health

"I stared her in the eye." Kate was one of Belle Gibson's victims. Then she saw her in a cafe.

Not long after Belle Gibson’s lies were uncovered, the cancer fraud wandered into a Melbourne cafe. No one recognised her, or if they did they didn’t let on; except for staff member Kate Thomas.

Belle had grown a large online following after she claimed she had brain cancer that was cured through the alternative therapies plugged in her wellness app, The Whole Pantry.

Eventually her lies unravelled and it was discovered none of it was true. She was fined $410,000 by the Federal Court after duping her Australian consumers – many of whom did actually have cancer – out of half a million dollars. She had promised to donate the proceeds to multiple charities.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky asks why people fake cancer online. Post continues after podcast.

Since being issued the fine in 2017, the 27-year-old has not paid a single cent, even after facing several warnings for not paying the fine for breaches of consumer laws.

Speaking to Mamamia, Kate told of how she had previously met Belle at fundraisers and served her at the cafe, but when she walked in that day it was the first time Kate had seen her since her deceit became public.

She was furious.

“I thought I was okay at the time and then all of a sudden I just got so emotional and I told my boss – [Belle] was in my section – I can’t serve her, I’m going to either yell at her, cry, I could’ve been physical, I don’t know,” Kate explained.

“I got moved, but I said ‘I just need to do one thing’ and I walked out to where she was sitting and she was facing me.”

belle gibson cancer fraud court appearancebelle gibson cancer
Belle Gibson arrives at the Federal Court in Melbourne, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Image: AAP.

Belle was with her son and Clive Rothwell, the man who has been funding her life since she was outed as a cancer con. The child and Clive were facing the other way, which opened up a powerful opportunity for Kate.

"I stared her in the eye and I just shook my head until she felt it. I feel like she knew that I knew who she was and I was really upset... Then I burst into tears and I had to leave for the day."

There's a reason Kate was so impacted by this random run-in. A self-described "cancer warrior", she was diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine's Day in 2014, and for a while, Belle Gibson was someone she looked to for support.

ADVERTISEMENT

Belle presented the perfect persona online: She was smiling and happy, a world away from the reality of many people going through cancer treatment. In real life, it was not much different.

kate thomas cancer
A collage of some of Kate's cancer moments. Image: Supplied.

When Kate looked at Belle - online and in real life - she saw a woman who was beautiful, impeccably dressed and most importantly: healthy. This was despite being diagnosed with brain cancer, for which she had forgone traditional treatment like chemotherapy and radiation in favour of alternative therapies and a clean diet.

Belle offered Kate hope.

"She never looked sick, and that should've been warning bells for me, but I think at the time I was just like most of us - and there were so many of us, who were literally just clinging to a tiny bit of hope that there was anything other than chemo and radiation that you could do to keep living," Kate said.

"I lost my hair, I lost my eyebrows, I lost my eyelashes. I remember working at that cafe where I served her, when I'd had my first session of chemo and I had my hair half up, and I scratched my head in front of someone and a clump of my hair fell out.

"That's what I was going through and then I looked at her, and she just looked so perfectly healthy and I suppose that makes me really angry that I didn't see it at the time. It was that little bit of hope that people cling onto that blinded me."

kate thomas
Kate when her hair was growing back after chemo. She says she likes to be near the water: "It's good for my soul." Image: Supplied.
ADVERTISEMENT

After her first chemotherapy, Kate almost gave it up to follow Belle's advice. Thankfully, her husband was so scared of that decision he called his mother, a nurse, who flew over from New Zealand to ensure she kept going.

But some people did stop their treatment because of Belle. Some of them got worse, and some of them died.

Kate would like the victims to have their say in court, to truly show the extent of the damage Belle caused, to more than just bank accounts.

Kate thomas dog
Image: Supplied.

"I wish there was an opportunity to have victim impact statements in her court sessions, just to show what she really has done," Kate said.

"People aren't hearing the true effect of what she did. She stole money, yes, they're hearing all about the money but what about the lives that she played with?"

It's been more than five years since Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer. After two years of intense treatment and surgeries, she is cancer-free but still dealing with the effects everyday.

"It just filters into so many things in your life," she said. "It never goes away."

Kate believes a more tangible punishment should be handed down to the woman who has for two years claimed she is too poor to pay back her $410,000 fine.

A punishment that impacts her day-to-day, just as cancer does.

For more on this topic:

00:00 / ???