19-year-old Iowa woman Madison Russo went viral on Tiktok — twice. First, for sharing her cancer journey, and a second time, for lying about it.
In October 2022, Madison posted several videos on TikTok claiming she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Stage II Pancreatic Cancer, and a tumor around her spine. She said she only had an 11% chance of survival.
Madison told her followers she had endured 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 90 rounds of radiation. She garnered sympathy from people all around the world —and donations of more than $37,000 on GoFundMe.
Despite her “illness” Madison somehow managed to remain a full-time student at St. Ambrose University with a 3.85 GPA, play golf, and start a “dream internship” at the manufacturing company John Deere.
When others questioned why Madison appeared to look healthy and didn’t lose her hair, she gave credit to her makeup skills and special vitamins.
Madison even posted a photo of her dog with a purple scarf that read #TeamMaddie — a hashtag created by loyal followers on social media who wanted to bring attention to her story. She appeared in several interviews and podcasts, all of which have since been removed.
“They gave me a slim 11-percent survival rate for five years before this latest tumor was discovered. Eleven percent. At 19 years old, I don’t know if I will live to see the day I graduate from college, get married, or become a mom. In the meantime, I will fight,” Madison told local news reporters.
On January 11, 2023, ICU nurse Lindsey Shelton, and several other medical professionals who viewed Madison’s videos on TikTok went to the police alleging there were quite a few discrepancies with her story.
Madison posted a photo of herself with a feeding tube on social media, however, it was attached to the wrong part of her body. Not only that, multiple photos posted on her Instagram account had actually been stolen from real cancer survivors — and reposted as her own.
The authorities searched Madison’s apartment and seized bank records, an IV pole, a feeding pump stuffed with cotton balls, medical supplies, pills, a wig, journals, a computer, and a newly purchased 2023 Kia Sportage. Medical records proved she had never been diagnosed with cancer at all.
GoFundMe refunded all 439 donors and banned Madison from using their services in the future.
Madison was charged with Theft by Means of Deception. She is currently free on a $10,000 bond.
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