As Cancer Phonies Go, Pennsylvania Beauty Queen an Underachiever

23 year-old Brandi Lee Weaver-Gates (pictured) has been arrested for allegedly claiming to have had cancer for several years, and reaping the financial benefits to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

What sets Brandi apart from the lengthy list of cancer phonies before her is that she's headline-primed thanks to her crown as Miss Pennsylvania US International.

Otherwise, her alleged story is nothing new: creating fake medical bills to convince skeptics and generate donations; putting on bogus fundraisers and lying to loved ones; shaving her head to mimic the look of a chemotherapy patient; accepting rides to the hospital for non-existent anti-cancer treatments.

Brandi has allegedly been running this scam for a number of years. ABC News reported that she claimed to have been diagnosed with stage II leukemia. If true, it's all the more shocking that she wasn't caught earlier because there is no such thing as stage II leukemia, or stage I or III or IV for that matter. Leukemia is not staged. It is either chronic or acute.

To the uninitiated, the fact that Brandi shaved her head to complete the ruse is likely impressive but the truth is that if you're going to fake cancer, losing all your hair is practically obligatory, a sine qua non in the commission of such a con.

In fact, if the allegations about Brandi are true, then on the scale of cancer phonies she's something of an underachiever. Consider the alleged actions of some other recent cancer phonies:

Danielle Vanderpool

Vanderpool, a police dispatcher in California, raised around $50,000 from friends and colleagues to help her pay for treatments related to a brain cancer she didn't have.

She may have been inspired to use brain cancer because a police officer familiar to Vanderpool not only had real brain cancer at the same time but was in the final stages of the disease.

Suzy Bass

Bass, a popular math teacher from Tennessee, lopped off her hair and claimed to have undergone a failed stem cell transplant, but she did not choose to lie about a hematologic cancer like most phonies do, or even opt for the brain cancer fallback. Bass really went for it, saying she had stage IV breast cancer.

Her worried friends created a fundraising team with the local Komen for the Cure chapter and even ran a 5k on her behalf. Erin Zammett Ruddy wrote about Bass for in what is one of the more chilling and fascinating longform profiles you will ever read.

Jessica Vega

Vega faked having been diagnosed with leukemia in order to pay for her honeymoon to Aruba. I've been to Aruba, it's not worth it.

Jamie Lynn Toler

This 27 year old from Arizona collected $8,000 by saying she had cancer and that she required a double mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction.

The cancer-free Toler did undergo breast reconstruction, kind of: she got a boob job, which was her plan from the outset.

Nicola Lynne Hibberd

Hibberd, at the time a school teacher in the UK, faked having non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in part because she wanted to take some time off work.

Ashley Anne Kirilow

The Canadian Kirilow, 23 at the time, really went the distance in her hoax, claiming to have been diagnosed with brain, liver and ovarian cancer. She only took in about $20,000 during a scheme that included launching her own charity, called Change for a Cure. She shaved her head, but she also shaved her eyebrows and plucked all her eyelashes, proving at the least that she had done her homework. But arguably Kirilow's mark on this genre was to starve herself into looking gaunt in order to reinforce the image.

Finally, a local charity fulfilled her dying wish and flew her to Disney World.

She later told a judge she faked cancer because her childhood sucked and she wanted her family's attention.

Brittany Ozarowski

As a fundraiser, Ozarowski is the cancer phony queen. She has no peers.

Age 21 when finally busted, this resident of Long Island had for several months been telling anyone who would listen that she had 'bone and brain cancer'. To reinforce the ruse, she began using a wheelchair.

As for money:

  • - She conned one man who had lost his own son to cancer out of several thousand dollars of his own money, and he felt such sympathy for her that he put on fundraisers for her benefit.
  • - She got her own father to give her $25,000 from his retirement savings.
  • - She told her grandmother that she needed money to pay for chemotherapy, which convinced grandma to sell her own home and give Brittany the proceeds, cash that amounted to around $100,000.

Vanity ultimately brought Brittany down as she was apparently unwilling to do what others considered de rigueur: she chose not to shave her head. People became suspicious when her hair wasn't falling out from the chemo treatments she claimed to be receiving.

Brittany's ultimate motivation, however, was not a common one in this game, where most hoaxers aren't after money so much as attention. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota summed up Brittany's motivation succinctly:

"There was no cancer, no chemotherapy, no radiation, and no medical bills. There was just heroin."

Experts are quick to note that cancer hoaxers are in fact sufferers themselves, not from cancer but from a mental disorder. One hopes that experts will forgive true cancer sufferers and their loved ones when these folks have a tough time conjuring up any sympathy for Weaver-Gates et al.

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