BOSTON. This city is known for its world-class teaching hospitals, and the concentration of medical technology and top-flite professionals means new treatments are often developed more rapidly in the 617 area code than elsewhere. “It’s exciting to be part of the medical community here,” says Dr. Ormond Walters, who moved here from Keokuk, Iowa after publishing a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine on a revolutionary method of treatment for Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease. “The money’s a lot better.”
This constellation of factors has recently produced what is believed to be the world’s first hospice devoted exclusively to the treatment of fake cancer, a growing public health problem that has attracted little attention or funding because of its fictitious nature.
“Fake cancer can strike anyone, at any time,” says Dr. Amanda Bischloss-Korpf, who was recently awarded a National Institute of Health grant to study the spread of the dread disease. “An unexpected financial crisis, such as a wedding, or a drug habit, or a need to finance a meal at McDonald’s, can force a woman to shave her head and raise money before her fake cancer metastasizes,” she says, checking a computer print-out in an effort to detect cancer “clusters” that can provide insight into the causes of fake cancer. “Susceptibility to fake cancer appears to be directly related to the distance between a victim’s home and upscale shopping malls.”
“Don’t you worry Brittany–you’re going to beat your fake cancer even if you are named after a region of France!”
The victims of fake cancer are overwhelmingly female, leading some to suggest that cultural factors may be at work in the failure of society to address the growing problem. “If men shaved their heads and bought bass boats and fancy guitars with GoFundMe campaigns, research dollars would flow to the problem like the Mississippi River,” says Ellen Van De Voort of the Rosie Ruiz Center for the Study of Dubious Diseases in Quincy, Mass. “Just because a fake cancer victim only wants to remodel her kitchen, is that any reason for society to turn its collective head and say it’s a scam?”
She seems so sincere.
A visit to the Fake Cancer Ward with Van De Voort leading the way confirms her claim that the victims come from all walks of life, from those who contracted the disease for essentials such as new cars and mortgage payments, to those who simply want a nice sweater from Talbots or a Kate Spade handbag that is out of their price range. One such patient is Tiffany Fidel, a 32-year-old restaurant hostess who needs to buy expensive clothing for her job, but isn’t entitled to reimbursement from her employer or a write-off on her taxes.
“How you doing, sweetie?” Van De Voort asks Fidel as we stop by her bedside.
“Okay–I guess,” the patient says weakly, grimacing from the effort of muting the television in her private room.
“You’re gonna make it, I know it,” Van De Voort says, then leaves to allow an unfiltered exchange between this reporter and the woman, who was twice voted “Hostess of the Year” by the Norfolk County Restaurant Association.
Left alone with the patient, this reporter asks what many say is a question central to understanding the disease: if her cancer is fake what, exactly, is the nature of the pain that she suffers?
“Are you kidding me?” she says, her eyes growing big with incredulity. “When everybody found out I was faking it, they beat the crap outta me!”