Nfld. & Labrador

Mother furious after Nevaeh Denine's photo used for anti-vaccination 'propaganda'

"It's a really cruel way to get people to support your cause," says Holly Denine.

Facebook page used an image of Nevaeh, who died in 2018, claiming vaccinations gave her cancer

The original photo taken of Nevaeh Denine by photographer Aamie Gillam was used by anti-vaccination Facebook groups without her permission, or the permission of the Denine family. (Aamie Gillam Photography)

Less than a year after thousands gathered to celebrate nine-year-old Nevaeh Denine's legacy, her mother is disgusted that a photograph of her daughter was used to claim vaccines cause cancer.

Nevaeh, diagnosed with cancer when she was three, died in August 2018.

The stolen photograph was taken after Nevaeh had received treatment; her hair was gone, but the focus of the photo was her bright eyes and beautiful smile.

A Facebook page has warped that image, pasting it with block letter text: "My Vaccines Gave Me Cancer" and "Now I'm being poisoned to death with nitrogen mustard gas."

Nevaeh, 9, spent much of her short life fundraising to help sick children like her. (City of St. John's/Twitter)

When contacted Friday, Holly Denine, Nevaeh's mother, said she was too angry to talk about it, but spoke to CBC on Monday.

"I was enraged at first and extremely upset," said Denine.

It's a really cruel way to get people to support your cause.- Holly Denine

"But after that my first goal was to get it taken down immediately, and I had a lot of close friends and family help me make it disappear pretty quickly."

The post from January was shared more than 600 times, but Denine said a co-ordinated effort has seen it removed from many places.

"It was definitely an intentional misuse of her image," Denine said.

"We went into the page and reported it over and over again. We also had a lawyer friend draft a letter that we hope will make this anti-vaccine group rethink using other children's images to support their propaganda."

Five-year-old Nevaeh wanted to start a lemonade stand to help other families struggling with pediatric cancer.

Denine is asking anyone who sees the photo online not to share it.

"Sharing it isn't something that will help in any way. It only gets it out for more and more people to see," she said.

Aamie Gillam-Spurrell, the photographer who took the original photo of Nevaeh, said she had no idea the picture had been misused in such a way.

She added that she and the Denine family hold the copyright, so she would also be taking action in an effort to stop its use.

Thousands gathered to remember Nevaeh

Nevaeh, who was from the Goulds area of St. John's, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma in 2013. There is no scientific evidence that neuroblastoma is caused by vaccinations.

She started what became known as Nevaeh's Lemonade Stand to support her community, as it had supported her with fundraisers after her diagnosis.

The lemonade stand, which her family said was Nevaeh's idea, became an annual summer event that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for other pediatric cancer patients.

Nevaeh Denine, whose famous lemonade stand raised over $100,000 for children just like her battling cancer, has died following her long battle with neuroblastoma. 1:25

Nevaeh received treatment that helped, but cancer returned when she was six years old.

She died three years later, on Aug. 6,  2018.

Days after her death, a motorcade of hundreds of cars and thousands of people travelled through the Goulds to a ceremony to remember and celebrate her life. 

Misuse of photos all too common

Meanwhile, Denine said she's seen many other instances of photographs of children being misused.

"I see it a lot on watchdog groups — kids' images being stolen, people misusing children with cancer. It could be a GoFundMe or something like that," she said.

"I knew it was always a risk because Nevaeh was always in the spotlight, but I think it's a really cruel way to get people to support your cause."

Crowds of people gather outside St. Kevin's Parish in the Goulds neighbourhood of St. John's in 2018 after Nevaeh's funeral. (CBC)

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About the Author

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.


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