One of the Real Housewives in Atlanta (who is not actually a wife, but a mistress with a disastrous hair weave) pretended to have cancer. When asked by Bravo TV if it was true that she had cancer, she nodded slightly and put her head down sadly. She mainly put her head down to avoid further questions since it turned out she never had cancer and finally admitted that she had never had cancer. The blogs went crazy with the revelation.
A woman in Tennessee, Keele Maynor, was recently arrested for pretending to have breast cancer for several years. The charges are theft and forgery. She accepted cash donations from co-workers, as well as a total of 194 days of paid leave (these days were donated by her colleagues at the office of the City of Chattanooga where she was employed and were worth approximately $18,000).
Once caught, she resigned in December of 2008 but the charges were not filed until recently. The woman, now 38, claims she did have cancer years ago, but is not sure why she felt the need to lie and accept money and donations from co-workers and cancer support groups. She says she is seeing a therapist in order to try to figure out why she spent five years pretending to have the disease.
We spend so much of our lives trying to proactively stay healthy. We read about preventative care, get annual physicals and heave a sigh of relief when the good results come back. So why on earth would anyone actually pretend to have a serious illness?
Some do it simply for profit. Others have a disorder called Munchausen Syndrome - a mental condition whereby people feign illness in order to gain attention, or money or profit in some other way. The payoff is usually tremendous for the people faking the illness. They get a sympathetic ear, constant attention, gifts, cards, emails, money and the time and energy of medical professionals. An area where this syndrome is growing is the Internet. Support groups for people with hundreds of different diseases and conditions are easily accessible and the payoff is often just as good – and actual - as in real life. People have been sent checks, money orders, clothing and supplies, as well as endless on line hugs, emails, letters and attention.
No dummies are they! People who fake these illnesses are actually quite smart. They are well-read in the areas of their “conditions” and know how to talk the talk. They know how they should sound, feel and look. They use medical terms and go as far as to shave their heads and eyebrows to prove that they are receiving treatment. Even more disturbing – websites abound in helping people fake their diseases. The woman in Tennessee is not alone – instances of faking illness are common. A word of caution when joining forums online and offering support to those undergoing treatment for illness: don’t assume everyone on-line is telling the truth. Guard your wallet, your emotions and your privacy.
I was a member of a very well known parenting board once. A long time member broke the news that her young niece had died and she wanted flowers for the child’s grave. She was given about $200 from concerned members and several days later it emerged that there had never been a child – dead or otherwise. The member left the site immediately (or she may have returned as someone else) but had certainly gained much sympathy, attention and money with her lies. I didn’t donate, and never would under these circumstances, but can somewhat understand how first time or new mothers could be so despicably deceived. It was a hard lesson learned by all.
According to Dr. Marc D Feldman, an expert in factitious illnesses, there are signs on the Internet when someone is faking it:
1. the posts consistently duplicate material in other posts, in books, or on health-related websites;
2. the characteristics of the supposed illness emerge as caricatures;
3. near-fatal bouts of illness alternate with miraculous recoveries;
4. claims are fantastic, contradicted by subsequent posts, or flatly disproved;
5. there are continual dramatic events in the person's life, especially when other group members have become the focus of attention;
6. there is feigned blitheness about crises (e.g., going into septic shock) that will predictably attract immediate attention;
7. others apparently posting on behalf of the individual (e.g., family members, friends) have identical patterns of writing.
Do you know someone who has faked illness for attention or profit? Do you use online forums for certain conditions or illnesses and feel that not everyone may be truthful about their health?
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