Faking Cancer to Make Money and Get Free Stuff Is Officially a ThingS

Today a grand jury in Orange County indicted 25-year-old Jessica Vega on a charge most unusual: lying about having terminal cancer so she could have a gigantic, free wedding. When Vega didn't die as promised, suspicions were aroused, her husband divorced her, and the bride found herself in trouble with the law. But Vega's not the first lady to lie about having cancer in order to cash in on well-wishers' good intentions. Far from it. Turns out, lying about cancer for the donation money is its own little cottage industry.

In 2010, Vega told friends, neighbors, and loved ones that she was dying of leukemia, and her Cancer Wish was to get married to the father of her young daughter before she Nicholas Sparked off into the great beyond. Her neighbors bought the tale (because what kind of ass lies about having cancer?) and donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods, services, and cold, hard cash to the needy, tragic couple. They raised so much money that the couple was able to embark on a "dream honeymoon" to Aruba. Four months later, when she explained to local media that she'd made the whole thing up, people were upset. And now she's being held on a $10,000 bail.

Vega's ill-fated voyage into the grifter sea closely mirrors that of 24-year-old Trista Joy Lathern, who raised $10,000 to treat her non-existent breast cancer and then used the money to buy herself a boob job. Before you recoil in disgust over the shittitude of the lie, consider this: she was just doing it to save her marriage. Now who's the asshole?

Ashley Kirilow began telling her family members that she had cancer in 2009. When her mother discovered that she wasn't receiving treatment at the facility she claimed to be visiting, Ashley ceased communication with them and launched her own fake cancer charity called Change For a Cure. She shaved her head and eyebrows, plucked her eyelashes, and gave herself a fake knuckle tat that read "Won't Quit" and began posting "treatment updates" on Facebook for the legions of fans she was amassing. She explained her lack of family by saying that her very-much-alive mother had died of a crack overdose and that she had seven siblings. Neither of these things is true. Her family's very embarrassed.

Martha Nicholas of Virginia didn't use shaved heads, knuckle tattoos and tales of crack-addled moms in her cancer head fake; she just did it for the love of the game. According to authorities, she told her friends that she was getting cancer treatment and asked them for money. And they obliged. She was arrested shortly after her scheme was discovered.

And Jessica Vega, Trista Joy Lathern, Ashley Kirlow, and Martha Nicholas are far from alone. There's also Alicia Kelly, who said her perfectly healthy 15-year-old daughter had cancer, Jayme Litza, who said she had cancer for the attention, Dina Leone, who told her facebook friends that she had stomach cancer, and Jasmine Ritchey, who told her boyfriend she had cancer so he wouldn't know she was pregnant.

But it's not just women who have embraced the 1.) lie about having terminal cancer 2.) Get money 3.) Don't die 4.) ??? 5.) PROFIT! business model. A New Hampshire man told his coworkers that his very not sick wife was dying of cancer in order to solicit donations from them. The wife discovered something was amiss when she opened a sympathy card from a coworker. Brian Boniwell of Texas told officials that he had breast cancer in order to avoid court-ordered community service. Philadelphia's Leron Magilner raised over $10,000 for his imaginary cancer before being arrested for the bit of fakery. And apparently in Australia, men are faking having various diseases in order to trick women into bed all the damn time.

Cancer fakers make everyone look like assholes in the long run — themselves, obviously, but also the duped and the wary, who in the future will be more inclined to second guess actual cancer patients. But with the sheer volume of search results that appear as a result of a google search for "man fakes cancer" or "woman fakes cancer," you have to wonder how many people get away with it. How many Jessica Vegas sail off into their dream wedding sunset already planning a miraculous recovery? And how many Nicholas Sparks protagonists were just in it for the thrill of the lie?

Image via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.