The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


Iowa Woman Fakes Cancer

Abigail Shimniok graphic

Madison Russo, 20, falsely claimed to have cancer and documented her “battle” with the disease on social media starting in Feb. 2022.

Russo claimed in dozens of TikTok, Instagram and Facebook videos that she had pancreatic cancer, leukemia and a “football-sized tumor” wrapped around her spine.
Over 400 people donated to
Russo’s GoFundMe to help her pay for cancer treatment. Russo had raised over $37,000 in donations.

In Jan. 2023, anonymous tips began reporting inconsistencies in Russo’s story to Eldridge Police Department. Police subpoenaed Russo’s medical records, which did not show any diagnosis of pancreatic cancer or leukemia. Court records released to the public show that police who searched Russo’s home found items that supported her fake cancer claims, including a wig, an IV bag and feeding pumps. Russo was arrested later that same month.

Scott County prosecutor Kelly Cunningham argued against prison time for Russo citing her lack of criminal history and her good college grades. Telleen stated during the sentencing, “At any step along the way you could have stopped. It did not stop until you were caught.”

“You deceived your friends, your family your community, cancer victims, charities and strangers who were motivated by your supposedly tragic story,” Telleen stated. “It is abundantly clear in this case that this was not an isolated or momentary lapse in judgment,” Tellen explained to Russo at her sentencing.

In June of 2023, Russo admitted in court to faking her illness and pleaded guilty to first-degree theft. On Oct. 20 Russo was sentenced to three years probation and a 10-year suspended sentence.

In a courtroom livestream posted to YouTube by WQAD News 8, Scott County Judge John Telleen denied Russo’s defense request that would have wiped the conviction off of her record if she completed her probation successfully.

Russo said during her sentencing statement that she prays for those hurt and affected by her “irrational decision” and the damage that resulted from her actions.
“I didn’t do this for money
or greed. I didn’t do this for attention. I did this in an attempt to try and get my family back together,” Russo stated. “I come from an extremely broken and separated family since I was two years old and over the years, it has gotten steadily worse.”

An evaluation completed by a court-appointed psychologist found no history of childhood trauma in Russo’s past.

Russo was ordered to pay $39,000 in restitution to those who donated to her GoFundMe page as well as a $1,370 fee.

A GoFundMe spokesperson told Insider that the platform has already refunded those who donated to Russo’s fundraiser and that she has been permanently banned from ever using the platform.

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