I really wish I had saved all the e-mails I get telling me of the weird and wonderful ways in which I could rid myself of cancer if I was only to send the writer money – quite large tumps of it too! – for a supply of ‘special’ Turmeric to shove up my left nostril, or Cannabis to shove up my backside, or chemicals with which to paint my tongue green; all of which are apparently an alternative to ‘invasive treatment’ by the NHS, or the administration of strange chemicals ‘derived from mustard gas‘. At least the NHS’s chemicals don’t turn my tongue green say I…and there’s nowt so invasive as a nostril packed with Turmeric.
There is something about cancer – fear of the hidden invader? – that attracts the weird, the wonderful and the downright dodgy. It always has. Parliament was forced to pass The Cancer Act in 1939 – to regulate the treatment of cancer. All that remains of it today is the outright ban on advertising ‘alternative methods’ of treatment – which has led to the internet devising ever more imaginative ways in which to satisfy its conspiriloon belief that there are ways of curing cancer that are suppressed by ‘Big Pharma’ for its own financial benefit. Hence the constant e-mails to carefully curated blogs that mention cancer inviting ‘financial benefit’ to the sender, and the endless spam in comments on such blogs.
If there is anything more irritating than being on the receiving end of all this unsolicited advertising, it is being on the receiving end of the equally numerous requests for money to pay for treatment by one of these quack salesmen who claim that ‘Big Pharma’s’ biggest sin is that they are totally money orientated…
One of the most prolific in recent times has been an Australian outfit; run by a girl allegedly diagnosed with terminal brain cancer by – an alternative treatment practitioner. Talk about creating your own customers! Annabelle Gibson was an ‘app’ designer; and naturally the first thing she did, ‘believing’ that she had ‘terminal brain cancer’ was to create an app for sale via the Apple store, and later featured on the Apple watch. The vivacious Annabelle had a following of some 200,000 as she told of how she was curing her incurable cancer through the ‘power of fruits, vegetables’, Ayurvedic practices, craniosacral therapy, colonic irrigations and the controversial Gerson treatments.
In no time at all, Annabelle was able to fund a five-star lifestyle: designer clothes, £1,000 handbags, first-class international travel. a luxury beachside apartment in Elwood and a BMW 4WD. Had she merely done this quietly, she might have got away with it – but her desire to be seen as the saviour of the world enticed her to claim that she had donated more than $300,000 to charities funding schools in Africa, and that her instagram account was linked to 20 more charities, which made journalists sit up and finally take notice.
Ms Gibson hosted a fundraiser in December 2013, but now denies it was a fundraising event, and said that the purpose of the function was to launch her new app. The invitation included promotional material listing three charities and the work they do, highlighting school building in Sierra Leone, support for mothers and their babies in developing countries, and protecting asylum seekers’ human rights. It also said funds would go to a fourth cause – a terminally ill five-year-old boy who needed life-saving treatment overseas.
Inquiries showed that charities had not had donations from her – and worse, doubts were cast on her claim to have cancer at all, let alone the multiple cancers which she confusingly now claimed to have developed – so much for the ‘alternative cure’. She has denied that she claimed to ‘have a cure’, or that she encouraged others to cease conventional treatment:
But in a social media post that has since been removed Ms Gibson said: “I gave up on conventional treatment when it was making my cancer more aggressive and started treating myself naturally. I have countless times helped others do the same, along with leading them down natural therapy for everything from fertility, depression, bone damage and other types of cancer.”
No doubt removed because last month, her credibility started to unravel. Gibson has claimed to The Australian that her 2014 Instagram post was the result of an embarrassing misdiagnosis by a German alternative therapist team, who she did not name. Originally she had claimed to have been diagnosed by a ‘conventional team’ and ‘courageously’ declined their treatment in favour of ‘alternative route’ after she went through two months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and one day passed out in a park for several hours. ‘When she woke, she changed her life’.
Her Instagram account has been made inaccessible, photos of her and details of various diagnoses and hospital admissions have been deleted and The Whole Pantry organisation has distanced itself from Gibson, much as LiveStrong did with cancer survivor and drug cheat Lance Armstrong.
On Friday it was announced that the consumer protection division in Victoria, Australia is preparing to take legal action against her for faking cancer for financial gain. That may be the correct route to account for the charitable donations that appear to have gone ‘walkabout in the outback’ – but it does nothing to address the moral issue of why these people feel entitled to prey on those with cancer – some of whom are desperately grasping at straws.
I have watched two fellow patients die after rejecting further treatment in favour of something they were buying on the Internet; I can well understand why, they were both much younger than I and had young children – powerful reasons to grasp at straws. It is a cruelty beyond mere financial avarice:
“There are unfortunately some totally unscrupulous people, and I’m not necessarily referring to [Ms Gibson], who make claims that are just not validated for the treatment of malignant brain cancer,” he said. “These people are extremely cruel because they prey on patients who are extremely vulnerable and hoping to find a cure for what is essentially an incurable disease … they perpetuate the cruellest form of hoax.”
They encourage parents not to vaccinate their children; perfectly healthy persons to follow extreme diets, and in the case of Jess Ainscough, the original ‘wellness warrior’, not only did she die after following the ghastly Gerson formula, but so did her Mother who also refused conventional treatment for her breast cancer.
I have nothing whatsoever against alternative treatment – I grew up with ‘Nature cure’ and am a keen fan of healthy food and keeping oneself as healthy as possible.
What I do object to is the constant bombardment, that almost amounts to bullying at times, to people at their most vulnerable (and I defy anyone with cancer not to feel frightened at times) with their suggestion that it is only your obstinacy in not buying their promoted product and abandoning conventional treatment that is the cause of your impending death.
We each chose our own route to maintain our health for as long as possible. It really isn’t fair, or moral, to make your living by preying on those struggling against cancer. To do so by pretending to be a fellow sufferer, and to cheat charities into the bargain in order to finance a luxurious lifestyle deserves more than just condemnation from a consumer organisation.
It deserves a criminal investigation. Not to be, sadly.
I suppose having written this, I will get another avalanche of e-mails. A plague on all your terminals.