Moment people started to doubt Belle Gibson
IN THIS extract from a new book about disgraced wellness blogger Belle Gibson, it shows the moment and friends and followers started to question her cancer claims.
Oli's fourth birthday party was late on a Sunday afternoon, and sunlight streamed in through the large windows of Belle Gibson's Elwood home.
Gibson had organised gold foil balloons for her son in the shape of the letters 'O' and 'B'. Lego and other toys were strewn across the floor, and presents and handwritten cards piled up in the dining room next to party bags.
Outside, on the patio table, were healthy snacks and a cask of filtered Pureau Water.
There were about a dozen kids and some of Gibson's closest friends at the party. Nathan, Oli's dad, was there, as was Clive, her partner, who wore dark sunglasses inside.
Also present were her photographer, her food stylist, and a young woman named Kate Bradley, an author, who would go on to become Gibson's assistant.
Jarrod Briffa and Bec Villanti, who ran a city cafe, and Georgie Castle, the founder of vegan chocolate company Citizen Cacao, had come along, too.
A five-year-old boy with brain cancer, Joshua Schwarz, whom Gibson had met through social media, was there with his father.
The party started out as a nice day, guests said, and Oli was having fun playing and running around with his friends from kinder.
Nathan helped light the candles on his son's green Lego block cake before everyone sang Happy Birthday. Just before the speeches, in the dining room, Gibson had Oli on her hip, and looked at her son adoringly.
Oli is a lot like his mum; he has the same fair skin and sun-streaked hair. He wore a long-sleeved T-shirt with a dinosaur print; she wore a $1000 dress under a pink turtleneck sweater. Later, Oli knelt on a chair at the head of the table and excitedly unwrapped his pile of presents as his friends looked on.
Just after 3.15pm, as people prepared to leave, Gibson's eyes rolled back into her head. Her legs buckled and she hit the wall, sliding down it, slowly, to soften the impact.
As she lay on the ground, Gibson started shaking.
At first, no one knew what was happening. Then she started convulsing.
"It was scary," said one of her friends. "It was so violent, the adults were crying."
One guest pulled out her mobile phone, primed to call an ambulance. Then the seizure stopped. Someone said Gibson didn't like getting hospitals involved.
"It was, 'No, no, no, this has happened before, everything's going to be all right, she'll get through it',' said another friend.
"There's no need for an ambulance. That was the consensus."
Gibson came to, and explained to her guests, wearily, that this happened all the time. They shouldn't worry. But then the fitting started again. It went on for 30 or 40 minutes: Gibson seizing on the floor, and then coming out of it.
When she stopped jerking, she seemed almost unconscious.
"People were stroking her forehead, reassuring her, 'It's OK now, it's over'. And then it would start again."
Oli and some of the other children had seen the beginnings of the seizure, and the adults crouching around Gibson, cradling her head.
Then someone took the little ones away. "Oli was ... I saw his face," said a friend. "He was petrified. The kids had to almost walk over the top of her to go upstairs. Oli had to look at his mum looking like she was almost dead on the floor."
One of the guests, someone who was very close to Gibson at the time, said what they had witnessed left them absolutely devastated: "It looked real. I believed it was real. And I was mortified. I cried driving all the way home ... I actually don't know how I got home."
Later, at home, Gibson updated her status on her personal Facebook account, telling everyone of the dramatic end to Oli's party.
And, as always, she used the opportunity to encourage others to share.
"I collapsed in pain and had multiple seizures over the following 40 minutes," she said.
"This is the worst I've ever been with them and am taking this overwhelming situation as encouragement to breathe and sort some things out. For anyone who's been in a situation like this before, I would love to hear your management strategies, while I send you love and strength in return. I have seizures often as a result of my brain cancer, but nothing ever this long or intense. Extremely grateful for my friends and family who were there to support me through this and my team who are looking for new answers.
On July 29, 2014, a little over two weeks later, Belle Gibson uploaded her most prolific post to Instagram. It featured a photo of a bouquet of bright pink balloons, in the shape of a love heart, captioned with the heartbreaking announcement that her cancer had spread to multiple organs:
"With frustration and ache in my heart // my beautiful, gamechanging community, it hurts me to find space tonight to let you all know with love and strength that I've been diagnosed with a third and forth [sic] cancer.
"One is secondary and the other is primary. I have cancer in my blood, spleen, brain, uterus, and liver. I am hurting. As some of you remember, there was a scare I briefly spoke about here 4 months ago where we found gynaecological cancer that I stood up against with strength I wouldn't of had if it weren't for each of you.
"With these, it was only a matter of time before it all fell apart as my body goes through the waves of this process. I wanted to respectfully let you each know, and hand some of the energy over to the greater community, my team and TWP - through this I am still here reading, listening and learning with and to each of you, but need to respectfully and with great honour hand it over to TWP to carry on our legacies and collective message. I sit and work from a space for each of you, still creating and growing our philosophy of living #thewholelife - work towards releasing our first book and ensure that the legacies of our charity and community work which you ALL helped achieve through downloading The Whole Pantry App is all it needs to be, with whatever ends up being my defining story with you. I'm doing okay, but am feeling very unwell and picked up on this before my return from NYC with confirmation just over a week later.
"I have the most phenomenal team of integrative and holistic specialist and practitioners and know either way, they'll give me good conversations to leave with. I'm so grateful for them, my strength over the last five years and for being what seems to feel like the most unfortunate, tested life ever. Please turn to this account, the app and book in this time of space for our message of The Whole Life, app and book updates and community support and inspiration to continue on.
"Please don't carry my pain. I've got this. x Belle"
There was an enormous outpouring of grief. Tens of thousands of people read the post. Thousands upon thousands more commented. It was around this time that doubts about Gibson's cancer story started circulating.
Questions were being asked on the internet. People started posting comments about Gibson's story: how it seemed to lack important detail; how her lifestyle didn't seem to reflect the deteriorating health she reported online; how she managed to outlive her doctor's prognosis for a type of cancer that is so, so aggressive; how she didn't follow any cancer organisations, and never called for more funding to support brain cancer research.
One blogger began a post about Gibson like this: "Does Belle Gibson actually have cancer? Woah. Okay. Boy did I feel like a jerk as I typed that out."
But it was a question that some people who were close to Gibson had already begun asking themselves.