Mega-blog­ger casts doubt on can­cer claim

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD GUILLIATT

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.”

Belle Gibson be­came a so­cial me­dia sen­sa­tion

Belle Gibson speaks at an awards cer­e­mony last year. The blog­ger, au­thor and app-cre­ator says she may have been mis­di­ag­nosed by a med­i­cal team us­ing ‘mag­netic’ ther­apy from Ger­many

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