Real Life

Real life: My friend faked having cancer and I'd never felt more betrayed

I was going through the toughest stage of my life but least we had each other ...

By Laura Masia

Monique Portelli, 25, Nelson, Vic shares her shocking story with Take 5:

My heart sank as I stared down at the clump of chocolate brown hair strewn across my pillow.
Grabbing my phone I frantically began typing a message to my friend, Alysha.
It's happening, I wrote. My hair is falling out.
She replied instantly: Aw babe, I'm so sorry. I found shaving mine off was easier to deal with.
I took a deep breath, feeling grateful I had someone to talk to who was going through the same thing.
Six months earlier, I'd found a lump in my neck.
At first, doctors said it was nothing to worry about, but tests eventually revealed it was stage 3B Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The doc explained I'd need six months of chemotherapy and should freeze my eggs in case my fertility was affected.
I started chemo right away.
At first, I only told my closest friends and family about my diagnosis.
I worked as a make-up artist but knew I had to quit so I could focus on my recovery.
When the chemo started to take its toll, I broke the news to my wider group of friends.
Shortly after, my phone pinged. It was a Facebook message from a 26-year-old girl called Alysha.
Alysha Goring (Photo credit: Nine News)
I recognised her face, and we had mutual friends, so I assumed we'd crossed paths before.
I have cancer, too, the message read. If you need anything, I'm here.
Her words comforted me.
We can face this together, I told her.
We started messaging each other most days. I learnt that Alysha had stage-four liver cancer.
Like me, she was having chemo, but her prognosis wasn't good.
A liver transplant was her only hope, but finding a match was difficult.
Despite everything she was going through, Alysha became my rock.
We were usually too sick to meet in person.
Instead, we'd spend hours on the phone texting about our future.
One night, she called me.
My hair before and after chemo. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
"Have you ever thought about your funeral?" she asked me.
"Honestly, it makes me too upset," I responded.
But Alysha insisted on being practical.
She'd made sure to tell her family she was an organ donor, had done her will and even planned it all right down to what songs she wanted played.
As time went on, my cancer responded well to the treatment, but Alysha was deteriorating.
"It's terminal," she sobbed. "Docs can't do anything more for me."
My heart broke for her.
Thankfully, Alysha found out about an experimental treatment in Texas and started raising money.
She told me it would cost close to $100k for treatment, but she was determined to find it somehow.
She also wanted to help others and placed a fundraising box in The Reject Shop, where she was a manager, to collect donations for the Cancer Council, and she hosted a girls' night in.
I went along, putting $50 in the donations box.
I felt terrible I couldn't give any more.
I started my chemo treatment right away. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Learning that I was in remission after three months of treatment was bittersweet.
I was glad to be cancer-free, but Alysha was in a bad way.
"We need to go out and celebrate," she urged, but I couldn't do it.
Part of me felt guilty.
Why did I deserve to get better while my friend was suffering?
In an effort to get on with my life, I started planning a three-month holiday overseas.
Luckily, Alysha had raised the money for her treatment and flew off to the States.
Each day she'd send me photos outside of the hospital or update me on how her treatment was going.
Things were looking good for her at last.
When she came home a few weeks later, she sent me a message.
It was the most gruelling thing I'd ever done. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
The treatment didn't work, she wrote, I don't know how much longer I have to live.
My body trembled with shock.
Here I was, about to jump on a plane, when she was facing the toughest challenge of her life.
I wondered whether it was right for me to leave her – we'd grown so close, and after sharing a diagnosis, I felt a connection that I hadn't experienced with other friends.
We both knew what it was like to have our worlds tipped upside down by cancer.
"Don't worry about me," she insisted. "Go have the time of your life!"
She was still on my mind during my travels, but when I went to message her on Facebook, her account had been deleted.
It was a bittersweet time for me.
Maybe she just wants time with her family, I thought.
I tried to enjoy my trip but my mind always wandered to Alysha.
One day, a friend sent me an article out of the blue.
I gasped in shock at the headline: Cancer Faker – below it was a picture of Alysha!
Rage bubbled inside me as I read that she'd never had cancer at all.
Over time, her close friends had noticed things weren't adding up.
She'd never had any family or friends with her during chemo and she'd told her workmates that she had ovarian cancer, not liver cancer, like she'd told me.
Instead of going to America for treatment with the money she'd raised, she went to theme parks, posing outside of hospitals for photos and buying items from the hospital's gift shop to keep up the act.
She'd even forged an email from her Sydney doctor that she sent to her family and friends.
The email Alysha faked from her doctor. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
I felt like I was going to explode.
I thought she was my friend!
In court, Alysha Goring was charged with obtaining property by deception.
The police alleged that she'd pocketed almost $10,000 in donations, which she put towards her trip to America.
The Cancer Council never received any of the money she'd collected, either.
Alysha pleaded guilty to obtaining the money by deception.
Her lawyer argued that she was mentally unwell and now using anti-psychotic medications.
The magistrate ordered her to go to jail for six months, though she appealed immediately.
Alysha only spent an hour waiting in the prison dock before returning to court, where she was granted bail.
This sickening betrayal has shattered my trust in others.
I still can't understand why she'd do something so cruel.
Going through cancer is the toughest thing I've ever done – I wouldn't wish it upon anyone.
I truly believed that I'd found a companion in Alysha, someone whose kindness helped me through the dark times.
I never could have imagined that it was all one big, elaborate lie.

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