Where is Belle Gibson now? Hiding out with the Internet switched off, probably. Where is Jessica Ainscough now? Sadly, she has died.
A few weeks ago, Belle and Jessica had a lot in common. Both had opened up to the world about their life-threatening cancers. Both were advocating the use of alternative therapies rather than mainstream medicine to beat it. Both were being lionised by a media hungry for stories of triumph against the odds.
Then, within a very short time, it all crashed and burned. At just 30, Jessica Ainscough finally succumbed to the epithelioid sarcoma she had struggled with for almost a decade. Belle Gibson, still in her twenties, was outed as a liar and a fraud. It would appear that she never had the brain and other cancers she’d claimed to have had; claims that lay behind the success of her website and the cook book and recipe app she was promoting.
As someone who spent a large part of last year undergoing grueling treatments for ovarian cancer, I have been watching the unfolding Belle Gibson train wreck with particular interest. What interests me is the particular eagerness people have for what one blogger I follow has called “fantasy based medicine”.
Cancer is very serious and, depending on your flavour and the stage at diagnosis, quite capable of killing you. The science is in. If you’re riddled with tumours and you want to maximise your chances of recovery or at least lengthen your time on earth, you’re going to need the big guns. Those big guns – chemotherapy, radiation, surgery – can be extremely unpleasant. Some choose not to go down this path, and that is their right. But when others, like Belle Gibson and Jessica Ainscough, promote alternatives to conventional treatments that are not backed up by solid scientific evidence, that’s dangerous.
For me, there’s a strong parallel with attitudes towards climate change. Scientific information about its causes, effects and possible treatments can be unpleasant to hear. Well then, let’s go to a different doctor (or climate scientist), get a second opinion. Same opinion. Okay, try another. You can keep going all the way down the line of experts or near-experts until you finally get to a skeptic who gives you a scrap of hope: don’t worry, they’re just trying to scare you because [insert conspiracy theory here].
The Belle Gibsons of climate change debate are easier on the eye and ear. But we need to take a deep breath and listen to what those with real expertise are telling us.
Tracy Sorensen is a member of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network.