Mega-blogger casts doubt on cancer claim
MELBOURNE social media entrepreneur Belle Gibson, whose story of miraculous survival from terminal cancer helped launch a global “health and wellness” business, has admitted that her claim of suffering multiple life-threatening cancers may be false.
Gibson, who has launched highly successful iPad apps and will next month publish her spinoff book in Britain and the US, says her announcement last year that she was suffering from cancer of the liver, uterus, spleen and blood was based on a “misdiagnosis” by a doctor she won’t name.
“It’s hard to admit that maybe you were wrong,” she said in an interview, adding that she felt “confused, bordering on humiliated”.
Gibson stood by her claim that she has used alternative therapies to survive an aggressive malignant brain tumour for five years without any conventional medical treatment. But an investigation by The Australian has uncovered a series of unusual and contradictory medical claims by Gibson dating from May 2009, when she claimed to have undergone multiple heart surgery operations and momentarily died on an operating table.
Gibson has also stated that in July that same year, when she was 20, a doctor told her she had terminal brain cancer and would be dead in four months. But according to the birth date on her own corporate filings, she was 17 at the time.
Gibson’s Australian publisher, Lantern, confirmed yesterday that it had never asked for documentary verification of her medical condition or her age before publishing her book The Whole
Pantry in October.
The Australian has asked Gibson repeatedly for the name of her treating doctors or documentary evidence of her illness, but she has declined.
Gibson became a social media sensation after launching an Instagram blog in early 2013, introducing herself as a young mother who had moved from Perth to Melbourne in mid-2009 to seek medical treatment for “a malignant, terminal form of brain cancer”.
In subsequent postings, she detailed her shock at being told by a doctor that she had only four months to live, and her decision to abandon chemotherapy and radiotherapy after two months, opting instead to treat her illness with alternative remedies such as colonics and oxygen therapy.
The blog attracted a worldwide following and led Gibson to design an iPhone and iPad app of her recipes called The Whole Pantry, which was voted the best food and drink app of 2013. By early last year Gibson had 200,000 followers on Instagram and a contract with Lantern, an imprint of Penguin which published The Whole Pan
try. She has repeated her cancer survival story in many newspaper and magazines articles, and has been working with Apple on an iWatch app.
According to Australian Securities & Investments Commission records, Gibson was born in October 1991, which means she could not have been 20 in June 2009. Several former friends con- firmed to The Australian that she dropped out of high school in Brisbane about 2008 and moved to Perth for 18 months.
In early 2009, Gibson began sharing details of her life in Perth on a skateboarders’ online chat forum, describing her hopes of studying marketing and business. In a series of posts in May that year, the “Belle Gibson” of the chat forum announced she was in hospital undergoing multiple operations to remove fluid from around her heart. In one post she reported: “I just woke up out of a coma type thing, and had no idea what was going on ... The doctor comes in and tells me the draining failed and I went into cardiac arrest and died for just under three minutes.”
Later she added that she was undergoing tests for a “possible heart tumor” and was having her hair cut for chemotherapy.
Two months later, having moved to Melbourne, Gibson posted a message on Facebook that she was consulting cancer specialists after being diagnosed with a “stage two malignant tumor of the brain”. Brain tumours are measured in grades rather than stages, and several cancer specialists contacted by The Australian said that a grade two tumour was relatively slow-growing and would be unlikely to result in a life expectancy of four months.
Most of Gibson’s social media postings for the years 2010-12 are no longer available, but since launching her blog and app in 2013, she has kept up a steady flow of reports about her seizures, brain swelling and other health crises.
Last March she announced that she was being tested for two “neurological” cancers.
Then in late July she elicited an outpouring of sympathy from her Instagram followers when she re- ported that she had been diagnosed with several additional cancers.
“With frustration and ache in my heart ... it hurts me to find space tonight to let you all know with love and strength that I’ve been diagnosed with a third and forth (sic) cancer,” she wrote.
“One is secondary and the other is primary. I have cancer in my blood, spleen, brain, uterus, and liver. I am hurting.” Later in the post she spoke of handing over the business to others to carry on her legacy. In an interview with The Aus
tralian, Gibson said she now believes she was misdiagnosed by a medical team using “magnetic” therapy from Germany. Asked to name the leader of the team she declined and indicated she was not certain whether he was a medical doctor.
Gibson became visibly upset during the interview, crying several times and saying she felt her doctor had led her astray.
She said she was now seeking treatment from a conventional medical team but again declined to name them. “I’m still going through understanding what’s happening with my body,” she said. Gibson later complained about
The Australian’s attempts to contact former friends and stopped returning the newspaper’s calls.
The Australian also contacted her partner, Clive Rothwell, who said Gibson was upset by media reports about her.
Gibson has said that her business donates to 20 charities and that most of its revenue goes “straight back into the community and world wide, rotating charities and extended TWP (The Whole Pantry) projects”.
Lantern publishing director Julie Gibbs said the company would question Gibson about the issues raised by The Australian but added: “We published Belle’s recipe book in good faith — in discussions with Belle in the course of publishing the book, she always spoke clearly about her medical background. It was not something we felt we needed to verify given that the book’s content focuses on the recipes.”