Maddie Russo Is the Fulfillment of Majority Members’ Promises to Minorities

Patrick Koske-McBride
6 min readJan 31, 2023


One thing that is never, ever, discussed about cancer in a public space is that we are a recognizable, distinct subculture. Which might seem weird, but, if Trekkies and Metalheads get their own subculture, it’s barely a half-step away to realize that the 10–40% of the population that has or will get cancer soon (the stats vary widely) would also have our own subculture. And, very much like other subcultures, we have our own set of internal politics that aren’t widely known. In a post-MCU world, you likely know that most Trek fans and actors view William Shatner as the embodiment of male fragility and entitlement, but that wasn’t common knowledge in 1984.

If you’re an able-bodied individual, you probably see medical charities in a benign, unproblematic light. On Planet Cancer, we know that the Susan G. Komen Foundation spends disproportionate amounts of money on IP lawsuits, PR campaigns, and very little on actual cancer research or on breast cancer survivors. If my word isn’t good enough, here’s a start; Most of us tend to view fund-raising initiatives with skepticism, at best, and suspicions of money-laundering, at worst (for another fun example, featuring Your Lumpiest President, see: The ease with which legitimate charities can turn around and then give that money to less-than-charitable causes led to a new social meia behavior norm in my groups; No f*cking fundraisng, ever. Make absolutely no mistake, if you want to send hospitals, laboratories, researchers, or survivors money, we will take any and all money offered. I would suggest that, rather than go through some faceless charity that will — I guarantee you — skim some off the top for processing (or mix it in with contributions from Central Asian heroin cartels in a completely legitimate endeavour). Not giving directly to cancer survivors or hospitals and going through GoFundMe is an open invitation to the sort of disastrous scenario I’m discussing, today.

The scandal du jour on Planet Cancer is Maddie Russo. I believe she’s currently promoting her upcoming appearance on 60 Minutes, but, long story short; she’s a 19-year-old who pretended to have pancreatic cancer, leukemia, and a spinal tumor, and raised $37 K on GoFundMe (for a very short run-down: I can’t pretend that I’m not jealous at a haul like that, but I would also like to think that I would price my integrity and the credibility of the glioma community, at more than a base-model Ford. Because, at the end of the day, that’s the real tragedy that will never be discussed. Without getting into Oppression Olympics; if a white dude put on black face as a disguise, and then proceeded to rob a bunch of banks, the issues of race and the damage done to the African American community would be a part of the story. News anchors would ask if this would have lasting impact on the credibility and trust for black folx in America, and the racist overtones of picking that specific “disguise” would be examined.

Maddie Russo is going to see the inside of a jail cell for her felony fraud, and that’s much-deserved. You know who’s going to face the real consequences of Maddie’s little stunt? My breastie, Karen, who just registered a local charity to help women affected by cancer. My friend, Cherry, who has a variety of disparate, seemingly-unlikely cancers, who will have to scream to be taken seriously when she develops her next obscure ailment that disinterested oncologists will view as incredibly unlikely. The dozens of us whose stories and photos Maddie stole to sell her story. And all future cancer survivors, whose credibility and honesty Maddie exchanged for a cool 30 grand. The obvious solution is; give her cancer. I’m deadly serious; we can dose her up on X-rays and give her some sort of thoracic cancer in a few years. And she can keep that little nest egg. That was a little hyperbolic, but, for a country that absolutely loves the death penalty, in theory, we’re awfully gun-shy about applying it over a few years. If that thought offends you, and you think that Maddie’s case should be settled in a court of law, because she just stole some money; I would refer you to my racist bank robber hypothetical, it’s not just about the money.

In a way, Maddie’s story is the inevitable end-result of millennia of xenophobic attitudes. I know, I’m going to get political, stand back. The prevailing narrative, from time immemorial, is, “You’d better watch out, that tribe’s going to kill us and take our stuff.” And, as a Bronze Age mentality, it works out. If you’re a Celt living in Northwestern France in 200 BC, the Roman occupation is a drag that saps you of resources. Ditto the Frankish invasion, and subsequent Viking invasions. By 1200, that’s not really a great social model, because, yeah, you may speak Gaelic and be wary of these heartless Christians, but if your wife is Frankish, your daughter-in-law is Danish, and so on, you’re being conquered and looted by your own tribe, and human minds aren’t capable of that sort of cognitive dissonance. So, the “enemy tribe” that’s coming for your mud farm has to, by virtue of human relationships, become someone who looks like you, but isn’t you. Bam. Jewish Blood Libel Conspiracy Achievement given to Western Civilization.

As a minority member in America, Americans are tortured by what Jefferson called “The Wheel of Fortune.” That’s the scenario when all of these lesser mongrel races somehow get the upper hand, and treat you exactly the same as you treated them. This paranoia is so built-in to American culture and mindset that white Americans historically viewed any meager racial or sexual progress as some unnatural oppression, rather than being put on equal footing. “Unqualified black women are on the Supreme Court” is a much better rallying cry than, “Congress won’t be allowed to preemptively block a judicial nomination based on sex and skin tone,” although that latter is frequently a more-accurate description of events. What this paranoia leads to is a widespread belief that minority groups “have it easy,” because that’s an easier story to tell about yourself than, “White America kept Black America from voting until 1965, and, now that they can vote, they vote for candidates who directly appeal to them.”

I don’t have the numbers on charitable giving in front of me, and I certainly don’t have the mental fortitude to look them up, now. However, Maddie’s case seems directly interchangeable with Rachael Dolezal’s, in which a majority member saw an easy buck on the backs of minority groups, and went for it. Dolezal simply made the idiotic mistake of picking a racial issue rather than an ADA issue. Again, not to play Oppression Olympics, but, if she’d simply said she was HIV-positive and raising awareness for the disease, I doubt she would face the sort bankruptcy-inducing backlash she incurred. She’d be despised and spat upon by LGBT+ advocacy groups and HIV patient groups, but she would likely still be a published author.

Similarly, even though Russo faces felony charges, that’s likely the worst that will happen. Her family won’t disown her. Her doctors won’t publicly belittle her or question her intelligence until her disease gets ahead. She won’t die suffering cachexia as family and friends recoil. She just gets the sympathy, none of the suffering. The suffering, BTW, will be done by my community and tribe; cancer survivors.

The ultimate expression of that healthy Bronze Age xenophobia, mastered by both Bush Administrations is not, “They’re coming for our stuff!” it’s, “They have stuff we want, but if we kill them first, we can keep our stuff and theirs!” Indigenous tribes and African Americans were the first to enunciate that dreadful greed rotting the soul of majority America that turns all of us into savage cannibals; Madison Russo simply carries on that fine tradition of stealing and harming the least among you to briefly enrich herself.

All I can say to Maddie Russo is the Survivor’s Blessing I figured out halfway through treatment: “May all your old kindness seek you out in your hours of need.” And, of course, that maybe a course of maintenance Temodar will clean up that nasty case of, “Those minorities have it easy!”



Patrick Koske-McBride

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”