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Why do people fake cancer?

Our Twitter friend @AbtBreastCancer shared a link to a controversial news story about a young Canadian woman who is being charged with three counts of fraud after it was discovered that she had liked about having four types of terminal cancer. Do You Know Cancer wants to know: why would someone fake cancer?

23-year old Burlington, Ontario, Canada resident Ashley Anne Kirilow underwent a biopsy on a lump in her breast back in 2008 – which is something that many women experience at one point in their life. The lump was benign, but it clearly triggered something inside Kirilow, as rather than celebrate, she started a Facebook page, where she began writing about her non-existent cancer and solicited donations.

It is estimated that Kirilow netted between $3,000 and $20,000 worth of donations. To convince people that she was battling cancer, she shaved her head and eyebrows and plucked her eyelashes. She had “WONT QUIT” tattooed on her knuckles. She reportedly worked hard to stay slender and pale. At one point, Kirilow admitted that “It [her Facebook page] went wrong, and then it seemed like the whole world knew.”

Eventually, Kirilow’s fake cancer battle was brought to a halt. Her father contacted two of Kirlow’s supporters and told them that his daughter had never had cancer. Around the same time, Kirilow moved out of an apartment she shared with roommates and “vanished.” The two supporters notified by her father, 17-year old Jamie Counsell and 22-year old Adam Catley, along with Kirilow’s father, began the tedious process of notifying all of the people who had donated to her cause, which Kirilow called “Change for a Cure.”

A complaint was filed against Kirilow in June, but no one heard from her or saw her until this month. When she finally surfaced, she had grown her hair out and apparently no longer appeared sickly. She now faces three counts of fraud. No one showed up to pay her bail and release her from jail.

As Pam Stephan of the Breast Cancer Blog noted, something had to have set Kirilow off for her to go to such extreme lengths to gain attention. A product of divorced parents, some believe that her goal was to bring her family back together. She was also reportedly engaging in self-harming activities including anorexia and self-mutilation. Stephan believes that Kirilow’s behavior could very well be a “cry for help.”

Ashley Anne Kirilow is not the first person to fake cancer. MSNBC reported a similar story back in 2006 about a woman who faked cancer. Jennifer Dibble went so far as to tell her five young sons that she was dying. In 2005, a Georgia man was sentenced to five years in prison after faking brain cancer, and a Louisiana man – a former policeman in Shreveport – and his wife were convicted after they made up stories about the wife suffering from a malignant tumor in her brain. A Las Vegas actress was also convicted of fraud back in ’05 after faking terminal cancer. Perhaps the most disturbing story about faking cancer comes out of Ohio, where a mom shaved her daughter’s head and drugged her, telling friends that she was undergoing chemo treatments.

Cancer, at some point, touches all of us. It is a scary and ominous word: CANCER. People who know cancer endure months, even years of painful treatments, depression, and more. It is, clearly, something that no one wants to go through. So, why do people pretend they have cancer? Is it because they want attention and sympathy? That might make sense, but why people have gone to such lengths to fake a disease that is so devastating may never be understood.

The talk around Facebook and Twitter lately is centered on how Ashley Anne Kirilow should be punished. Some people seem so angry that they’ve started Facebook groups against Kirilow, suggesting that she be forced to undergo cancer treatments like chemo and radiation. Some say she needs psychiatric help instead of jail time. Some say she should be forced to pay back the people who donated to her cause double, but Pam Stephan of the Breast Cancer Blog had a suggestion that the DYKC team thinks makes a lot of sense: why not have Kirilow spend a year volunteering at a local cancer center, where she can interact with and assist true patients on a daily basis. In addition to psychiatric counseling, perhaps the experience would reach Kirilow in a new way, allowing her to fully understand the consequences of cancer and the depth of her dishonesty.

We welcome your comments. Remember, this is a very controversial story that has angered many people worldwide, so if you do choose to comment here, on Facebook, or via Twitter, we encourage you to be respectful and use appropriate language.

One Response to “Why do people fake cancer?”

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