It probably has not escaped your notice that Coronation Street has been running a storyline where Hayley Cropper (played by Julie Hesmondhalgh) has been battling pancreatic cancer. For the most part this has resulted in a real rise in awareness for the disease resulting in increased numbers of enquiries to our website, newspaper articles and TV interest. Julie Hesmondhalgh has taken an active role in raising awareness of pancreatic cancer and has been really supportive to pancreatic cancer charities.
It is great that pancreatic cancer has been in the limelight throughout the duration of this storyline and to be so well acted by Julie and David Neilson who plays Roy Cropper, Hayley’s husband. However, yet again we have seen pancreatic cancer portrayed in a negative light; culminating not only in the demise of Hayley but as something so awful that seemingly the only way out is through suicide.
We all know that pancreatic cancer is a grim disease and we all know that the survival statistics are shockingly low. But story lines such as this, while they may appear to be educating the public, could serve only to reinforce the nihilistic attitudes toward pancreatic cancer that prevail not only among the general public but in medical communities and in government.
We are working hard to change the idea that ‘nothing can be done for pancreatic cancer’, ‘what’s the point – surely everyone dies anyway’ and ‘it’s always too late’ and so on just fuel the nihilism and feed the excuses for those who refuse to help improve the statistics for this disease.
This storyline has been hard to watch for many who have lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer, and many have been distressed by the way it has been portrayed. It was never going to be easy viewing, but for the benefit of patients and their families, it would have been very uplifting if Hayley were to have had a Whipple’s operation to remove her tumour, have a course of chemotherapy and survive. I am a 6 1/2 year survivor and I find it hard to view – so goodness knows how others who have been newly diagnosed have managed. I know I would not have found it helpful at all.
If Hayley had been a potential pancreatic cancer survivor the public would see, through the Corrie storyline, that there is hope for some and funders may start to believe that it is worth investing more into the disease than the pitiful 1% of cancer research funding it currently receives. However, what we have to remember is that this is a soap opera and the producers set out to create a drama that is going to keep people watching.
It is not the responsibility of soap operas to educate the general public nor should we expect them to. And despite the best efforts of the cast (who have properly done their research on their roles) the way the story plays out is down to the producers.
Personally I am not happy with the suicide ending. I have got to know many pancreatic cancer sufferers who have fought valiantly right to the end and none of them has wanted to subject their families to their suicide. In fact, suicide or assisted dying isn’t a consideration for most pancreatic cancer patients and its inclusion into the Hayley storyline just acts to disguise the real issues we should be highlighting with the disease such as late diagnosis, access to treatments, the lack of clinical trials and the pitiful research spend. This is a missed opportunity for now.
Perhaps in the future we can work with writers of other soap operas and dramas so that pancreatic cancer can be portrayed in a slightly different manner, perhaps giving more hope and and a better informed public.
We will continue to spread the message that early diagnosis saves lives, and if people are diagnosed in time for surgery, their chance of survival increases tenfold.