Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Look Back At Soap Stories

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) organization is a partnership of national public service organizations, professional medical associations, and government agencies working together to promote breast cancer awareness, share information on the disease, and provide greater access to screening services.

Since its inception in 1985, NBCAM has been at the forefront of promoting awareness of breast cancer issues and has evolved along with the national dialogue on breast cancer. Today, NBCAM recognizes that although many great strides have been made in breast cancer awareness and treatment, there remains much to be accomplished.

You can find out more information at www.nbcam.org.

Throughout the history of soap operas there have been a number of moving breast cancer story lines. Below we take a look at some of the most memorable.

In 1975 Jennifer Brooks (Dorothy Green) on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS had breast cancer and a mastectomy. The American Cancer Society praised the soap for telling the story. This was the first fully realized breast cancer story line on television. Bill Bell said of the story, "We were the first to do a story line like this. And it was a powerful one. We received letters from people who said it helped them understand what happens to a woman from the time she learns she has cancer, on through the recovery."

In 1979 SEARCH FOR TOMORROW's Stephanie had breast cancer. After surgery, she felt her life was over until she was visited by a volunteer from the group Reach to Recovery. Stephanie's portrayer, the fabulous Maree Cheatham, became a volunteer for the American Cancer Society.

In 1992 Lillian Raines on GUIDING LIGHT found out she had breast cancer and her mammogram may have been the first one show on soaps. Actress Tina Sloan did a number of public service announcements about early breast cancer detection. The American Cancer Society reported at the time the largest number of phone calls ever received by the ACS followed these announcements. Sloan wrote a wonderful piece on this storyline for AOL on Friday.

In 1994 GENERAL HOSPITAL's Monica battled breast cancer in an unforgettable story.

The following year Paige told Emily she was dying of breast cancer.

Also in 1994 ANOTHER WORLD's Brett was considering a breast enlargement when she found a lump in her breast. The lump turned out to be benign. She was so relieved she decided she was content with her breast size the way it was.

In late 1996 Tess on THE CITY found a lump in her breast. She tried to postpone her wedding to Buck until after her biopsy results were back but they were later married in a hospital chapel.
In the late '90s Camille on AS THE WORLD TURNS developed breast cancer. Lauren B. Martin was terrific as she dealt with her medical condition and her mixed up feelings for Ben and Brad.

In 2000 ONE LIFE TO LIVE's Viki battled breast cancer and struggled with her relationship with Ben.

In 2003 GENERAL HOSPITAL's Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer. She finally tells Jason in the scene below.

In 2005 AS THE WORLD TURNS mogul Lucinda Walsh found out she had breast cancer. Elizabeth Hubbard was robbed of an Emmy nomination for her work during the story line. In the scene below from 2008, Lucinda's cancer has returned.

In 2006 GUIDING LIGHT's Reva was diagnosed with breast cancer and her family deals with their feelings and emotions of possibly losing her.

In 2009 I did an interview with veteran soap actress Linda Cook who revealed she had battled breast cancer in 1992 and kept it to herself.

1992. I was doing a show Off-Broadway at the time called "Dearly Departed" and I was getting ready to go out to L.A. I think I had just had like a million dollars worth of pictures taken with my long, blonde hair. The show we were doing was a really black comedy about death. In the very first scene, grandma and grandpa are getting a letter and grandpa falls off his chair and dies. I was doing that show and found a lump in my breast. It was like New Year's Eve and I thought, 'Holy shit.' I knew immediately what it was, but then I had to go in and do this show. And I couldn't get into a doctor for days after that because it was New Year's. I had great doctors, and we caught it early. Luckily I didn't have to lose a whole breast, just a little chunk. I did six months or so of chemo and radiation treatments, and lost all my hair. That's when I made the switch to being a red head.

Yvonne Perry also bravely battled breast cancer in recent years and blogged about it on her website.

These are some of the fictional and real stories that stand out in my mind. Have any breast cancer story lines from soaps been a favorite of yours or meant something to you in a personal way? Share your thoughts in our Comments section.


  1. Y&R Ashley famously battled breast cancer, which was treated with lumpectomy, radiation, and chemo. It was sad to me that this hasn't been referenced since...as (in real life) it would have had implications for her ability to have another child, and might have been offered as one explanation for why she wasn't lactating during her last pregnancy. I guess this is a sign of the show's departure from a reality base.

  2. Mark, good one! Maybe you mentioning it will remind someone.

    Damon mentioned the death of former soap producer Mary-Ellis Bunim. I really loved her time at SFT and ATWT even though I know a lot of longtime ATWT fans would disagree.