Why I forgive Belle Gibson

Last night saw unprecedented measures of anger, disbelief and absolute exasperation surrounding the 60 Minutes interview with disgraced ‘wellness’ blogger and creator of The Whole Pantry empire, Belle Gibson. For once, I went against my better judgment and watched the interview and as a cancer survivor, I have a few things to say.

Firstly, I forgive you, Belle. I forgive your lies, your shameless attention seeking, your money-grubbing, your terrible attempts at plagiarism, the damage you have caused to countless cancer sufferers and survivors, and the rest.

Over the years, countless people have recoiled at my capacity to forgive, and I’m ok with that. That is their journey and this is mine. But trust me – I’ve had to dig deep within my soul to get to a place where I can give amnesty to a person who has hurt me or the people I love.

Forgiveness can be an acutely terrifying and seemingly impossible process, but I’ve found that it’s requisite to heal and move on. Forgiveness is about you, not the other person. It’s about recognising a person’s humanness. It’s about accepting that vulnerability is a package deal with being human. The only alternative to forgiveness is anger and resentment, and one must forgive in order to strengthen ones spirit. It’s taken some bloody hard work, but it’s been worth it. But there’s one very important aspect of forgiveness that people often consign to the back of their mind, so let me set the record straight: forgiveness does not mean that you have to forget, nor does it mean that you cannot maintain the rage.

As someone who has actually had cancer over a sustained period, just like Belle has claimed to have done, I came away from the interview feeling a little despondent. But after reading the litany of comments following the  dialogue, I peeled away with fury. When people paint Belle Gibson as being ‘mentally ill’, as a woman who has suffered with depression (I use the word ‘suffered’, because I truly did), I find the branding of Belle Gibson as being mentally ill really bloody insulting.

That people are throwing around a diagnosis of Münchausen syndrome (otherwise known as Factitious disorder) has riled me no end. It has rattled my cage of compassion because after hearing her trying (and she tried really hard) to rationalise her catalogue of lies, including her stories of having heart surgery, dying on the operating table (that one actually happened to me), having multiple strokes and an inventory of other self-perpetuated medical myths; lying about her age, telling Tara Brown she has two birth certificates and has had four name changes and other fictitious ammunition, there was a moment when I actually burst out laughing. If I hadn’t have laughed, I would have cried. As Brown said, that’s a hell of a lot of bad luck for such a young girl.

But then I thought about my own (real and lived) catalogue of illness, or as I call it, dis-ease. Cystic Fibrosis, double lung transplant recipient, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, addiction, cancer, dozens of surgeries and more. Now considering I’m writing a book about my life, am I going to be offended should someone ask for direct proof in the form of my medical records? Well, thanks to the virtue of Belle Gibson and other charlatans selling their own brand of snake oil, I would expect a publisher or agent to ask for proof about my medical conditions. Is that right? No. Is it now necessary? Yes. Which appalls me.

Belle Gibson claims she had a traumatic childhood which her mother vehemently denied. Here’s the thing – people survive fucked up childhoods all the time. My own childhood was punctuated by dying and death where I lived in constant fear that my dis-ease would kill me. With C.F having killed over seventy of my friends, through the greatest of odds, I have survived. I’m a compassionate human being who wants to help others, and I’ve never felt a desire to embellish my own suffering, because the thought simply never occurred to me, and to be honest, my own suffering was enough.

People survive the unthinkable – genocide, rape, torture, violent relationships – and still, they grow into exceptional human beings with passion and purpose, determined to create change in the world. They don’t feel the need to weave a tapestry of corpulent mistruths for financial gain and communal pity. But Belle Gibson did. The thing is, I picked her as being a charlatan when a friend told me about her book and app last year. For me, her story just didn’t add up. I’ve known people with brain cancer and in most cases, they do not look the picture of health, whereas Belle always looked remarkably well and fresh faced. I also knew that it was next to impossible for brain cancer to spread to your liver, spleen, uterus and blood, and for a woman who suffered a forty minute seizure at her son’s birthday party, after which she did not go to hospital (instead going overseas not long after), my hackles went haywire. But who was I to question Australia’s wellness sweetheart? It was going to be a waiting game until Richard Gulliatt from The Australian cast serious doubts over her cancer claims after donations promised by Gibson to various charities hadn’t materialised.

Gibson manipulated the public with intent and great skill over a sustained period of time. She cultivated an empire that would ultimately be her undoing – one of lies and gross mistruths about her supposed battle with brain cancer and how she cured it by eating whole foods and engaging in alternate therapies such as coffee enemas. As she created this false empire, she made a great deal of money and inadvertently (or perhaps knowingly), lured people who actually had cancer away from evidence-based medicine, instead drawing them into her world of fantasy-based medicine and therefore death.

Perhaps she has complicity lead people to their deaths, just as Jess Ainscough did. We may never know. Ainscough touted herself as being the ‘wellness warrior’, also creating an  empire based on woo (fantasy-based medicine), and while I do not wish to speak ill of the dead, her belief in woo, such as Gerson therapy (which ultimately killed her mother who had a treatable form of breast cancer), ultimately cost Jess her life. Aincough’s fanbase will debate otherwise, but the truth is, this ‘medicine’ has no basis in reality or science. What’s just as disconcerting, is that Belle Gibson attended her funeral as a fellow ‘wellness warrior’. She mourned with Jess’s family. How must they feel?

Healthy eating and Gerson therapy was not going to cure my vulval cancer. Only surgery and the option of chemotherapy was going to save my life. Thankfully, I had world class surgeons who managed to remove all the cancer, so I didn’t need chemotherapy. By excising (cutting) all the skin away from my clitoris to my rectum, extensive skin grafting from my left thigh, as well as redirecting my bowel into an ileostomy (a poo bag), I survived. But only just. The aftermath of the surgery very nearly killed me and my family were told that I may end up in a vegetative state. That aside, I survived to see my 31st birthday. I am now 38, and had I not had the surgery, I would be long dead.

Gibson has fabricated her empire of lies for the sole purpose of gaining attention and garnering money to live an unsustainable lifestyle that she would not have enjoyed unless she had duped people into buying her ‘lifestyle’ app ‘The Whole Pantry’, followed by the publishing deal with Penguin and finally, her app appearing on the Apple watch. For me, this is unmitigated fraud masquerading as mental illness. Belle claims that she ‘cured’ her brain cancer with whole foods and alternative therapies, except that she didn’t. We all now know that she never had cancer, or any other of the medical conditions she lied about on skateboard forums and what not.

I have to ask – at what point are we not responsible for our actions? Many people would say when we no longer have the mental capacity to make safe decisions for ourselves. But does this absolve us of moral and ethical responsibility? It’s a very grey area. Belle has undoubtably harmed others by offering false promises and platitudes to the point where evidence-based therapies are called into question and oncologists are made to look like big Pharma pariahs for their trouble. The thing is, doctors take an oath when they begin practicing medicine, and we can only hope they honour it (primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm’). 

While Belle claims to have ‘lost everything’, I remember thinking the same thing after my cancer surgery, but I soon realised that I had come away with my life. If only Belle would come to the same realisation and tell the truth.

I do not know what will become of Belle Gibson. There is a part of me that understands the witch hunt, but I also feel an immense sense of compassion for her. Or perhaps my compassion is just misguided pity. Compassion and pity may be poles apart, but today both burn deep inside me. Does she deserve to be punished? I believe so. There are still so many unanswered questions, and after another soul rummage, I know that we may never know the truth, because Belle certainly doesn’t. Or does she? In a messy little corner of my mind, I can’t help but wonder how many people Belle has literally made sick. And what of the voiceless who can no longer speak their truth because they have died after believing her misguided and inexpert ‘advice’? People may be willing to forgive. Let us ensure they never forget.

30 thoughts on “Why I forgive Belle Gibson

  1. I think that Belle needs to really address what causes her ongoing denial of responsibility and culpability. She is so deluded I think she believes her own stories. Maybe going to gaol will help her with that. And I feel for her family who have probably been suffering this insanity on a number of levels for a long time.
    I am sorry that those who really have endured and survived, or not, have to watch a pseudo-victim like this squirm on Tara Brown’s pin. Thank you for your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. I wonder if jail is the answer? Who knows … I too feel for her family who have been shamed. But most of all, I feel such great empathy for the people she has fooled and the lives she has toyed with. The deception is breathtaking.

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  2. I find what she’s done absolutely despicable but I also think it comes from a place of illness of the mind, not the body. I think it started with one small fib and escalated from there. I think somewhere along the way she started to believe her own bullshit and enjoy the attention amidst the desperation to not be caught out lying. It caught up with her when the charities she dealt with finally spoke up. She’s still getting that attention, though, and that is damaging to everyone. She needs to properly atone for what she’s done. Gaol probably isn’t the answer for her – though I don’t think there is any other punishment that could force her to see the seriousness of what she’s done.

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    1. Everyone is baying for blood in the form of jail time, but I’m not sure how Belle can atone for what she’s done. Will that prove anything? I don’t profess to have the answers. Possibly cognitive behavioural therapy would be more helpful, but is she able to take therapy on board? Again, I don’t know. She’s learned to believe her own bullshit to the point of drowning and with the Women’s Weekly and now 60 Minutes, I really don’t where this is going to end up, but I do know that she will never admit that she has done the wrong thing.

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  3. To be honest, your post doesn’t read like forgiveness, not yet anyway. It reads as though you are still very angry, and anger usually has to be worked through before forgiveness can be bestowed on another. It’s understandable that people are attempting to label her with a mental illness as it’s just incomprehensible that someone could do these things. I guess I risk incurring your wrath as its my belief that only a psychopath could act in this way and then accept no responsibility whatsoever. To survive the horrors of cancer is a gift, and she sadly deprived many of this.

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    1. No wrath here, Bec. I really value others opinions and totally respect where you’re coming from. I too think that Belle is a sociopathic (perhaps psychopathic?) narcissist. She was always going to be pinned with the mental illness label because it’s almost impossible to reconcile how a person could actually do what she has done. I forgave Belle a long time ago, but last night rubbed some salt into the wound, so it’s rekindled my anger. Life is a gift not to be squandered with vile acts of deception. I thank my donor every single day that I am alive. I think what riled me the most was that Belle said she’d lost everything. My god – she has her life. That’s a lot more than people who are suffering from life limiting illnesses get.

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      1. When she said she lost everything it solidified to me she knew she wasn’t sick. I’ve not had cancer myself but I imagine anyone who has would consider discovering it was a false diagnosis to be a win. Not a loss.

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      2. That cemented it for me too, Sophie. She has come away with her life and so much more, while there are so many others who haven’t been so lucky.

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      3. When she said she lost everything it solidified to me she knew she wasn’t sick. I’ve not had cancer myself but I imagine anyone who has would consider discovering it was a false diagnosis to be a win. Not a loss.

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    2. I totally agree with Bec. Your piece does not read as one who has forgiven at all. You cling to the topic far too tightly. I ardently believe that Belle is a psychopath.

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      1. Thank for sharing your opinion, Leah. What I wanted to do with this piece is present a lot of facts, which I think I did. As I said to Bec, I forgave Belle a long time ago. It wasn’t something that just came to me – forgiveness takes work. I agree that she may fall into the category of a psychopath, but we may never know.

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  4. It’s rather sad to me that she keeps lying and sadder that during it all no one checked the truth when interviews were done etc. She obviously isn’t well or very gullible. I’m rather worried for her mental health as no normal sane person would act this way. Great post, great points.

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    1. It’s undoubtedly unfortunate that she cannot find her truth and own her shit. She really has no other choice than to do that if she wants to redeem herself in any way, shape or form. I worry about her son and wonder if child services will step in. Thank you for commenting, Tamzen 🙂

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  5. Forgiveness is all well and good but how does it actually help anyone here?
    In my mind the general public needs to re-evaluate how they process the claims of online ‘wellness advocates’.
    The braying masses calling for Belle’s downfall are what keeps her story in the public eye.
    Anger can be useful.
    Gee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From a personal perspective, forgiveness helps me, and I’m hoping it will allow the gates to open for others who have been hurt by other people’s actions, deliberate or not. You’re right – anger can be helpful and it can be harmful – it all depends on how it’s processed. The other thing is that Belle is keeping herself in the public eye by doing this sort of ‘expose’ media and she still has an active Facebook account under the name of Harry Gibson.

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  6. I believe her punishment should be a period of incarceration not exceeding 6 months and then 2 years of unpaid community service at an adult oncology ward and paediatric oncology ward. Jail will only hone her fraud skills, but perhaps the later will bring her down to earth with a thud like nothing else can. As a retired nurse I have often advocated this form of community punishment as well for drink drivers in rehab hospitals and acute surgical…nothing says a lesson like emptying a bed pan or
    changing dirty linen…I am yet to find forgiveness for this person who travelled the world and had botox, teeth veneers etc on the backs of the sick and dying

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s possible that jail would give her the ideal conditions to think about what she can lie about next, but unpaid community service in a hospice or oncology ward may be the right recipe to bring her back to reality. Ever since she built her empire, Belle has made it no secret that she has enjoyed the lifestyle with all of its trappings, so cleaning out bed pans would be *perfect*. As a patient, her face is the last one I’d ever want to see near me if I was going through treatment. If only we could repossess those veneers … I also called botox on Sunday night, too. She can barely move her face. She is a disgrace.

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  7. Forgiveness is easier to provide when it is asked for. During the 60 Minutes interview – which was more like a trainwreck in agonisingly slow motion – Belle Gibson didn’t even go close to seeking forgiveness. Gibson’s long pauses and darting eyes helped to paint her as the manipulative liar that she is. She was manipulative in the interview and she was manipulative throughout her concocted “cancer journey.” She saw an opportunity to make money fraudulently many years ago and we all fell for it. “Mark Johns” and his German-made “machine” with lights!?! Seriously, Gibson, you made us laugh with your twisted tales. The fact that Gibson lied about cancer, then took advantage of the sick and dying, makes her a criminal and she should be charged and made to give her fraudulently earned “income” to charity. She spent large portions of her fraudulently earned money on travelling, botox, teeth veneers – the list goes on. How could she sleep at night? I don’t think we have heard the end of this story. Thank you for an excellent piece of writing.

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    1. Forgiveness is definitely much easier to give if it is asked for! I doubt Belle will ever be in a place where she will feel she has done anything that needs forgiveness……her lack of empathy was palpable and frustrating to those of us who have the ability to connect on an emotional level with those around us. I doubt Belle has that ability.

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      1. Hi Marianne 🙂 I have to agree with your thoughts that Belle will never take responsibility for any of her actions, deplorable as they may be. I often wonder what her relationship is like with her son …

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    2. It was incredibly awkward to watch. I was moving around the whole time and turning my face away from the television and saying out loud, ‘did you just actually say that?!’ It was tough going. I found her vacant stare disturbing. The girl has dead eyes and no soul. When she was talking about the machine with lights, I yelled out, ‘microwave!!’ I mean, really? I thought she was intelligent. Surely she could have created some more extravagant and therefore believable lies?

      You are SO right. We haven’t heard the last from Belle Gibson. She will return the public eye simply because she thrives on attention – good and bad. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

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  8. Carly I did not see the interview but Im betting it would have made me cringe. Sometimes I wonder do these kinds of people ever think before they lie. How do they sleep at night? I guess they must be deficient in empathy and I pity her, because no one will ever believe another word she says. You have every right to be angry. Definitely should be a trial.

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    1. I’m fairly certain it would have brought out the fury in you, Kath! You’ve called it well, in that Belle has no capacity of empathy (except for herself), and she will never own her shit. Her claims of being ‘transparent’ just make her look like a self-flagellating asshole, which she might be construed as being. What (or more to the point, who) I’m most concerned about is her son, because I don’t believe her to be a fit mother with where her head is at XO

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  9. I feel Tara was out of her depth in this interview and we all would have benefitted with some commentary/ questioning from someone medically qualified to expose and see through the complicated layers of compulsive lying/ narcissistic personality disorder. Interview would have been much more informative and much less frustrating. For people whose reality does not involve deception on every level it is very hard to comprehend the enormity of devastation this type of person imposes on anyone they come in contact with.

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    1. Hi Marianne – thanks for commenting 🙂 I feel that Tara was well placed, but acted more in the spirit of a lawyer than a journalist. I’m not sure how medical commentary would be incorporated, but quite a few psychologists have surfaced and given their analyses of the interview. It was incredibly frustrating and awkward to watch.

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  10. Everyone deals with everything in life in their own unique way. I have no idea what Belle has gone though in life, and I don’t care if she made up her stories simply for attention and sympathy. Some people are like that. It does not mean they are bad people. Maybe people do this as a result of some disease they have, or a poor upbringing, find it difficult to fit in, the list of reasons could be endless. People blamed crazy kids on red cordial, now it’s ADHD. I also found the 60 Minutes interview a train wreck for her. Was this also a result of some medical issue? I don’t know. One thing is for sure, if this was a deliberate effort to obtain money, and thereby making this one big scam, then Belle should held accountable and punished accordingly, because she has gone and done the exact opposite to what she was claiming to do.

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