So I would assume by now that most if not all of you socially-aware individuals have come to realize that a woman by the name Ashley Kirilow has been exposed as a scam artist, after pretending to be a cancer patient and raising money for herself through a false charity. (Toronto Star cover story HERE)
I've spent the better part of today speaking with media including CBC, CTV, and ABC (Good Morning America) with some other friends who knew Ashley and cared to shed some light on the developing situation, and Ashley as a person.
I met Ashley one night at a bar with friends some time in November/December of 2009. She approached me randomly and asked if I was Matt Vardy. I said yes and I, too, recognized her from all the mutual friends we have and the Facebook updates I had been receiving from her 'charity' Change For a Cure. Not long after exchanging names she dove right into the sad stories of her battle with various forms of cancer and I was definitely affected by this and wanted to help in any way I could - like so many others. To make the story worse, she said her parents had died and she had no family left to rely on. I told her I was unfortunately not in a position to help her cause financially in any significant way, but she suggested that I accompany her (as the photographer) on her walk to the University of Alberta where she planned to personally donate the money she raised to cancer research. I said I would consider the opportunity and it would depend on my schedule and the timing of her trip, but it was definitely something that sparked my interest because I had always wanted to put my skills to good use for positive change in the world. That being said, I had my doubts about the truth of her story and her ability to walk such a long distance (if she was indeed so ill), plus she seemed oddly more excited about the fame she might get as a result of the task as opposed to the benefits for the University and cancer community. Never the less, soon after talking about these elaborate plans, she stopped texting me back and disappeared from Facebook. A few weeks passed and I assumed the worst - that she had lost her battle with the disease.
Of course, now I know that was not the case and she was in fact alive and well and was most likely preparing to flee the area or go into hiding since her story was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain as more and more questions were being raised.
My personal goal throughout this process in speaking with the media was not to vent and get angry about the things Ashley has done, though there is no doubt that they are absolutely terrible at best, but rather to focus on reminding people that she is just one bad apple in an entire orchard flourishing with love and integrity. I tried my best to communicate to the media that although we are all so quick to judge and hate - there is more to life than this and there are good charities still out there who need our continued support. Not the least of which include Skate4Cancer and Love Everyday clothing, two organizations that were immediately questioned upon the release of this troubling scam because of their friendships with Ashley. I can't stress enough how legit these organizations are, among many others, and how important it is that Canadians and people around the world don't shy away from giving - like we always have - except perhaps in a more educated way moving forward. Ask the right questions, if the questions can't be answered - send your money and support elsewhere.
Media from around the globe as far away as India, China and beyond are covering this story, it seems that the cancer community is indeed truly global and stories of this nature really do affect many people on many different levels. The story is ever changing, even as I write this to you media from god knows where is releasing new articles, and all I can hope is that justice will prevail in one way or another.
My final words with ABC today (after a 20 min long interview) were in response to the question, "If Ashley was watching right now, what would you say to her?" I said, "I would tell her to seek help. She's done some terrible things and needs professional care. Somewhere buried deep inside that girl is a heart that needs rescuing before it's too late" And that, my friends, is the truth. I emphasized these points, fully aware that the majority of them sadly wouldn't be aired or published.
There are tons of people out there who were much closer to Ashley than myself and were deeply involved in her story and helping her charity. My thoughts go out to those people, and I hope everyone can "push past" this as Rob encouraged on Twitter yesterday.