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There's something I should tell you... I have cancer...
November 11, 2009 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I lied about having cancer to my boss. Now what?

I work at a school in New York City. Lately I've been under so much stress I have fantasized about quitting often. All of the teachers at my school are browbeaten about test scores and threatened with disciplinary action for missed deadlines and inadequate performance. Yesterday, I told my principal and the assistant principal that I had cancer as a child and it had come back. Yes. Yes I did.

They were very nice and supportive, and repeatedly told me that they were there for me and how wonderful a job I had been doing.

So.... my question is, how can this come back to haunt me? I am on the city's insurance. I don't want to take off more days because of this, I just didn't want every sick day I took scrutinized and possibly subjected to disciplinary action (this happens). In addition, I always feel pressured about little things and I am hoping this will cause them to back off a bit.

So my questions:

1) If they suggest that I take a medical leave of absence, would they be able to check the authenticity of my claims? What is that process like?

2) I don't plan on telling anyone else at the school and certainly not telling anyone that this is BS. How can I better my chances of not being found out?

3) Can they call my insurance company or doctors to verify this? I have seen several doctors for various other problems in the past few months but no oncologists.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (56 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Woah... you're planning to continue this lie to make your job easier? There have been a bunch of high profile cases like this (like this one). They didn't end well, and the person lying about cancer always comes off looking like a sociopath. You should at the very least look for a different job, and you might want to consider therapy if you find yourself lying like this often.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:56 AM on November 11, 2009


Really, wtf.

The best thing you can do is tell them it was a mistake - a false alarm, you jumped the gun, your doctor made a misdiagnosis, whatever - as soon as humanly possible, and take this no further.

I just didn't want every sick day I took scrutinized and possibly subjected to disciplinary action (this happens)


You're in trouble then.
posted by fire&wings at 6:57 AM on November 11, 2009 [34 favorites]


Oh, these lying-to-boss stories always go so well. No wonder the whole nation is split into working and management 'classes' that don't trust each other.

That said, you can't just admit to the Big Lie now, as you've noticed, because that will cause even bigger problems. Heck, if you don't kill it quickly, it's going to have trickle-down problems forever. The best thing you can do, I think, is to try to wiggle out of the second half of your deception with, well... another deception.

Yesterday, I told my principal and the assistant principal that I had cancer as a child and it had come back.

Okay, maybe that's your way out. Do NOT take time off for this fake cancer, because that will really box you in. Instead, go see a doctor asap, though you probably won't get an oncologist. Say that you're paranoid about having cancer, because of some symptom or family history or whatever you can find... and get tested in whatever ways your insurance will cover. Keep the results.

Then update your employer with the "Phew, false alarm." news. Now you have protection from fraud for future missed time, since it's true you have no cancer now and you're not taking time for it. And you have ended future conversations about it, anyway. Don't ever use it as an excuse.

You see, some combination of employer and insurer might be able to investigate your current health, at least a little regarding coverage as they often do, but nobody has the means or power to go back and find your childhood history. And because your only recent report to your insurance-medical audience will be that you were "worried" (not that you had a history) you can't really get insurance-booted, either. The doctor might make some notes about your concern, but that's not going to hurt you.

Just don't ever mention the childhood thing to employers again after this, and NEVER to medical or insurance people, because if that gets into a file, your insurance company could not only kick you now, they could also try to bust you for "lying" on those earlier "history of previous illness" checkboxes you marked when you signed up. Bad.

That's the cleanest path out of your mess that I can see short of just flat-out resigning now. If this extra layer of lying bothers you (and I don't blame you if it does), you should just quit your job now, listing "stress" or something without the damn C word as your reason, and deal with the pain of unemployment as a result. Then start over somewhere else, and skip the stories.
posted by rokusan at 7:02 AM on November 11, 2009 [35 favorites]


Seriously, this was a bad, bad decision. Especially after reading about and hearing about The Rubber Room for NYC public school teachers with disciplinary problems. You don't want to end up there.

I don't see a good way out of this, other than leaving your job as soon as possible before you are discovered and disciplined or fired. If you tell the truth, I suspect that your lie will have been seen as so reprehensible, and/or so indicative of some true underlying personality dysfunction, that you'll be disciplined regardless.
posted by scblackman at 7:03 AM on November 11, 2009


I know someone who lied about having cancer, then tried the "false alarm" cover up. The lie was indicative of the person's trustworthiness, professionalism and general capacity to perform job duties ethically. No one was fooled by either lie, by the way.

Having had a child that died of cancer, I think your actions are really offensive and you should come clean. Agreed with above, that lying about having a disease as serious as cancer is not a healthy way to cope with stress. I am using a lot of restraint in writing this, and trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Your job stress DOES sound awful, and you DO deserve some respite. But lying about having cancer is a despicable way to get it.
posted by bunnycup at 7:09 AM on November 11, 2009 [27 favorites]


Look, I don't think you're a terrible person - everyone does things sometimes that they later regret - but I agree that you absolutely need to get as far away from this lie as you can.

If you stay in this job, the best thing to do is let them know, maybe by email so you don't have to talk to their faces about it, that it was a false alarm. However, I think the best thing to do now is quit.

I know the economy is bad, but on the other hand, you've made clear that this is a very stressful and unsupportive environment, so perhaps quitting is a good idea. One could argue that by doing this you're unconsciously trying to lose your job, actually.

Good luck. I know doing the right thing now will be very difficult, but I know you also know that doing the right thing is the only way to go at this point.
posted by serazin at 7:16 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they suggest that I take a medical leave of absence, would they be able to check the authenticity of my claims? What is that process like?

Are you talking about a leave of absence where you get short term disability? Then there are several forms you have to fill out which detail your illness and why you need the time off. Then your doctor also has to fill out a form verifying your diagnosis, that you need the time off, and estimating how long you are will be out. I know this because I actually was diagnosed and treated for cancer last year. And in the end I just used my sick and vacation time because I didn't want to take short term disability which only paid 60% of my income.
posted by kimdog at 7:17 AM on November 11, 2009


I can remember many years ago, before my anxiety was treated, being envious of a friend who'd been in a terrible near-fatal accident because he was in the hospital and had no responsibilities. So I sympathize with you wanting to find some way to relieve some of the stress you're under, and I wanted to say that because there's some piling on happening in the thread.

Still, this is a really big warning sign that you need to do something else--something functional--to deal with that stress. Get out of the lie as quickly as possible--"Thank God it was a false alarm!" sounds like a halfway decent idea to me, even if people don't fully buy it--and get help.
posted by not that girl at 7:17 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nthing, "Whew! False Alarm."

You may not have cancer but, I’m sorry, you do seem rather ill. I hope you never do get cancer because it’s devastating. It’s no fucking joke.
posted by applemeat at 7:18 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Confess" doesn't answer the question; no matter how despicable this act is, AskMe isn't a venue for outrage at the poster.

Roksuan's method of getting testing, which you'll call "further testing" and claiming misdiagnosis sounds like it may be your only way out.

Get another job as soon as possible, though. It's hard to predict how and when this could come back to haunt you, but staying at this job increases those odds.
posted by spaltavian at 7:18 AM on November 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


They will find out you are lying. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Please read all of the above answers again. You cannot possibly get away with this. It's only a job. You clearly need some time off, but this is not the way.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:19 AM on November 11, 2009


Not sure about #1 or #3, although I'd assume they'd at least want a doctor's note or something for #1. But as for #2, I think quitting now is the only way. You can't escape the gossip. Everyone in the school will know within a couple months, and at that point you won't be able to keep up the charade.
posted by equalpants at 7:20 AM on November 11, 2009


First rule of holes: when you are in one, stop digging.

Perhaps you can find a form of words to make this look less bad -"I was very stressed and voiced my worst fears to try and hide from my difficulties just for a day; please can you accept that and let's work to find a way to make this work" - but don't imagine that you will get away with this for long.

Confess today. What are you going to think about yourself tomorrow and how will you degrade yourself then to avoid your own judgment? What will you become if you let this fester?
posted by hawthorne at 7:21 AM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh god yes they are going to scrutinize the hell out of your medical leave. FMLA only works via doctor's note and their team (ours is called NEBA) to review if you're qualified. I was qualified during maternity leave. I will hopefully be qualified to take off here and there for my mother who indeed does have cancer and will die in a few months.

And you are committing fraud if you equate cancer + sick days. They may even ask for the $ back for those days on top of firing your ass.

Be a decent human and quit your job. Don't even confess. Don't embellish why you're quitting. Just put "this really isn't the right job for me" and leave.

And like someone else said, get therapy. This is lower than low of a lie. Not only the stress of the job got to you but you have immaturity issues to make up such a lie. Sorry but it's a fact.
posted by stormpooper at 7:25 AM on November 11, 2009


[comments removed - OP knows this wasn't a good idea, no pile-on. Be decent or don't answer thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 AM on November 11, 2009


no, i don't think it can come back to haunt you (unless you tell someone else about the lie), as long as you don't take advantage of the situation. don't take any additional sick days (unless you're sick), and don't talk about it. if you don't ask for any official special treatment, like a leave of absence, it won't raise many flags. if anyone asks you about it, just tell them you don't want to talk about it because it's personal, and you don't want to discuss it.

i'm pretty confident that they can't follow up on insurance or doctor's offices if you aren't making any special requests.

people do funny stuff during stressful times, and you're no exception. you know better, otherwise you wouldn't even be asking the question. think of this like a cat does with their poop--just cover it up and walk away, and pretend it's not there.
posted by lester at 7:30 AM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree some of these comments are pretty harsh.

I do think seeking some counseling would be a good idea, because if you're finding yourself in such emotional pain that you're telling people you have cancer, than maybe it's time just to leave the job, or find a way to continue teaching but in a different way all together.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:30 AM on November 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's gone into remission. No, I don't want to talk about. I'll start coming to work more regularly now. Thanks for your support.
posted by thejoshu at 7:50 AM on November 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you confess, they will understand that you are willing to lie to make your life easier. Tell them it was a false alarm and that because you are feeling stressed, you blew a questionable test result out of proportion. Apologize for bringing it up, indicating subtly that you don't want to discuss it.

Get to a therapist, fast. Your thinking is pretty seriously disordered. You should consider whether or not you should be in a classroom when you are feeling so stressed you would tell a huge lie, and consider continuing to lie. Maybe you can go on disability for stress. I don't know how much information the therapist would have to give but it doesn't matter as much as the mess you've gotten yourself into.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 AM on November 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Your principal and assistant principal know that your job is stressful (right?). At least, the assistant principal should understand this as s/he probably deals directly with stressed-out teachers throughout the day.

Given that, I think you might be able to get out of this by explaining that, due to stress, you were experiencing symptoms you believed to be a serious illness, but that you have since confirmed with your physician that you are in fact physically healthy.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:01 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't think the insults are necessary. Sorry that school administrators have become such a nightmare to work for.

But a fake medical condition is really something you don't want to play with. You probably already know that insurance companies are practically like the FBI in hunting for flawed claims.

Here's the medical leave process under the Americans With Disabilities Act: As soon as the employer learns about your cancer, it sets off all these responsibilities on her part. Under the law, she must now work with you on finding a "reasonable accommodation" for your condition. This could include medical leave or reassignment to a new position.
posted by Kirklander at 8:06 AM on November 11, 2009


Humans are human. If your boss understands that, confessing that you came up with a stupid story under stress will be fine. But only if you also add that you're seeing a counselor to deal with the stress.

Lying to cover up a lie is usually bad advice. Since this isn't a matter of life and death, it's definitely a bad mistake. Apologize for a lie before you're caught, and you look a little bad. Get caught in two lies, and you look like a habitual liar.

If you are a habitual liar, that's another reason for counseling.
posted by shetterly at 8:17 AM on November 11, 2009


As someone who has employees who have lied about different illnesses (far less serious than cancer) I can assure you that if found out, you will never be trusted again, and every future "sick" day you take will be highly scrutinized.

Figure out a way to get away from this lie as quickly as possible. The "false alarm" sounds like it will be easiest and least likely to haunt you. But I'd say that if you are using deceptions like this to hide your work absences, it's a pretty good sign that you might want to consider finding a different job, it sounds like things are bad, and if you've resorted to this, what might you do next time?
posted by quin at 8:18 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do what meerkatty said.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:26 AM on November 11, 2009


1) Your HR department can explain the process. Generally a medical professional is required to submit documentation at the start and end of your leave. Usually, there is a form that HR can provide for you. It will also list who is considered a valid medical professional.

3) Generally, no. The complexity is whether your employer self insures. Even if they do your health information must be keep separate from your employment information.

Here is some advice you didn't ask for - go to a mental health professional and ask to be put out on a leave of absence due to stress/mental health. Use that time to find another job.
posted by 26.2 at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


spaltavian added a point I should have included: even if you get away with this, start looking for another job. You've salted the earth at your present workplace.
posted by rokusan at 8:46 AM on November 11, 2009


Uh, wow. Okay. Your lie is going to get found out. Make no mistake about it.

Best solution now: tell them that it was a false alarm, drop it, and then go talk to a counselor about how your stress got to the point where you said this. You're probably very stressed out and it seems pretty clear that something about reality is making you want to live in another reality, one of your own creation. Take some time off and explore this.

Hope you feel better.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:47 AM on November 11, 2009


Go back to your boss, look really happy and say the following:

"Guess what!? There was a (smudge on XRay; error with computer; false positive on test) and, as it turns out, my cancer has NOT returned. Isn't that spectacular?!"

Then go about your life and never mention it again.

Lying to cover a lie is a bad idea, as it's been said. But you cannot continue on with your employers thinking you have cancer. Sorry for not answering any of your questions, but I thought the above would be much more helpful to your situation.
posted by caveat at 8:48 AM on November 11, 2009


Your lie is going to get found out. Make no mistake about it.

I mean, if you continue this charade in any substantial way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:52 AM on November 11, 2009


Yes, say it was a false alarm. Hopefully, they'll believe you.

What you did was dishonest and kind of dumb but I'm guessing you're desperate. My dad and one of my dear friends are both public school teachers and are constantly under mounds of stress over this stupid test score/No Child Left Behind nonsense that is quickly destroying any hope of good teaching or real education in our public schools.

My sympathy is with you. I hope they believe you and I hope you go out and look for a new job and find one as soon as possible.

P.S. Somebody did this at my work (not a public school) and HR found out by looking at insurance records. That person was, of course, fired. So backtrack before they have a chance to get curious.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:00 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


[again with the comment pruning - GO TO METATALK if all you have is judge-me type answers or learn to modulate your tone please.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on November 11, 2009


Please read the comments on how to get yourself out of this without any further escalation. I understand that you did this because somehow you felt you had to do something to save yourself, but unless you dial this down asap it will be turn into an epic case of self-destruction.

The desperation you seem to have felt is corrosive, and trying to make it better on your own has already seriously hampered your judgment. Please, please seek treatment immediately to help you cope with your sense of desperation.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:07 AM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Let's look at the problem from the perspective of looking after your own self-interests.

From that perspective, this has the power to massively affect your life for the worse – and I'm talking on a scale of not only your current job, but your ability to be an employable human being.

You are never going to become pale. You are never going to get sick. You are never going to have your hair fall out from chemotherapy. When you show almost no differences in your body, they're going to become rapidly more and more suspicious of you.

When they find out – and they will, because you will not be able to adequately mimic the effects of cancer on your body and life – you will be fired.
Every future employer checks with at least the prior employer, even if that prior employer can legally only provide dates of employment and title.

But here is the rub: this is the kind of thing that engenders such a strong emotional reaction in employers that they are incentivized to somehow convey to that future employer what you've done. Sometimes it is done by outright breaking the law; sometimes it is done through subtle means that human resources departments have learned to pick up. But make no mistake about it: were your current employer to fire you because of this, it will be known by any future potential employer before they hire you. And you will, thus, not be hired.

Like any human being, you need to be able to go to a job and earn money to pay bills, buy food, and so on.

In order to preserve that ability, you need to step away from this lie as soon as possible.

Regardless of whether it is ethically right to do so, it is in your own self-interests to go back to your principal. You are going to need to be utterly, deliriously, holy-shit-I-just-won-the-lottery happy. You just found out they fucked up the tests. Or there was a false positive. Make sure whatever you're speaking about is scientifically sound. But, end result: your cancer didn't come back. Reverse, and walk away from, this lie.

On a separate note, were I to do this, I would feel as if I had done something immoral. In order to restore my own pride in, and peace with, myself, I think I would try to do something that was difficult and required significant effort that in some way benefited those actually stricken with cancer. I'd advocate this for yourself.

And, like others, after you've made it out of this particular situation, I'd suggest you plan constructively towards a positive outcome. If this place has the ability to make you feel so backed into a corner that this is the solution you arrive at and implement, then this aspect of your life needs to be repaired, and that repair is something you can't ignore and need to address immediately. Whether that means a leave of absence, or quitting, or a change of career – these are issues that a good therapist can assist you with. And Ask Mefi is good for recommendations as to good therapists wherever you live, and they're a common-enough question that merely asking it wouldn't link your 'real-life' account to this anonymous question. So please do that, too.
posted by WCityMike at 9:29 AM on November 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


underlying every action is a positive intent. You want to improve your situation and apparently you felt desperate times called for desperate measures. I can't imagine how hard your job is that you would go to such lengths to feel relief. You really must quit that job. Literally--it is making you crazy.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:40 AM on November 11, 2009


["how to fake cancer" comments not helpful.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


THe first question you need to answer is, "If I continue in this job, can I help the students maximize their potential?" IF the answer is no and you are going to get out of teaching, then simply resigning would be the way I would go. If the answer is yes, then confess in a white lie back out sort of way. "I found that I do not have cancer. I was being paranoid before I actually spoke to the doctor. The doctor suggested I talk a collegue about anxiety issues. I am going to do that."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:55 AM on November 11, 2009


It seems to me that it's going to be difficult to simply go right back and say "smudge on the X-Ray" or "they mixed up the biopsies" and declare the whole thing a false alarm. Most people who are waiting for a yay or nay diagnosis after a biopsy don't say anything to anyone (outside of family) until they're sure (which often involves a second opinion from another doctor). Maybe you could say you jumped the gun; that when a certain irregularity showed in a test, you were sure it was cancer again, even though your doctor cautioned you to wait until the results of a separate, different, more thorough test came back. Sure enough, he was right, the second one came back negative. It's just that having had it once, you're always sure your going to get it again. Or as some brain tumor survivors say - "you're sure every headache is cancer."
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:59 AM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nthing the misdiagnosis route. Those things do happen, and I am fairly certain that your employers cannot legitimately look into your health records. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's against the law. I also don't think they can look at your detailed insurance claims if there is identifying information in it. Because they pay for the plan, they can find out employees spent x amount of dollars in doctors visits, medical procedures, prescriptions, etc, but they can't find out that Mary Sue is on Prozac and Johnny had a prostrate exam. If you do this soon, and with as little drama as possible, there would be no reason to investigate further. Approach them with a smile on your face and say, "I have great news, I do not have cancer and I am so relieved! Thanks for being so understanding yesterday." Do not say anything else, do not give further details, and if they start to ask questions, defer and say you would rather just move on and not discuss it further. They can't force you to give detailed medical information, and really, the less you say, the better.

Everyone is correct that if you try to keep up this charade, you will be found out and the consequences for that would be disastrous. Confessing has far too many negative, long term consequences, and as long as you haven't received any benefit from this, you can undo this mistake pretty quickly. I see no need to make a bad situation worse.

Lastly, everyone who has suggested counseling is also right. People make terrible, awful decisions under extreme stress all the time, but the extent and gravity of this lie indicates you need someone to help you sort out what's going on with you and develop tools to better cope with stress and difficult situations. I'm not going to say you're an awful person or you have to do penance to make up for this. You made an awful mistake, and as long as you don't continue to make this mistake, I think your penance is done, though volunteering or donating might karmically even the scales a bit. Best of luck, and I hope you find a better work and life situation soon.
posted by katemcd at 10:05 AM on November 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Just to help you keep feeling good about yourself: Public school teachers and librarians are among my greatest heroes. You're doing incredibly valuable work. But it's very stressful work, and it's taking its toll. There's no shame in admitting you need a break. Every hero does.
posted by shetterly at 10:10 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


FWIW....

I once worked with a young lady who soon after being hired was supposedly diagnosed with cancer. At the time I was young, she never looked sick - I never believed the cancer story.

Years later, I held the hand of a friend dying of cancer at home, surrounded by other friends and family.

I've also worked at stressful jobs.

I agree with the folks who tell you to ignore the pile-ons. That isn't germane to your question. There is no guarantee you'll get caught. You're probably not a bad person. The way I see it, this is a lie of self-preservation - kinda like committing violence in self-defense. You were cornered, two against one -- you told them something to shut them down and get them to back off. Hey, it happens.

DO NOT CONFESS.

rokusan has it right. as does anyone telling you to look for another job and see a therapist for the stress.

-------

Lastly, the people and institutions who sign your paycheck -- often these entities are not on your side. They're not necessarily against you, but they aren't benevolent.

That said, it sounds like you work in an extremely hostile environment. It sounds like the folks who thrive there are the ones who are willing to eat their own. Walk away from this environment as soon as you can. Sometimes good people do stupid things in bad situations. Don't internalize this as a failure.

Once you are clear of this mess, GET HELP and work on developing your coping skills and your character. Should something like this happen again, you want to recognize the futility of the environment sooner. You want to walk away with your head up, not under a cloud of suspicion.

Good Luck
posted by jbenben at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


There is no guarantee you'll get caught.

If you try to take a medical leave of absence, you will absolutely get caught. As others have said (and I can also verify this from the other side of the desk, having been on the senior management team of a small college where we reviewed the hell out of this shit with HR), the process for granting someone a medical leave of absence includes scrutiny of health records.

So if you do the "turns out it was a false alarm" thing, you may not get caught. If you take this even one step further, you will certainly get caught.

Get help. The stress you're under is causing you to make horribly bad decisions. I feel for you in that, but this is not the way to cope at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:20 AM on November 11, 2009


If they suggest that I take a medical leave of absence, would they be able to check the authenticity of my claims?

Absolutely. Having actually taken not one but two medical leaves of absence (plus short-term disability) for actual cancer treatment -- I, too, am using someserious restraint in writing this -- I can tell you that my employer, the state, and the insurers all, indeed, checked the authenticity of my claims by requiring pretty extensive paperwork from my doctors. This was in IL, not NY, so the nuts and bolts of exactly what paperwork is required and by whom may differ, but the basic principle of verifying the claim will not.

I'm sorry for your stress. Tell your principal ASAP that it was a false alarm, then please get yourself counseling as soon as possible, as you're clearly in need of help. And make a vow never to tell this sort of lie again.
posted by scody at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would talk to a shrink as well. Firstly, because it might be helpful in addressing the stress that led to this; secondly, because claiming a false illness can be prompted by a psychological disorder called Muchausen Syndrome, at its most serious, and, when less serious, is known as creating a factitious disorder. While tou phrase the creation of this illness as being a result of stress, it's a very unusual response, which is why I think you have gotten so many angry and baffled responses. It may, in fact, be pointing to an underlining and undiagnosed personality disorder, which can worsen without disagnosis and treatment. There is nothing wrong with that -- most of us will experience some sort of mental illness in our lives, as we do all sorts of other illnesses. But your invented cancer might not simply be a coping mechanism, but an indication that something else is going on, and it can be tricky to know if this is the case, because the brain is extremely good at convincing itself that symptoms of mental illness are, instead, perfectly logical responses to the world. I can't tell you if this is the case, neither can you -- a mental health professional will be able to do so, and it's worth finding out.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:32 PM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not totally clear on why you did this -- just to get them to back off on you and ease up a bit?

I think you're safe as long as you stay within the normal leave guidelines, meaning take a sick day here or there, nothing long term. For longer illnesses, you have to document (like when I took maternity leave, my workplace contacted my doctor). But as long as you don't lean on this lie again, you're safe.

They aren't going to suggest a leave of absence, they might offer one. All you have to say is you're doing okay and you want to continue working.

And you really might want to develop a better coping mechanism. I find this kind of funny as a panic-lie, but you can't be doing stuff like that as a grown-up. You should probably work on your coping mechanisms, and you should probably find another job.

Also: there, there. Bad jobs are really hard to live with. It'll be in the past someday.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:35 PM on November 11, 2009


The people advocating 'whew! false alarm!' are smarter than me.

Put in one more vote for Wow, what a relief.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:38 PM on November 11, 2009


Just to help you keep feeling good about yourself: Public school teachers and librarians are among my greatest heroes. You're doing incredibly valuable work. But it's very stressful work, and it's taking its toll. There's no shame in admitting you need a break. Every hero does.
posted by shetterly


My mother is an educator in the worst paying school district in Florida and has been for the last 25+ years. She is constantly stressed about a myriad of issues and having seen the toll it takes on her I can understand what you actually mean by stress in this context.

I just don't understand when stress became an acceptable excuse to lie, cheat, and steal. You are lying to your supervisors, cheating your students out of a role model, and potentially stealing from a system set-up to ensure your health in order to cover up your lie.

I'm not sure how the New York school system is set up, but here in Florida there are channels for teachers to express their disapproval with the way things are run. That's not to say anything ever gets done about it, but I find it disturbing that you mention no effort to improve your situation before you stooped to this action. More disturbing is the complete lack of remorse in your account of the situation. Do you not feel as though you've done something wrong? How would you feel if one of your students lied to you about something like this because of the stress you generated in his/her life? While I share Shetterly's thoughts about teachers in general, I think the only way for you to return to a heroic path is by confessing and dealing with the consequences.

Quitting would have been a more moral plan of attack and is still a viable option if the stress is too much for you. I for one would rather have been unemployed than a pariah of my own making. Myself and those whose lives have been touched by loved ones with cancer will share the feeling that this is unforgivable. Perhaps the only way to overturn that would be to come clean--your peers finding out about it any other way, which in the closed gossip-ecosystem of a school is assured, is certain doom for you. Maybe your confession could be accompanied by a request to see a mental health professional to deal with the stress that you perceive as having spawned all of this.
posted by Gainesvillain at 1:10 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anecdote: My mother was told she had breast cancer. She had a lump, went in for a biopsy, and it was found to be malignant. After the lump was removed, analysis showed the biopsy to be wrong - it was, in fact, benign.

Mix-ups do happen.

Claiming a mix-up... isn't going to be easy, but it might be the only way out of the lie. You won't have any scars from biopsies or other visible signs from the testing, which is a bit of a problem. I suppose this depends on what type of "cancer" that you said that you had, but yes, it is conceivable that a test could be wrong if you want to go the "Ooops!" route.

In any case, no matter what you do about the "cancer" - you should find someone to talk to about your stress and find another job that doesn't make you think that faking a terrible disease is the easy way out.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:39 PM on November 11, 2009


That is such a weird lie. I'm not going to tell you you're a terrible person, because hopefully you already feel bad, but I find your actions very puzzling. Why did you say childhood cancer that came back and not just some adult cancer that would be less difficult to be like, "Oh, false alarm?" I mean, lying about cancer is it's own issue, but you chose a really strange way to do it.

Even beyond the potential insurance/employment bureaucracy issues, you have another thing to worry about:
Someone who actually had childhood cancer or had a loved one with it may hear about your "diagnosis" and come talk to you about it. You won't know the right information, and will probably arouse suspicion. There are lots of kinds of cancer that kids can have so it's not like you can really lie too much generally without real knowledge.

If you do something like this, you have a real mental health problem. That mental health problem would probably be enough to get you some kind of accommodation from the workplace. You didn't need to do this. You do need to get help now, though.
posted by ishotjr at 2:10 PM on November 11, 2009


Also, not trying to "help" the OP try to fake, but some posters seem to be under the false impression that every person in cancer treatment/with cancer has visible physical changes from it. I used to work for a cancer org that would get people calling saying they thought their friend or relative with cancer was faking because they "didn't seem sick." Not everyone with cancer or in cancer treatment "seems sick," so it's better not to assume people are faking just because they aren't bald and pale and missing work.
posted by ishotjr at 2:15 PM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


. . .as this is the most appalling thing I have ever read on AskMe.

What a hideous thing to say. Anonymous says in number 3 I have seen several doctors for various other problems in the past few months so the benefit of the doubt would have been nice, i.e., this is a person who has various medical issues, is under a tremendous amount of stress and is not coping the best way that he/she could. Read for context, people. Sheesh.

In addition, I always feel pressured about little things and I am hoping this will cause them to back off a bit.

This is key. I hope you see a therapist to work on developing appropriate coping skills. I understand what it is like working in a Title I school with no support from administrators. But there are better ways to get them to back off or to get yourself some breathing room.

I am almost certain that in the situation you have described the administration can not access your medical information, but please call the UFT teacher center for your borough or the 800 number (I can understand why you would not want to talk to the delegate at your school) to get an authoritative answer.
posted by mlis at 3:28 PM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Two pieces of advice:

If I were you, I would have a brief consultation with a lawyer, just so that they can remind you that things like, "Apologize by email" is bad advice, because having a written record of this isn't the best thing.

I also would not mention this again. Never bring it up. If someone asks, say, yeah, it was a misdiagnosis. I had cancer as a kid, and I got really freaked out. I'm sorry. That's it.

You did something you shouldn't have, and you clearly know this, so we're into "Minimize the harm to others and self" territory here.
posted by klangklangston at 4:48 PM on November 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


You won't have any scars from biopsies or other visible signs from the testing, which is a bit of a problem.

Mmm, I don't think this, in and of itself, is a problem. I've had lots of biopsies over the past 20 years and gone through several elaborate testing/checkup protocols, and most of them have left no visible scars (at least, not visible to someone who would see me at work fully clothed).
posted by scody at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2009


Possible data point here:

The last time I worked in NYC (turn 'o the century) it was illegal for my employer to ask details regarding my medical conditions.

If I was out sick a lot + under the care of a doctor + could provide a doctor's note upon request of HR (nothing specific in the note concerning treatments, treatment dates, or anything else related to the illness other than "I am Dr. So&So, employee X is under my care." ) Than the was the end of any discussion concerning my health status. Period.

Unless there has been some radical change in the law (check this!) I don't think you have to get too wordy with the "whew, false alarm!" By law, it is none of their business.

In fact, they might be freaking out you told them as much as you did.

klangklangston's advice to keep quiet unless asked is probably very wise. But follow rokusan's advice to make an appointment with your GP, just to have a visit on record. Do this while you look for a new job and seek therapy.

Hang in there.
posted by jbenben at 7:28 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anonymous poster, I think you do need to take a leave of absence, not over the "cancer", but the anxiety and stress that have so distorted your ability to care for yourself and your needs that you have compromised your integrity for a little relief. This relief you're experiencing now won't last, because the situation hasn't changed.

Seven years ago I did exactly what you did: lied about cancer to my job to excuse all of the "personal" and sick days I'd been taking, and mainly to relieve the pressure. I wasn't in the school system and I don't think I can give any practical advice about whether you'll get away with it or not. I ended up leaving the job soon after so I can't say if I'd ever been found out. But I can say that once you get to the point of telling "the big lie" you know your problems go beyond what you are able to handle well at this point.

The fact that you "always feel pressured by little things" is a problem, and it's one that I have shared. You ask if this can come back to haunt you. How will you handle it if your co-workers all get together and write you a heartfelt card (as mine did)? If your boss (who may have had loved ones with cancer and feels closer to you as a result) calls you to see how you're doing when you take other days off (as mine did)? If you feel so much pressure from little things, how are you going to cope with the pressure of maintaining the lie? What if a co-worker comes to you because they really are dealing with cancer and what if they ask for your advice?

And let's say you are "successful". Will you be able to resist the pressure to use the lie to get you out of other jams? Will you start telling more lies?

I'm not trying to scare you or add more pressure. Believe me, I understand. But I think you have problems more serious than the pressure at your job. If you don't have your word, what do you have? The anxiety and stress will only build up more, and once you get used to lying it can be hard to stop. Your personal integrity is really important, much more important than this job believe me.
posted by Danila at 11:51 PM on November 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


This is the most appalling thing I have ever read on AskMe.

You need to read more AskMe, because I don't think this even cracks the Top Ten of 2009.

She did a really stupid thing under stress. The challenge now is just to get past it, and if she's lucky enough to get out of it without serious ramifications, to never do it again.

We all make horrible mistakes sometimes, many a lot more horrible than this.
posted by rokusan at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


"It was benign. Some scare, huh? Thanks for all your support." Then shut up and do your job.
posted by zachlipton at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


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