouraged her from conventional treatment, I looked into some weird and wacky stuff to try and support her through it, because what if, just maybe, it worked? We had nothing to lose.
It is easy to see why Gibson and other alternative health bloggers, like the late Jess Ainscough, had or have such a following. People want to be healthy. They want to prevent illness. And if they, or someone they love, are already ill- they want a cure. A promise of a chance. Health returned, disease banished and as easy as a bucket of organic juice per day. None of that nasty chemo with all it’s side effects and misery. In Ainscough’s case, she was faced with a horrible choice. Doctors wanted to cut off her arm. I can see why she looked for an alternative. Initially, Ainscough was as much a victim of dodgy health blogs and websites as anyone else before her. Then she joined their ranks. I don’t know if there is any way to measure the damage she may have caused in swaying others from conventional therapies. I know it appears to have cost her her own mother before she herself passed away. The idea that others may have become sicker or died because they listened to Jess Ainscough and not to doctors makes me immeasurably sad however it is evident that she practiced what she preached and believed it, born out of a real desire to heal herself, which is probably a small consolation to many.
I spoke to a former friend of hers, who told me she had known for some time that the cancer claims were a lie. She told me that some among Gibson’s friends knew about this and a number of other lies. My source explained that Belle Gibson was interested in only what she could gain. I’ve seen speculation in the media that perhaps she is mentally ill. Perhaps she has Munchausen’s Syndrome. My source does not believe Gibson is mentally ill. My source believes she is a “catfish”, a liar who conjured her cancers “out of thin air to gain anything she could, whether it was roses at a hospital for heart surgery, meals and organic veggies, money, or just to bask in the sympathies of others”. Couple this with the fact that donations she solicited never reached their recipients and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Belle Gibson is a prime example of why you shouldn’t trust a blogger with your life. She has no qualifications yet advised people on health (Hot tip- if you want to provide medical advice a qualification in the field is always a good start!). Gibson spoke not just on eating well but also spruiked alternative therapies she claimed could treat cancer, offering herself as some kind of proof of a successful therapy for a disease she didn’t even have.
I’ve never been diagnosed with cancer but I can tell you that it has impacted my life and the lives of my family in an enormous way. I know what it is to grasp for hope where hope seems impossible. I know what it is to search and search for a way, for any way, to stave off the inevitable. What Belle Gibson has done is despicable. She has lied to thousands, given health advice she isn’t qualified to provide based on a “cancer journey” she’s never been on. She even blamed her fictional cancer on the HPV vaccine and reportedly urged others not to vaccinate their families.
As I said previously, there’s no way to measure the damage that has been done by all this. Many people are feeling ripped off and angry, wanting refunds and wanting answers. One actual cancer survivor, Yvonne Hughes, has penned an eloquent yet furious response to the situation.
I read this part of Gibson’s interview:
“In the last two years I have worked every single day living and raising up an online community of people who supported each other … I understand the confusion and the suspicion, but I also know that people need to draw a line in the sand where they still treat someone with some level of respect or humility — and I have not been receiving that.”
And I could barely contain my disbelief. This is from a person who told the world not only that she had cancer, more than once, but that she had cured it. This is from a person who profited from her claims, over and over. I don’t wish her any ill; in fact, I hope she gets herself some serious help. But now is not the time for her to complain about not receiving enough respect. On top of the fraud and the false hope she gave out with unqualified and inaccurate medical advice, she should know that it is not respectful to lie about having cancer. I can’t help but mentally wind back the clock to when my Mum was dying and to remember the desperation I felt and the constant scouring online to see if there was some possibility, some remote chance of hope.
Belle Gibson feels she’s not getting enough respect? Cry me a fucking river.
#FYBF at With Some Grace
#TIK at House of Many Minions
#Weekend Rewind at Maxabella Loves
#The Ultimate Rabbit Hole at Calm to Conniption