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Pancreatic Cancer UK and Coronation Street

Posted by: Comms 21 January 2014

Hayley Cropper And Roy In 009

Now that the Coronation Street storyline involving character Hayley Cropper has come to a close we reflect on the impact that this has had on the cause and our charity.

Raising the profile of pancreatic cancer

We were delighted to discover, after assisting ITV Drama researchers for some time with questions surrounding pancreatic cancer, that the disease was to feature on a primetime and hugely popular soap. Following this, we were equally pleased to be asked to be the Support Line that would be advertised after the episode when Hayley was diagnosed, and subsequently when she was told the cancer was inoperable.

We can confidently say the pancreatic cancer storyline in Coronation Street has served to raise awareness of what is, historically, a little known disease and we are certainly grateful to ITV and Coronation Street for featuring it.

The impact, in terms of awareness, was at once evident:

  • The Pancreatic Cancer UK Support Line (020 3535 7099) and website were advertised after the episodes in which Hayley was diagnosed resulting in a 50% increase in calls to our Support Line during that month and a staggering increase in visitors to our website
  • When Hayley was told her pancreatic cancer was inoperable we received as many calls in that one evening, as we normally receive in one week and these were all new callers to the charity

We feel that the way in which pancreatic cancer has been portrayed by the Coronation Street writers as well as Julie Hesmondhalgh and David Neilson, has been very sensitively and thoughtfully done.

Our supporters have told us that at times it has been like watching their own experience or that of a loved one playing out on screen, especially when Roy and Hayley glance at the clock and both know what it means when she returns from surgery too early; when she is told why she is deemed inoperable; and the search for strawberries when that becomes the only thing that Hayley wants to eat.

Yet we absolutely appreciate that every pancreatic cancer patient will have a very different experience, and Hayley's diagnosis and subsequent failing health as she nears the end is just one version of events. We should also consider here how hard it would be to characterise a typical pancreatic cancer patient at this point.

We understand that this whole storyline has been incredibly painful for many to watch bringing back difficult memories or because they are going through a similar experience. We know that a soap is after all a form of escapism for many, and it can be hard when instead it reminds us of a difficult time in our lives.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any pancreatic cancer concerns at all, whether yourself or a loved one.

A new direction

As you will be aware, after a few months, the storyline took a completely new direction, that of the 'right to die' issue. When we were informed of this by ITV we were certainly disappointed, and at this point those assisting the researchers raised their concerns.

Whilst we appreciate the introduction of this issue was very specific and unique to Hayley, the Coronation Street character, and who she was, we were concerned it would detract from the issue of pancreatic cancer and also felt that it was not a common issue for those with the disease.

It is important to point out here that the role of a charity in terms of assisting researchers of dramas and soaps is purely to give information in its area of expertise. We did not have any influence on how the storyline actually played out on the screens in any way. So when the storyline took this turn, this is where our consultation with the ITV researchers ended, as this is most certainly outside of our area of expertise.

We run the only Support Line in the UK that is dedicated specifically to pancreatic cancer and in our experience the 'right to die' issue has not been raised by our service users. Yet, we also appreciate that if it were, it might not be something they'd talk to us about or talk about on our public forums either. Most of the people that contact us are trying to focus on the positive steps they can take to help them live as long as possible, and with a good quality of life. We are here to support them in that.

The future

Now is the time to ensure that pancreatic cancer is not forgotten. An increase in research funding and continued awareness are vitally important for a disease that has the worst survival statistics of all the most common cancers in the UK.

It is our hope that interest in pancreatic cancer from the media and general public will not cease now that Hayley has left our screens. We shall certainly be working hard to ensure this is not the case and we hope that you will join us.

Alex Ford
CEO, Pancreatic Cancer UK

We interviewed actress Julie Hesmondhalgh about her experience of playing Hayley Cropper during her emotional final storyline on the Street - read it here.