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Home --> Inboxer Rebellion --> Medical Appeals --> American Cancer Society Hoax

American Cancer Society Hoax

Claim:   For every forwarded copy of an e-mail received, the American Cancer Society will donate three cents to cancer research.

Status:   False.

Origins:   It sounds too easy to be true: forward an e-mail, rack up some cancer research money. And it is. Too easy to be true, that
is.

This "dying child chain letter" hoax now circulating on the net victimizes the American Cancer Society. In the name of a fictitious little girl, people are exhorted to forward the letter on because each forward drops more money into the research coffers. Such an offer is hard to resist because it's a painless good deed, a way to enjoy a self-congratulatory pat on the back for "making a difference" without actually having to do anything. After all, it's being underwritten by the American Cancer Society and nameless corporate sponsors, right?

Uh, wrong. You see, there is no Jessica Mydek, and there is no such program to score up some easy cancer research money. What there is, however, is the long-suffering American Cancer Society who have been left holding the bag.

But let's take a look at what's actually being bounced around the net, eh?
Cancer research money, guys . . . not much effort.

LITTLE JESSICA MYDEK IS SEVEN YEARS OLD AND IS SUFFERING FROM AN ACUTE AND VERY RARE CASE OF CEREBRAL CARCINOMA. THIS CONDITION CAUSES SEVERE MALIGNANT BRAIN TUMORS AND IS A TERMINAL ILLNESS. THE DOCTORS HAVE GIVEN HER SIX MONTHS TO LIVE.

AS PART OF HER DYING WISH, SHE WANTED TO START A CHAIN LETTER TO INFORM PEOPLE OF THIS CONDITION AND TO SEND PEOPLE THE MESSAGE TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST AND ENJOY EVERY MOMENT, A CHANCE THAT SHE WILL NEVER HAVE. FURTHERMORE, THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY AND SEVERAL CORPORATE SPONSORS HAVE AGREED TO DONATE THREE CENTS TOWARD CONTINUING CANCER RESEARCH FOR EVERY NEW PERSON THAT GETS FORWARDED THIS MESSAGE. PLEASE GIVE JESSICA AND ALL CANCER VICTIMS A CHANCE.

SEND A COPY OF THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW AND ONE TO THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY AT ACS@AOL.COM.
That was the original version. Since January 1997, this "3 cent" e-mail hoax has undergone numerous major transformations:
  • For a very short while beginning in February 1997, it became a stripped-down message of:
    For every new person that this is passed on to The American Cancer Society will donate 3 cents to cancer research. Please help us. Forward this to everyone you know. Also add to your list ACS@aol.com. Thanks for helping!!
  • In February 1997 an ASCII "Elmo" was added to the stripped-down version, thus mutely suggesting this act of altruism would benefit children.
  • The March 1997 version reinstated the (anonymous, this time) dying little girl and added the powerful incentive message that money would go not towards research, but towards this child's treatment — that is to say, the recipient's involvement would lengthen the girl's life:
    o.k. you guys . . . this isn't a chain letter, but a choice for all of us to save a little girl that's dying of a serious and fatal form of cancer. please send this to everyone you know...or don't know at that. this little girl has 6 months left to live her life, and as her dying wish, she wanted to send a chain letter telling everyone to live their life to the fullest, since she never will. she'll never make it to prom, graduate from high school, or get married and have a family of her own. but by you sending this to as many people as possible, you can give her and her family a little hope, because with every name that this is sent to, the american cancer society will donate 3 cents per name to her treatment and recovery plan. one guy sent this to 500 people !!!! so, i know that we can send it to at least 5 or 6. come on you guys.... and here's 2 great reasons to take 5-10 minutes to forward this to ANYONE:

    1) It's a an awesome way to rack up POSITIVE karma points :)

    2) just think, she could be you one day . . . and in addition there's no need to send any form of money, just your time.

    So how about it? Thanks in advance! I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!
  • In the summer of 1997, the original "Jessica Mydek" hoax reappeared, this time with a facetious claim tacked to it that driver Tom Kendall had met Jessica at the inaugural and only Children's Grand Prix (held in Minneapolis in July 1996) and was now personally exhorting others to forward this e-mail to hellenbach. (The Children's Grand Prix was renamed the Sprint PCS Grand Prix in 1997. Proceeds from these races went to the Children's Health Care Foundation, a Minneapolis organization dedicated to helping local children afflicted with cancer.)
  • During the early summer of 1997, someone calling himself David Lawitts and claiming to have "severe lung and throat cancer due to second hand smoke" announced "the national lung and cancer association will donate 3 cents [for every e-mail forwarded] to help me and other people like me become healthy again." He asked that a copy of each e-mail be sent to <clukk@aol.com> as "he keeps track of the names that have passed this along." Wow, what a great way to mailbomb someone you don't like!
  • An almost identical message issued from someone calling herself Tamara Martin (tomorrow morning?) in the summer of 1997 — she too claimed to have "severe lung and throat cancer due to second hand smoke." In this chain letter though, there is no mention of three cents (or any other amount) per e-mail — just the claim that "For every one person that this letter is sent to, the[y] and other people like me become healthy again." This time copies of the outgoing e-mail were to be sent to <cool12@aol.com>.
  • By November 1997 the Tamara Martin e-mail had returned, this time with the ante upped to 6 cents per forward but copies still directed to <cool12@aol.com>. By January 1998, copies of this new 6 cent e-mail were being directed to <christmas@vasia.com>.

  • November 1997 saw a similar message issue from Rick Connor. He too claimed to have "severe lung and throat cancer due to second hand smoke" and further claimed that "for every person that this letter is sent to & responds, the lung and cancer association will donate 3 cents to help people like me become healthy again." e-mail copies were to be sent to <X_1@mailexcite.com> "as he keeps track of the names that have passed this along." Notice the overwhelming similarity to the David Lawitts version.
  • Late December 1997 saw a new version of this old saw hit the Internet, this one from Timothy Flyte. (A character from the recent Dean Koontz book (and film) Phantoms is sending me e-mail?) He claims to have "severe ostriopliosis of the liver" (if there is such a thing, my dictionary never heard of it) and that "Valley Childrens hospital has agreed to donate 7 cents to the National Diesese Society for every name on this letter." (Though there is a Valley Children's Hospital in Fresno, California, its marketing director has stated the facility is in no way connected with this hoax. There's no such critter as the National Disease Society.) The letter ends with: "For those of you who dont take 5 minutes to do this, what goes around comes around. You can help sick people, and it costs you nothing, yet you are too lazy to do it? You will get what you deserve."
  • Another 7 cents per forward version showed up in April 1998. This time the victim's name was given as David "Darren" Bucklew, a Pittsburgh high school student. The rest of the letter was a direct rip of the Timothy Flyte one (right down to the misspelled "diesese").
  • In May 1998, an ASCII representation of the South Park kids was swapped for the ASCII "Elmo" in the expanded "Elmo" version (third on this list of mutations). Other than that, it was pretty much the same text as quoted in the long "Elmo" version, the "3 cents per forward" appeal being made on behalf of an unnamed dying child identified only by "this little girl has 6 months left to live." (The usual lines of "She'll never make it to prom, graduate from high school, or get married and have a family of her own" were there.) Again, the additional incentive was that the 3 cents per name would go towards this particular little girl's treatment and recovery plan, thereby making the e-mail's recipient part of the effort to save her, not merely donate to generic cancer research.
  • October 1998 saw the birth of another mutation of the Flyte version. The victim's name was David "Darren" Hendrix, yet another Pittsburgh high school student suffering from severe ostriopliosis of the liver. Again, Valley Children's Hospital was going to donate 7 cents per forward to the National Disease Society for the lad's treatment. (At least this time "disease" was spelled correctly.)
  • October 1998 also saw a revival of the Tamara Martin version, this time with an added kicker that Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band was behind the plea and would send his screen ID to anyone who participated in the forwarding. The amount per forward was up in the air, with Greg Harduk saying it was 3 cents per forward but Tamara Martin saying it was 6 cents:
    HI! This is Dave Matthews from The Dave Matthews Band (duh). I got America Online just a little while ago and my screenname will be sent to you if you pass this on. I get a list of the people who send this to at least another 5 people online and my secratary will send all of you my screenname.

    I go online at least once a week. The reason I am doing this is because this little girl needs our help and I thought that I could use my fame to help out this sick little girl.

    Ok Listen I Just Spent 13 hours Getting Screen Names Just So that I Could Help a Little Girl So Read The bottom This isn't a chain letter. Look you guys..... This isn't a chain letter, but a choice for all of us to save a little girl that's dying of a serious and fatal form of cancer.

    Please send this to everyone you know...or don't know at that. This little girl has 6 months left to live, and as her dying wish, she wanted to send a Chain letter telling everyone to live their life to the fullest, since she never will. She'll never make it to prom, graduate from high school, or get married and have a family of her own. But by you sending this to as many people as possible, you can give her and her family a little hope, because with every name that this is sent to, the American Cancer Society will donate 3 cents per name to her treatment and recovery plan. One guy sent this to 500 people!!!!

    So, I know that we can send it to at least 5 or 6. Come on you guys.... And if you're too damn selfish to waste 10-15 minutes scrolling this and forwarding it to EVERYONE, (more than one person): you're one sick puppy, and two: just think it could be you one day....and it's not even your $money$, just your time. I know that ya'll will impress me !!!!I love ya'll!!!!!

    Love,

    Greg Harduk

    Hello. My name is Tamara Martin and I have severe lung cancer due to second hand smoke.This chain was a final attend to get me healthy again. Every letter sent gets 6 cents. Please send this to 10 people. (by the way for those who take 2 minutes to send this, what comes around goes around.
  • November 1998 found the March 1997 version dressed up with the addition of the following David L. Weatherford poem:
    Slow Dance

    Have you ever watched kids / on a merry-go-round / Or listened to the rain / slapping on the ground?

    Ever followed a butterfly's / erratic flight / Or gazed at the sun into / the fading night?

    You better slow down / Don't dance so fast / Time is short / The music won't last

    Do you run through each day / on the fly / When you ask "How are you?" / do you hear the reply?

    When the day is done / do you lie in your bed / With the next hundred chores / running through your head?

    You better slow down / Don't dance so fast / Time is short / The music won't last

    Ever told your child / We'll do it tomorrow / And in your haste / not see his sorrow?

    Ever lost touch / Let a good friendship die / 'Cause you never had time / to call and say "Hi"?

    You better slow down / Don't dance so fast / Time is short / The music won't last

    When you run so fast / to get somewhere / You miss half the fun / of getting there.

    When you worry and hurry / through your day / It is like an unopened gift / thrown away...

    Life is not a race / Do take it slower / Hear the music / before the song is over.
  • In July 1999, another version of the standard hoax appeared, this time naming the Make-A-Wish Foundation as the organization bankrolling the donations:
    Hi, my name is Amy Bruce. I am 7 years old, and I have severe lung cancer from second hand smoke. I also have a large tumor in my brain, from repeated beatings. The doctors say I will die soon if this isn't fixed, and my family can't pay the bills. The Make A Wish Foundation, has agreed to donate 7 cents for every name on this list. For those of you who send this along, I thank you so much, but for those who don't send it, what goes around comes around. Have a Heart, please send this.
    The Make-A-Wish Foundation helps the dreams of terminally ill children come true. By the time a child is brought to its attention, everything medically possible has already been done. It's not a matter of collecting donations to pay for a child's care; it's about making final days special days.

    Make-A-Wish did not take kindly to being included in someone's idea of a rousing good jest. They tracked down the person who'd started this particular version of the game. They also put up a web page denying that they had anything to do with this e-mail.


  • January 2000 saw the Amy Bruce version recycled, with the text changed to apply it to an 18-year-old called Jeff de Leon. Nothing else in the text was changed, not even the "what goes around comes around" line.


  • June 2000 saw the "Slow Dance" poem version dressed up by the claim that this appeal in the name of a nameless dying child lying in a New York hospital was being circulated by "a medical doctor — Dr. Yeou Cheng Ma." Once again, the American Cancer Society were said to be donating 3¢ per forward to the care of this particular terminal tot.


  • August 2000 saw the Amy Bruce version recycled yet again ("severe lung cancer from second hand smoke" and "large tumor in my brain, from repeated beatings"), with the text changed to apply it to a 23-year-old called Rhyan Desquetado. This time around, the Make A Wish Foundation was dragged into the fray by the claim that it was donating 7¢ per forward to save Desquetado's life.


  • December 2000 found the Amy Bruce version ("severe lung cancer from second hand smoke" and "large tumor in my brain, from repeated beatings") recycled in the name of yet another fictitious child, LaNisha Jackson. Once again, the Make A Wish Foundation was said to be donating 7¢ per forward to save the life of this dying 8-year-old. Once again, the entreaty closed with "I thank you so much, but for those who don't send it, what goes around comes around."


  • In October 2004, the Amy Bruce version ("severe lung cancer from second hand smoke" and "large tumor in my brain, from repeated beatings") reappeared naming another fictitious child as the tot in need. According to the updated e-mail, 15-year-old Kayla Wightman of Ware Shoals, S.C., would be helped to the tune of 7¢ per forward. Like the LaNisha Jackson plea, this one ended "I thank you so much, but for those who don't send it, what goes around comes around" with the addition of "Have a heart, please. If you don't send this to everyone on your list you have a cold heart."


  • December 2009 saw the Amy Bruce version recycled yet again ("severe lung cancer" but at least that time no mention of "from second hand smoke" and "large tumor in my brain, from repeated beatings"), with the text changed to apply it to a 7-year-old called Amirtha. This time around, the Make A Wish Foundation was dragged into the fray by the claim that it was donating 7¢ per forward to save Amirtha's life.
Some of the numerous versions in circulation contain an exhortation from Dr. Dennis Shields of the Department of Developmental and Molecular Biology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Like many others in the history of Internet lore, his name mysteriously came to be attached to a hoax. As he said about it:
Unfortunately, this letter is a complete hoax; it has nothing to do with me, my Institution or the American Cancer Society. Several versions of this letter are now circulating, so please ignore all of them and DO NOT PASS IT ON.
Thank God the American Cancer Society doesn't have an America Online address, else by now they'd be swamped with copies of forwarded messages from well-meaning but terribly misguided people. (As is becoming the norm for large organizations, the ACS has its own domain name: www.cancer.org). Even so, the various ACS offices around the country have been hit with calls asking about this most touching e-mail, and manpower that could be put to much better use ended up staffing phones and answering e-mail. (It's ironic, that. The families of real dying seven-year-olds end up getting the short end of the stick because of this outpouring of love for a fictitious child.)

The ACS position is quite simple: they "do not endorse the use of chain letters." Ever. They've also told me that this particular "use of the Society's name is unauthorized." Also, they don't know any Jessica Mydek. Indeed, they're doing their level best to investigate where this wild e-mail came from. It certainly wasn't from them. (Check out what they have to say about it at the ACS web site.)

Above and beyond the information obtained from my conversations with the ACS, common sense alone should show this up for the hoax it is. Think about it for a second. One of the primary purposes of the American Cancer Society is the direction of funds to cancer research. (The ACS is good at this: since its inception in the 1950s, it has directed $1.7 billion to the cause.) The concept of the ACS "donating" funds towards cancer research is akin to the notion of a hockey player "donating" all the goals he scores to his team.

Then there is the matter of unnamed corporate sponsors; there just ain't any such critters. Companies donate monies to worthy causes, and their reward for doing so is becoming identified in the public's mind not only with that particular cause but also with the larger concepts of service to one's community and a sense of social responsibility. These are powerful images to plant in the minds of consumers, far too powerful to just be thrown away by remaining anonymous.

It all adds up to hoax. Even the child's name provides a further clue: As has been pointed out by a few people, "Jessica Mydek" is nearly homophonous with a rudely-phrased request for oral sex (think about it), and the mentality that would create this chain letter would also get sniggering pleasure out of the thought of concealed dirty words being unknowingly e-mailed all over the globe by well-intentioned people.

Likely as not the perpetrator of the original hoax had no idea of the havoc his creation could wreak. Perhaps he gave in to the urge that prompts some of us to reach for the spray paint upon sighting a prominent and ever-so-grafittable rockface. Urge for immortality and all that. Not immortality for a dying seven-year-old, you understand — immortality for the prankster.

So please, if you get it, don't forward it. You're giving the wrong person immortality.

Barbara "Jessica rabid" Mikkelson

Additional information:  
    ACS on False Chain E-mail Chain E-mail
(American Cancer Society)
    Make a Wish on False Chain E-mail Chain Letters
(Make-A-Wish)
Last updated:   31 December 2009

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  Sources Sources:
    Crowe, Rosalie Robles.   "Sorrowful E-Mail Just a Hoax."
    The Arizona Republic.   22 May 1999   (p. B4).