Belle Gibson: Faked her cancer story?
Elle called her 'The most inspiring woman you've met this year'. She also won Cosmopolitan's Fun Fearless Female award for social media.
Single mother Belle Gibson supposedly beat a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, shunning conventional medicine and focussing on a healthy diet. She then published a book and developed an app that told her story and showed others how to be healthy.
The story of her health battle is one that we now know was at best embellished and at worst was an outright lie.
Elle and Cosmo have written insider accounts of their experience with the young Brisbane mother... both admit to being thoroughly duped.
'SICK OF HER LIES BEING PUBLISHED'
Cosmopolitan was right about one thing; Belle Gibson certainly is fearless.
Gibson has a top-rating health app that was set to be a default app on Apple's new watch.
Its success and the empire she has built comes from her incredible story of triumph over adversity, of sickness into self-empowered health.
"She's fun and fearless 'cos: she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, but instead of giving in, it became the impetus for her dedication to health and wellbeing," Cosmo wrote about their 2014 Fearless nominee. "Oh, and her app was named runner-up for the Best iPhone App of 2013 by Apple. Not bad, hey?"
Not bad at all. Except, as Fairfax revealed, Gibson failed to donate $300,000 of the money promised to charity from the sales of her health app, The Whole Pantry.
Claims then emerged that Gibson lied about ever having suffered from cancer.
Apple has pulled the App, her publishers Penguin have scrapped her cookbook deal and Belle has deleted all her Instagram posts as well as The Whole Pantry's Facebook account.
Now, Elle and Cosmo have written insider accounts of their experience with the young Brisbane mother, whose age is even questionable (some media outlets claim Gibson is 23 while others say she is 26).
Both admit to being thoroughly duped and impressed by Gibson – as were many other media outlets, her 200,000 plus followers along with Penguin and Apple.
"The whole country [Australia] is currently getting their heads around claims that her career is built on lies. Us included," Cosmo writes.
"Somewhat ironically, in hindsight, [Gibson] said, 'My community expects me to be authentic!'"
Of their feature, Elle wrote:
"When the December issue came out, we had a ton of positive feedback from both long-time and new supporters of Gibson. And then we got this anonymous email:
It has come to my attention that you have published a story about a girl I have known my whole life. Her name is Belle Gibson, creator of The Whole Pantry app + book. And a so called "Terminal cancer patient". Unfortunately, there are a few things you might need to know before you consider publishing more about this woman. She's a compulsive liar. In fact, she got so tangled in her own web of lies living in Brisbane, she moved to Melbourne to start a new life of lies – "the cancer lie" this time. For one – This girl isn't 26 years old.
She was born in 1991, class of 08, Wynnum High School in Queensland. My younger brother was in her form class. Secondly, she never had/nor does she have currently any form of cancer (Where's the proof?). I've known Belle since her childhood (and am close with her mother) and she has always had a problem with fabricating stories from nothing on a regular basis. It's one thing to act as if she can cure "her cancer" by eating organic (which simply isn't true) but to give false hope to people who are ACTUALLY fighting cancer is nothing short of evil. You MUST be aware of this before you publish stories about this woman. She is selling her fake sob story in order to profit from her app + book sales. She is a wolf in sheep's clothing & a master manipulator.
Sincerely, Sick of seeing her lies published :)
Editorial staff at Elle and Cosmo (which was passed the email by fellow Bauer publishing colleagues from Elle) both say they attempted to verify details of the email to no avail and so wrote it off. Staff at Elle believed it was "a bunch of lies".
TAKING STORIES OF ILLNESS AT FACE VALUE
But the sad reality behind Gibson's dream story is that, it seems, the 'bunch of lies' came from her.
Gibson has admitted she does not have cancer of the blood, spleen, uterus or liver and that these were a 'misdiagnosis' by a mysterious doctor, whose existence has been questioned by her closest friends.
It reached a point where friends demanded documentary proof of her various cancers, which The Australian reported, she failed to produce.
One of the sad truths about Gibson's story is that we all tend to take stories of people's illnesses – as well as heroic accounts of recovery – at face value.
It is human instinct to show compassion and empathy to those who are suffering, mentally or physically.
As one former friend of Gibson's said: "At first you think you're a terrible person for questioning her illness. She was always vague about the cancer, where she was treated, her [medical] appointments."
Now, the questions are not just about Gibson's cancer diagnosis, but also about her supposed method of recovery.
Her story of beating the odds and becoming empowered again through her health transformation touched people in much the same way that many of us were touched by The Wellness Warrior, Jessica Ainscough.
Ainscough gained a huge following and a book deal by sharing her personal journey towards health.
When I spoke to her one year ago, the 29-year-old, I was told, was in "recovery mode".
Her story and determination were inspiring, but it soon emerged that her cancer had in fact not diminished but become more aggressive. Like her mother who took a similar alternative therapies route and died of cancer in 2013, after seven years battling the disease, Jess tragically lost her battle and died on February 26 this year.
JESS AINSCOUGH - The Wellness Warrior
Jess' family strongly rejects the suggestion that her life would have been extended with conventional treatment and say her treating clinicians said this was not the case.
But although lifestyle changes such as improving your diet and exercise can significantly reduce your risk of cancer, doctors warn against rejecting conventional treatments for alternative therapies if a person has been diagnosed with cancer.
"We would recommend that anyone undergoing cancer treatment speak to their doctor about what lifestyle changes may be suitable for them, including diet and exercise," Kathy Chapman, Chair, Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Cancer Council Australia, said in a statement. "In many cases cancer patients can, and should be, referred to a dietitian for specific food advice taking into account their situation.
"While generally maintaining a healthy lifestyle is useful, patients need to have a tailored plan focusing specifically on their situation. Some alternative and complementary therapies and special diets, although seemingly harmless, can be dangerous or interfere with conventional, evidence based, medicine.
"Once a patient has finished treatment, there is evidence that weight management and physical activity may improve their quality of life, reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and extend or increase cancer survival."
We all want to see people emerge triumphantly from their struggles. Sometimes people do. Devastatingly for the family, friends and followers of Jess, she did not.
The Belle Gibson story continues and she has promised an open letter addressing the accusations later this week. Regardless of her response and whether she can verify her health history, her story has raised questions about treading too delicately around such sensitive subjects and seeing the whole picture of human frailty in our search to emerge triumphant.