Ashley Kirilow, a 23-year-old Canadian woman, was known as a plucky survivor. Despite being diagnosed with breast, ovarian, brain, and liver cancers, she valiantly fought the diseases and raised money for herself and others over the past year.

Last October Kirilow and her supporters started a charity called Change for a Cure, which asked people to donate their spare change so she could donate the money to the University of Alberta for cancer research. She also opened Facebook and Twitter accounts for the organization, whose slogan is “Together we can change the world one penny at a time.” Fundraisers were held for her, and a Toronto charity flew terminally ill Ashley to Disney World as her dying wish. Altogether over $20,000 was raised for her.

Earlier this week Ashley admitted that she never had cancer. She had shaved her head and eyebrows to fake the signs of chemotherapy, and had spent much of the money given to her on personal expenses. She was arrested

and has been charged with four counts of fraud. While a few of her friends and supporters have cast her as a victim who deserves sympathy, most have written on blogs and Facebook about their feelings of betrayal. Many had supported Ashley because they, too, were dealing with cancer and had shared their personal stories with a person who had lied to them from the start.

Hard data on the national incidence of such crimes are not kept, but people who fake cancer (almost all of them women) or other serious diseases are more common than most people realize. In 2008 Dina Leone, a divorced mother of two, revealed to her friends and family that she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Like Kirilow, she updated everyone on her treatments through blogs and her Facebook page, and many people shared her grief and donated money for her treatments. Earlier this year police discovered it was all a hoax. Leone had pretended to be sick for over three years; she was charged with theft and conspiracy, pled guilty, and is currently awaiting sentencing.

People lie about having cancer and other serious diseases for a variety of reasons. Some do it for financial gain, stealing money from those who rally to support them. But most just love the attention and sympathy, the constant stream of well-wishes and gifts.

Why did Kirilow pretend to have cancer? She gave several explanations including blaming her parents, that she was lonely, and that she was trying to get noticed. If attention and notoriety were her goals, she has certainly achieved them.