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Social Issues in Television Fiction$
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Lesley Henderson

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780748625314

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748625314.001.0001

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A Woman’s Disease: Breast Cancer

A Woman’s Disease: Breast Cancer

(p.76) Chapter 4 A Woman’s Disease: Breast Cancer
Social Issues in Television Fiction

Lesley Henderson

Edinburgh University Press

Health and illness storylines populate prime-time serial drama with regularity. Sometimes these involve familiar illnesses such as cancer, and sometimes they include extremely rare illnesses, unknown to the audience and medical practitioners alike. Storylines that focus on medical issues generate dramatic opportunities in the television soap opera as characters typically avoid hospital appointments, secretly wait for diagnoses or begin to come to terms with the impact of serious ill health on family relationships. Medical storylines are always under constant scrutiny and are considered, under certain circumstances, to have a significant impact on health-seeking behaviour. This chapter focuses on soap opera treatments of breast cancer, and on the production decisions that influence how and why breast cancer was selected by two different programmes: EastEnders and Brookside. Because breast cancer is powerfully associated as a ‘women's disease’, it is often grafted into the everyday world of the television soap opera with its focus on female experience. The central themes here are denial, concerns about mutilation of the body and femininity, and the ensuing ripples throughout the family dynamics. In the cases of EastEnders and Brookside, the story was given a theme over and above ‘breast cancer’, with one story focusing on new relationships and the other addressing the theme of denial. The familiar devices of shared secrets and prior knowledge were used in both cases to engender audience sympathies; thus both stories are interwoven with unjust accusations from other characters who do not have the vital information that audiences have – these women are at serious risk of a potentially fatal disease.

Keywords:   health storylines, illness storylines, Medical storylines, breast cancer, production decisions, women's disease

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