Saturday 25 April 2015

Aussie blogger admits she faked cancer

Belle Gibson's business built on the lie collapses amid widespread outrage
By Jonathan Pearlman, Published The Straits Times In Sydney, 24 Apr 2015

AN AUSTRALIAN "wellness" blogger who attracted a global following by claiming she miraculously survived brain cancer has ignited widespread outrage after admitting that none of it is true.

The confession completed the collapse of 23-year-old Belle Gibson's business and finally confirmed that her much-told tale was far too good to be true.

A remarkably healthy-looking mother of a four-year-old son, Ms Gibson used a blog to chronicle how she was given months to live due to brain cancer, but survived by abandoning chemotherapy and turning to whole foods and natural therapies.

She quickly developed a large online following, including hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. She launched an app and a popular recipe book called The Whole Pantry.

But as doubts about her fantastical claims surfaced, she admitted what many had long suspected.

"None of it is true," she revealed in an interview with Australia's Women's Weekly magazine.

"I don't want forgiveness. I just think (speaking out) was the responsible thing. Above anything, I would like people to say 'okay, she is human'." 

Ms Gibson's admission caused anger in her home country and on social media. Adding to the fury, it emerged that Ms Gibson had failed to hand over about A$300,000 (S$314,000) which she reportedly said she was raising for charity.

In her confessional interview, Ms Gibson said her "troubled" childhood may have prompted her to lie about her condition.

"I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality," she said.

"I think my life has just got so many complexities around it and within it, that it is just easier to assume (I am lying)."

The Women's Weekly magazine, which was published yesterday, suggested that Ms Gibson may have a psychological condition called factitious disorder or Munchausen syndrome - where sufferers pretend they are ill to gain attention. 

"She says she is passionate about avoiding gluten, dairy and coffee, but doesn't really understand how cancer works," the magazine said.

The young entrepreneur rose to prominence in 2013 as she began to chronicle her survival story online. 

But the empire began to crumble as journalists in recent months began to question her medical records - or lack thereof - and her alleged efforts for charity.

When she failed to substantiate her claims, her publisher Penguin withdrew her book from sale and cancelled plans to publish it internationally. 

Her app was featured on Apple's website for its Apple Watch, but has since been dropped. 

It remains to be seen whether her followers - including cancer sufferers - will be as quick to forgive as she may hope. 

A cancer sufferer and author, Ms Yvonne Hughes, said that Ms Gibson's fraud could have endangered lives because people made choices about their treatment based on her advice. 

Ms Gibson's magazine interview was her first after going to ground when suspicions first emerged that she was a fraud. 

"Her story of deceit on a grand scale, for personal profit, highlights everything wrong with our cult of personality," columnist Wendy Tuohy wrote in The Herald Sun newspaper.

"Yet, she also confesses today to being a seriously damaged individual, one whose mental stability has at times been a source of great concern."

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