Is big business the real reason people are faking illness?

Watching Belle Gibson on 60 Minutes last night, I asked myself, not for the first time, how and when illness and health became big business.

Somewhere along the line, ‘healing’ got entangled with business and stardom. It has become a way to make money or achieve fame and attention. The accolades that come alongside big business and stardom are addictive. These can lead to decisions that are neither wise or compassionate, but solely based on feeding the addiction. Where health is concerned there are lives at risk – real lives, not screen lives.

Mixing up business, fame and health is not only dangerous, but potentially deadly.

Belle Gibson on 60 minutes

I worked in a large corporate organisation for over 12 years. We talked bottom line, we talked top line, we talked quick fix, we talked money back guarantees and we talked fast-track transformation programs. We now talk the same language where illness and healing is concerned. But our body is not a washing machine, car or computer which, if it breaks down, might just be an expensive mishap. If our body breaks down, it can be a potentially irreversible mishap.

Belle Gibson was one of many making money out of sick people. Others make a buck out of spruiking a solution based on some truth, but not enough to get people well. But her case was perhaps doubly detrimental because she was spruiking a lie to make a buck.

The reality is there are no miracle cures in illness. As I write those words, I feel like the clock that struck midnight for Cinderella. How many hearts might I be crushing? It could take some back to the emotions they felt when they found out the tooth fairy was actually mum!

Belle Gibson on 60 minutes

In a promise-driven marketing world, where we expect technology, a lab technician or scientist to come up with an answer for everything, we give vulnerable sick people false hope with all these apparent 'miracle cures'.

To me, what differentiates a miracle cure from other cures is the singular: one approach, one type of treatment, one diet, medication or supplement. A miracle cure promise this: if you follow what I did or what I know, you will get better. It usually also happens in record time. It gives a seemingly guaranteed success in large print, yet it often has fine print disclaimers - ones we seem to overlook or perhaps even choose to ignore.

Sounds a bit like business, hey?

If I see another blog, website or book that promises the cure to an ailment by doing one thing or quitting another, I’ll scream. I squirm each time a friend informs me of the latest and greatest ‘thing’ they are trying in an effort to get well, because inevitably a few weeks or months down the track they will tell me about something else. I have good reason to feel this way; I was one of those vulnerable sick people who fell prey to an endless round of miracle cures.

Debilitated by a severe infection and subsequent chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive disorders for seven years, after initial antibiotic treatment I was dismissed by the old school medical profession and embraced by the modern day doctor and complementary medicine world. I went on a merry-go-round ride of treatments and a roller coaster ride of emotional highs and lows as the hope for a cure dwindled into disappointment over and over again.


There is not much I didn’t try to get myself well. I admit I was taken in by the testimonials and pictures of people, like me, who had become well again. Who wouldn’t? If you are sick and in pain, there is no better angel than the one that takes a seat on your shoulder and whispers in your ear, “I can make you better if you just do this”.

There was a time when I wouldn’t leave the house for a meal without my pill box of 17+ supplements; when Doctor Google took up the rare precious mental energy I had; and when my weekly calendar only showed appointments with a range of practitioners in a range of modalities. Did any of these help? Sure, some did, but they were only bandaids. None got down to the core issue, and a few nearly killed me.

One of the doctors whose 'miracle treatment' was the cure for my illness - yet also one of the treatments that nearly killed me - is now on another tangent with a new promise! How convenient. Did he run out of steam with the last one and need to find something new to bankroll him and support his fame addiction?

The last physician I saw during my illness said I and others were guinea pigs to a medical and complementary medical profession that didn’t have the answers to many modern day illnesses. Although he didn’t quite have the solution for me, he didn’t offer me any magical remedies either. I thank him for this.

Gibson with her son and her book.

We are sensible beings. How do we truly expect that a chronic illness that may have taken years to manifest in our bodies can be cured in record time? I’ve now been told by many health colleagues the guiding timeframe to completely heal an illness is equal to the number of years you suffered from it. Now that doesn’t mean you don’t get stronger along the way, but any overnight improvement is unsustainable in the longer term. It’s false, misleading energy and can set you seriously off course.

Some of these cures have no sense of logic. We just get mesmerised by their spell and promise. I know of a highly regarded professional in his field who, in his quest to lose weight, became obsessed with not going past 600 calories a day. Really, what damage is 601 going to do?

In my own experience, after reading a book on hyperbaric oxygen tanks, I was made to believe a few sessions nestled in its ‘chamber’ would enable me to read and concentrate again, something I hadn’t been able to do in nearly five years. I floated on air for a few days (if you'll pardon the pun), drunk on this amazing possibility. Thankfully, its prohibitive price stopped me from going down that path.

We should never forget we are multi-dimensional human beings. Even though I believe what we put into our body is crucial to our ultimate wellbeing, we are still more than what we eat. We are also what we do, what we think, what we feel and what we breathe. They all make up our body, thus our health. So no diet or no pill on its own is ever going to address your illness at a multi-faceted level.

Chronic illnesses are not healed in a bottle or in a three-package session with a practitioner. They may be pacified or managed, but they are still there. My body is proof. When I finally decided to go cold turkey and stopped all pills and treatments, my illness was still ever present.

It wasn’t until I decided to grow up and, yes, take in my stride the fact that there was no tooth fairy, just a beautiful loving mother, that I took the plunge into the unknown, sometimes scary, waters of no miracle cures, no quick fixes and no 'one fits all' remedies.

From this point, I began to heal. I allowed my illness to scream in all its glory and my body’s innate intelligence to scream back at it.

We don’t want to hear this, because there is no firm end date to our plight. We have to travel the waves of time. Some days the tides are in, some out, some rough, some smooth. There is no promise that if you take Codral, you’ll be back on the netball court that night. Or, if you follow this diet, you’ll loose 20 kilos in 20 weeks.

Magazines and websites make all kids of promises. They are overwhelming, exhausting and confusing for someone ill and fatigued. In a world where social media and the internet dominate, anyone can have their say, and this say is rarely qualified.

If any of you are spruiking the virtues of a miracle remedy, please go quietly within and ask yourself whether this remedy was the be all and end all, or if it was one of several things that led to your recovery. Truthfully, are you just marketing a business for yourself?


More importantly, go back to how you felt, how vulnerable you were when looking for remedies and how much risk you were taking financially, physically and emotionally if what you tried didn’t work. A good friend spent two years in bed after a treatment went wrong. I lost nearly 12 kilos in a few weeks and shut down my digestive system.

This is not a knock at the entire medical or complementary medicine industry. There are excellent practitioners within both. It is a knock at those that purport to have the cure for you - sometimes, without even having met you.

In Gibson's book forward she wrote how she was 'diagnosed.'

So sorry folks, I’m not going to end this article with ‘my' cure. I’m not going to be the consultant that wins the deal based on the best solution. I’m going to leave you sitting in the unknown space, poised on that wave, because it’s only in that space that eventually an answer will surface.

The fact Belle Gibson got paid for her interview, or was even given an interview, proves we often value drama, entertainment, and of course, ratings, over truth. She had lied before, so none of us were ever really going to believe what she said last night. Once sales, marketing, business and fame become entwined with healing, the opportunity for lies and miscommunication are rife.

We need to start somewhere to make the change. That 'somewhere' is recognising illness has become business, and that both together don’t legitimately or authentically fit. We need to find a new way to share our success. As someone who plans on sharing her story, I take my responsibility seriously. Being placed in the public eye is a consequence of my need to communicate, not a goal.

I can only hope the way I choose to share my story never leads anyone up the garden path or to a more broken mind, body or soul.

For more about Belle Gibson, try....

Belle Gibson: the fallen goddess of self improvement culture.

More ‘miracle cure’ cancer survivors make disturbing claims.

00:00 / ???