‘I know people will be shocked by Belle Gibson’s story, but I’m angry’

4I’M A cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37. I didn’t survive it by eating organically, drinking juices or hoping really, really hard. I survived by taking my doctor’s advice — my kind, compassionate, conventional, evidence-based doctor.

With any cancer diagnosis comes treatment — whether it’s surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or medication — and the realisation that there’s nothing easy about cancer. No one’s going to diagnose you and then shrug their shoulders and tell you not to worry about it, or tell you that a diet change will fix all. But the problem is, someone has been saying that. Someone has been saying that you can eat your way to wellness.

For the past few years, Belle Gibson has built a business around the ‘fact’ that she cured her terminal brain cancer with diet and natural therapies. Today, she admitted that she lied. And her lie may have cost lives.

Luckily, it didn’t cost mine.

I know people will be shocked by Belle Gibson’s story, but I’m angry. I’m angry because this isn’t a mistake an apology can fix. Belle was an inspirational figure with over 200,000 social media followers, a book deal and an app endorsed by Apple. People will have made choices about their cancer treatment based on her advice. Sick and vulnerable people facing tough, life-and-death decisions.

Cancer may be more common, but it’s not less deadly. Cancer spreads. It’s not a wait-and-see illness. It’s a start-treatment-NOW illness.

As someone who’s been there, done that, I can completely see the appeal of trying natural therapies to beat cancer first. When you get the list of risks and side effects from cancer treatment, I can see how tempting it would be to have a fruit smoothie instead. But — and let’s be clear here — this DOES NOT WORK. As unpleasant as it is, right now chemotherapy and radiotherapy is what works. I had to endure the treatments to give myself a shot at a future. And yes, I had to work through fear, pain and sickness to get to the other side, but it’s done now and I’m glad I did it.

I’ve already said that there’s nothing easy about cancer. There are decisions after decisions to be made, and they’re decisions that impact your whole life. We have to make choices. I chose to put my trust in my doctor. He is the epitome of kindness and compassion, treats everyone with respect, and is loved back by all. He works long hours in a stressful, highly emotive environment. And this is where I take up arms against the wellness movement Belle has advocated for; a movement which claims that the medical industry focuses on sickness rather than health, and that the side effects of medicine are so horrendous that they must be avoided at all costs.

I absolutely refuse to believe that this man, with all the merits I’ve listed and far, far more, would not be doing his very best for me. I absolutely refuse to believe that doctors are hiding a better cure in favour of profit, or that they’d overlook a simple remedy in favour of more ‘destructive’ methods. Do I sound angry? I really am.

There is a place in the cancer realm for complimentary treatments. I found acupuncture helpful in relieving stress and insomnia, and nutrition and exercise are also important factors in recovery — important, and evidence-based. But these are all things done as well as other treatments. Not instead of.

Why? Because not everyone survives cancer. I’ve lost two special people that I met along this ‘journey’, and I’ve heard countless other sad stories. The big theme in all of them is time. Not finding cancer early enough, or, more tragically, trying other ‘remedies’ first — and this one breaks my heart. Maybe Belle’s admission will lead to a bit more regulation, and a bit more accountability.

Anyone who’s been through treatment and all its challenges appreciates just how important that ‘one shot’ is. So, if you ever find yourself facing a cancer diagnosis, don’t misplace your trust. Please.

Yvonne’s book, One Piece of Advice: Words to guide you through early breast cancer is a collection of hints and tips that she gathered during her cancer treatment, with advice from other patients, their families and their healthcare teams.