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Brain tumours: The hot soap storyline

Are they good for raising awareness or should the bubble burst? Our senior media & PR Officer Carol Dyce examines

Are they good for raising awareness or should the bubble burst? Our senior media & PR officer Carol Dyce examines

My name is Carol and I’m a soap addict.

Couple that with my day job and I can’t fail to notice you can’t channel hop these days without coming across a storyline about a brain tumour.

The latest is our high profile supporter Owain Arthur, who returns to the small screen on BBC 1’s Casualty on Saturday (November 18) playing Glen Thomas who has a glioblastoma – the most common aggressive brain tumour in adults.

In last year’s run – which we advised on and was well received – he did a runner, jilting pregnant fiancée Robyn (Amanda Henderson) at the altar.

But he’s not alone in the fictional world of brain tumour patients – just a few months ago the big two EastEnders and Coronation Street locked horns with brain tumour storylines to boost viewing figures.

Heck, EastEnders even had Steven Beale (Aaron Sidwell) pretending to have a tumour – thanks to passing off a scan of a dog’s brain tumour as his (so far, so soap) and feigning headaches.

But his post mortem results revealed that he didn’t have a brain tumour at all. It was a cruel ruse to force his unhappy partner to stay with him.

Meanwhile, Corrie legend Rita Tanner (Barbara Knox) has a low grade tumour which, in soap land, apparently means she’s going to be A-OK, reigniting the ‘benign ain’t fine’ furore over Alfie Moon’s low grade tumour in EastEnders and spin-off Redwater.

Add to the mix this year alone John Palmer (Shane Withington) in Home and Away and drama The Missing series 2 with Tchéky Karyo being lauded for his portrayal of the enigmatic Julien Baptiste, tormented by hallucinations, triggered by his brain tumour.

Grey matter is giving traditional soap fodder of teenage pregnancy, family rifts and affairs a run for their money.

How does that sit with us? Any publicity is good publicity, right? Yes and no is the (non) straight answer.

When they get it right, soaps and dramas’ mass reach and coverage ranks alongside celebrities speaking out about their brain tumours to turbo charge awareness.

Even when they get it wrong, we can flag that up and put it right with stories from our wonderful supporters, saying how it really is.

But the no, and it’s a big no, is that we shouldn’t forget for a nano second that our supporters don’t have the luxury of fiction, they’re dealing with the daily reality of living with a brain tumour and its devastating impact on them and their families.

It’s not a story, it’s their lives.

So, I don’t mind a bit of drama at all. After all, they are, er, dramas. Come on, Casualty wouldn’t be Casualty without scenes like Glen’s emergency burr hole in a broken down lift.

Likewise, EastEnders wouldn’t be ‘Enders without spitting mad residents screaming; “You’re doing me ‘ed in!” in people’s faces, would it?

But when it comes to the facts about brain tumours, leave the high drama on the cutting floor – there’s no room for fiction.

Don’t prick the soap bubble – but get it RIGHT!