Faking cancer is an all-too-common ploy that many use for financial gain, to get sympathy, or simply because they're too mentally ill to think they're doing anything wrong. But among all the parents who have faked cancer and scared their children in the process of receiving "treatment," there's New Jersey mom Susan Stillwaggon.
What did this mother of the year candidate do? Try telling her nine-year-old son that he had stage three Hodgkin's lymphoma and then perpetuating the lie by holding fundraisers and telling the world about his condition.
Lying to your family and friends about your own falsified ailments is bad enough, but convincing your child they have cancer is lower than low. Stillwaggon has been charged with theft by deception, forgery, endangering the welfare of a child, and using a child to commit a criminal offense as she collected $3,500 for her son's "treatment."
"Stillwaggon led her son to believe that he suffered from the fatal illness," said the Pennsauken Township Police Department in a news release. "Investigation confirmed that the boy does not suffer from any life-threatening illnesses."
An anonymous tipster alerted police of Stillwaggon's abuse, which had been happening for at least two months, and led them to open the investigation that revealed her numerous lies. She had told her son's teachers about his "cancer" and even held fundraisers to bring attention to his condition and raise money for his care. Interestingly, she did not tell her husband or mother about her son's "ailment."
The deranged Stillwaggon is now in a psychiatric ward, where she will remain until her trial begins on May 2. While there is no word as to how her son reacted to learning he did not actually have cancer, the potential damage she inflicted on him could be unthinkably vast.
Yale University professor of psychology Alan Kazdin stressed the need for the child to be taken care of during this time, and not blamed for his mother's actions.
"He's got two things going on that are really bad," Kazdin said. "He's got the weird situation that a horrible thing happened — he was told he was really sick — and once it comes out in the open, it gets worse in another way."
Kazdin also noted that people could take out their frustrations with Stillwaggon on the son instead, and that friends of the child should watch out for common "red flags" of depression and anxiety that could manifest as a result of the trauma he has suffered.
Stillwaggon's actions constitute child abuse of devastating proportions. Kazdin called it a "double whammy" — learning he had cancer, then learning he didn't, and in the process of the latter he learned his mother was lying about his health. Whether or not her mental state contributed to her beliefs and actions is irrelevant, since she was clearly unfit to parent at all. Hopefully the child will receive the love, care, and respect he deserves after emerging from an abusive situation.