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?
All user-generated information on this site is the opinion of its author only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. Members and guests are responsible for their own posts and the potential consequences of those posts detailed in our Terms of Service.
Add a Comment98 Comments
I have a colleague who has been throwing "sickies" off work in the last couple of months. One morning she made 15 different complaints, some of which she repeated over and over again within a 5 hour period at work. She threw 1 - 2 days off sick a week for about 6 weeks. She did not do it for a couple of weeks after returning from visiting her family in her born country. Yesterday she threw another sicky, and also today. This person is also my flatmate, i have not seen or heard her be sick once, and yesterday she blatantly lied that she had eaten twice and been sick, theres absolutely no evidence and i know her cleaning habbits. Also if she were loose 4 times through the night, would i not smell it or any cleaning products she has used? So far complaints have been sickness, diarrhea, feeling cold, ankle ache, amongst many more though none as drastic as cancer, and other colleagues and myself are getting fed up with the lies. Ive read about Munchausen, she does seem to see her doctor more than what most people do though she hasn't been to hospital with symptoms, and Hypochondriasis doesn't seem to be it too. Any ideas anyone?March 6, 2010 - 3:02am
Hi Anon - Thanks for writing and sharing your situation. It must be difficult dealing with this both at work and at home. I'm wondering if any one has asked her directly what's going on. It would seem like the company she works for would be able to seek more information since so many absences must be affecting the company and the work of other employees. It would also be appropriate, as her flatmate, to ask her in a conversational manner what she's doing to take care of this "illness" and what diagnosis her doctor has given. It is possible that she has a legitimate illness, but if she does she should have a diagnosis after two months of dealing with it and seeing her doctor. I hope that helps, will you let me know? PatMarch 9, 2010 - 6:17pm
Hi Pat thanks for the reply, The difficulty is that she changes her "illnesses", it could be a reappearing cold, but she's over exaggerating i.e its obvious she's well enough to work but making out its worse than what it is. She pinned the last sickness onto "nonovirus" (not sure if i have that right), sometimes its simply that she feels sick. I feel that she makes up any excuse, as its not one illness thats ongoing so i'm not sure how to approach the diagnoses aspect? My team leader never questions her, i try making hints if i get asked to work because my flatmates ill, like "is she?" but it doesn't work, and if the team leader cant get it covered thats when its harder on me or my colleagues. I had an little go at my flatmate a few weeks back as she were also being really lazy when at work, i'd asked her if she felt ok and she put on her "poorly" voice and told me everything physically wrong with her, at which point i ended up shouting well i'm tired too, and i have headache too! after, she seemed to get better for a week but thats it. I'm starting to think alot of it is she doesn't want to work, ive tried suggesting she sort it out i.e look for another job. If she's off ill she gets the sympathy of out clients asking if she's ok which just rocks the boat more with everyone. My flatmate can be funny sometimes, she can take things the wrong way, its risky because i cant afford a fall out, but at the same time i feel like telling to to pack it in and stop crying wolf!March 15, 2010 - 2:37am
Hi chelle100 - Thanks for writing back. From what you're saying it sounds like the situation is continuing to drag out, is getting worse, and now you're being dragged into it too. It may be worthwhile to take a new approach to this.
As far as work, I'm in the US and I'm guessing you're in another country. I don't know the laws where you are, but here a supervisor has to be extremely careful with an employee in dealing with an illness, and must focus on the work impact of an employee's behavior, not an employee illness or "fake" illness. If you and your colleagues can find a way to document and provide objective data on the work impact that the person is having and provide that to your team leader it would likely be more helpful and more actionable. For example, Employee X is expected to do Tasks A, B, and C and did not do those tasks and they fell on Employees Y and Z and the business impact was __________ is going to be more helpful to your supervisor. It also takes the discussion away from being of a personal nature, pinpoints the problem, puts the responsibility for dealing with the problem on the supervisor and documents that the employees made the company aware of the situation. Does that make sense?
In terms of your living arrangements, that too might be easier on you if you can make it less personal, take a step back, and focus on what you want in your life and how to get it. The reality is we can only be responsible for our own behavior, and what you're describing right now is your reaction to her behaviors and wanting her to change. She may or may not change. All you have control over is how you personally behave. Is there a way you can distance yourself from her behavior so that it no longer affects you? Let me know what you think, and good luck! PatMarch 15, 2010 - 9:22am
Just a quick note, the 5 year old's biological father and my husband and I talk on a regular basis and try and keep things as normal as possible for him, but she is trying to manipulate by using him as a pawn to both dad's. He is a nice man and she seems to get nice men until they can't stand her lies anymore. My main worry is the children. ALL of them. Is there something we can do to prevent her seeing them? Can we subpoena the medical records? Can we do anything with out damaging the children futher and confusing the heck out of them?January 5, 2010 - 4:11am
My step-daughter was informed the week of Halloween that her mom has breast cancer and she was telling her because her hair was starting to fall out. I spoke to her mom and being a cancer survivor I knew the questions to ask that you would not know by looking online. She was faking and I did not know what to do. It upset me so much that her children and new boyfriend, which she has since married a few weeks ago are being dupped. Her hair never fell out. She never had any symptoms, other than nausea, which I believe that she had due to taking drugs, which she has a history of doing. She has now come out and told the kids that she is pregnant and that is why she could not have the mastectomy. Before she couldn't have it because she told the kids that she did not want to go down the isle in a wheel chair. I just said that they were going to remove her breasts not her legs. The oldest daughter is 10. The rest of the kids are 8, 7, 5 and 4. My husband and I have full custody. What do I do. This is really bothering me and I do not know how to handle or even talk to the kids, let alone look at her and her pitiful husband who are all being played.January 4, 2010 - 12:48am
for as long as i can remember my mum hasnt gone a week without having some sort of headache or ailment. now every single day without fail she says she has head aches, back pains etc. But she has been tested for EVERYTHING and there is nothing wrong. she insists on returning to the hospital for further tests all the time, convinced they are going to find something. first of all, slowly, she lost all her friends, then her family (sisters etc) began to distance themselves from her, and now my brothers sister father and i all can't stand listening to the complaining anymore. she tells us constantly how much pain she is in. she complains about people who dont ask her "how she is doing". If you have anything wrong with you, you are guaranteed that she will develop it too within the hour. she is ruining my life, and my families. we either want our mother back (and my dad wants his wife back) or she needs to be sectioned. i dont know who to turn to, who to talk to, everyone is afraid to confront her because she will manipulate anything we say. i would almost say that i hate her. i hope that someone will read this post and tell me what i need to do, because i seem to be the only person who is trying to fix this. please someone help meDecember 14, 2009 - 9:55am
hi, i know this is along time ago, but i too have the same mother problem. mine has been doing it for all my life  and this past year i find myself stuck with this EVERY DAY. my mother loves to go to emergency rm and try to be admitted. lately i find myself angry at her and every one near me. i have told her repeatatly that she just wants attention, there are people who are REALLY SICK and that i am sick of it. could you tell me if you have solved your problem or have any advice for me. the stress is really too much and i am so depressed.November 4, 2011 - 2:07pm
My friend says she has breast cancer, 4 'large lumps', this is her 5th serious illness in 5 years. Of course she is against chemo or radiation, so no one will not expect to see her lose her hair. She goes to her appointments by herself and announces them after she has gone and won't say when she has an appointment coming up. She says she will cure the cancer with homeopathic remedies etc. Her biopsies were done with a needle which is why there are no scars. Says all doctors are quacks etc. She did the same thing with ovarian cancer, Graves Disease, deteriorating discs in her spine, the list goes on and on, all of which she has cured with vitamins. The new friends she has who don't know her as well are all giving her the attention she needs and are completely convinced but I have known her her whole life and I think she is lying. When I ask her questions, she gets confused and says she doesn't want to talk about it. Things just don't add up. I don't know what to do. I think her husband may even believe her and her children are terrified. I am angry, I know a 36 year old woman who lost both her breasts to cancer and for someone to fake it for attention is quite demented. Can anyone offer some advice.November 24, 2009 - 1:45pm
Susan, this is a great share which brought back many long ago memories. This is exactly what I used to do as a kid. When I say kid, I mean Kindergarten through Third Grad(ish). Growing up, I had a tremulous childhood with an physically abusive father. As I remember, I was sick very often as a child.
As I look back now, it was certainly due to stress and fear. I always feared a severe beating from a father who appeared to be upset that other people were alive and around him at times. Very strange man with unknown reasons of being so upset with my brother and I, all the time. He did not abuse drugs or alcohol, he was just an angry individual.
I used to fake being sick all the time. I would have severe stomach aches, migraines and everything that a youngster could think of. All I wanted to do was go to the hospital and not have to go home. I remember one time going to the family physician (AGAIN), and he made my Mother leave the room and he sat down next to me and said, “Hunny, is there something going on at home?”
I never answered his question. Instead, I sobbed uncontrollably for several minutes. He hugged me and told me that everything was alright. Afterwards, he called my Mother into the room and told her that there is something going on in the home and that I would rather be anywhere else but there so I am playing sick all the time. There was nothing wrong with me as I was a very athletic child.
I never told anyone at that time what was going on at home nor did I talk about it that day. It was about two years later that I finally told my Mother and that was the end of the abuse as we packed our things and left the dreadful man.
After reading this article, I think in some circumstances, there may be other underlying reasons why people fake illnesses. Not only for attention but maybe sometimes for safety or security. I always felt a safety blanket when I was sick from the evil man, as I was babied by my Mother instead of being the bullseye of my Father's abuse.
I guess this may just be food for thought but this certainly hit home. Thanks for the share.November 12, 2009 - 5:31pm