Hannah Milbrandt, 21 has spoken out about how her mother, Teresa, led everyone to believe her daughter had terminal cancer at seven-years-old - including Hannah herself.
Speaking to the Mirror, Hannah from Ohio in the United States recalls being told by her mum at one point that she had just weeks left to live.
"Overnight, life changed drastically," Hannah said, describing how her mum made her wear a surgical mask, shave her head, and even undergo fake chemotherapy sessions in order to make people believe she had cancer. "I hated the way people treated me differently, with pity in their eyes," the now-21-year-old reflected.
The reason for Teresa's deceit at the expense of her daughter, it seems, was for financial gain. The family's small Ohio town were devastated to hear of the 'tragedy' bestowed on them, and were quick to rally around, raising funds to pay for healthcare bills nobody realised didn't exist.
All in all, the town raised almost over $31,000 USD for Hannah's treatment. "I hated the attention, but Mum was so grateful for their fundraising. 'You're my million-dollar baby,' she told me, but I didn't know what she meant," Hannah told the Mirror.
Even Hannah's father, Bob, was fooled, and reportedly broke down in tears after his wife returned from the doctors telling him their daughter had a spinal tumour that could potentially be terminal.
Teresa managed to keep the lies going for so long because she was a care-home nurse, and was therefore allowed to administer the drugs her daughter 'needed' by herself. The appointments themselves were patchy memories for Hannah.
"They'd [Teresa and Hannah's maternal grandmother] take me for ice cream before, and it would make me sleepy. I'd wake up later and Mum would tell me the doctors had given me a shot of medication," she said.
And it emotionally impacted Hannah as a child, too. "I hated that I couldn't ride my bike, or play with my friends.
"My biggest fear was being separated from my family. At that age, I hadn't got to grips with what death was, but I knew it would mean I wouldn't be with my parents and that terrified me," she said.
The lies were exposed, however, when one of Hannah's teachers noticed the youngster's hair was growing back evenly, and not in patches as it would likely do if she really was having chemo. The teacher went to the police with her suspicions, and they quickly arrested Teresa and her mother.
Following police probing, Teresa admitted her deceit. She was sent straight to a psychiatric hospital, while Hannah's father was also put under police investigation initially. He was later released on bail, but the ordeal for Hannah wasn't over.
"I was so happy I wasn't going to die. But my relief was short-lived as I was put into foster care. Confused and alone, all my fears were coming true anyway – I was losing my family."
Hannah's mum pleaded guilty by reason of insanity to the crimes of theft and child endangerment when her case reached court, but following a mental evaluation, her plea of insanity was rejected. Teresa, who was 35 at the time, she was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. Her father insisted he was innocent, but ultimately pleaded guilty to child endangerment and felony theft, which he knew the courts had enough evidence to convict him of. He was sent to prison and wasn't released until Hannah was 15.
Hannah's Aunt Sue (the sister of her father), gained custody of her, but the youngster suffered lasting impact from what her mother put her through. She was diagnosed with depression at the age of 12 and bravely reveals she even thought about taking her own life.
"Dad was released when I was 15, and I went to live with him. The reunion was emotional – I truly believe he'd known nothing about Mum's scam," Hannah told the Mirror.
Now 21, Hannah admits she's still "haunted" by her mother's actions."I don't think I'll ever truly get over it," she said. But despite that, she's been driven to do something positive. Studying social work at university, Hannah is determined to embark on it as a career because it will enable her to help children in foster care. "I know how scary that can be," she said.
"One day, I hope to have kids of my own, and I know I'll be the mum that monster never was to me."
SOURCE: Cosmopolitan UK