Emmerdale’s Cancer Storyline!

Emmerdale’s latest issue-based storyline, Vanessa Woodfield’s bowel cancer battle will shatter misconceptions about the disease Bowel Cancer UK tells Emmerdaily contributor All in the Name of Emmerdale.

Emmerdale Opinions: Vanessa’s fight for life shatters bowel cancer misconceptions
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It wasn’t enough for Emmerdale’s Vanessa Woodfield (Michelle Hardwick) to be held hostage by Pierce Harris (Jonathan Wrather.) The stoic vet was harbouring the life changing secret from her nearest and dearest that she has stage 3 bowel cancer.

Emmerdalians have been clamouring for an issue-based storyline for a while, so handing this storyline to Vanessa is a masterstroke, but one that will reverberate around Emmerdale viewers. Some may have experienced their own heartache and loss or stories of survival. Given recently Dame Julie Walters opened up on her experience in battling bowel cancer, and self-testing kits being sent to people across wales in recent months, the storyline also seems timely.

Vanessa’s story has already had its impact on villagers as she told cancer sufferer Sarah Sugden (Katie Hill), Noah Dingle (Jack Downham) along with her colleagues and firm friends Paddy Kirk (Dominic Brunt) Rhona Goskirk (Zoe Henry). It’s set to send seismic waves throughout the village as we see the normally strong and supportive Vanessa be the one needing her own support system as she faces the biggest turmoil of her life.

Vanessa’s battle for life has been two years in the making with producer Jane Hudson making it one of the biggest storylines of 2020. Michelle told What’s On TV: “That was about 18 months (conversation about the storyline), two years ago. Then I had a meeting with her about six months ago, and that’s when she said, ‘It’s going to be bowel cancer.’ It took me by surprise, and I thought, ‘Oh, wow!’ but it’s for all the good reasons. We do need to show that this can happen to a relatively younger person. And it does, because a lot of the messages I’ve had on social media from people who are going through it are from younger people, both men and women, who are saying, ‘We’re so glad that we’re moving away from thinking it’s an old man’s disease.’”

There are multiple misconceptions that bowel cancer only affects older people, with younger people also affected as Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK explains: “One of the biggest misconceptions we hope this Emmerdale storyline will help us address is the idea that it only affects older people. Every year over 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer, with 2,500 under 50. Bowel cancer is more common in the over 50s but it can affect people of all ages. Younger people with bowel cancer tell us their symptoms are regularly mistaken for something else, so they’re often diagnosed at a later stage.”

Vanessa faces a hospital appointment alone
Vanessa faces a hospital appointment alone

Bowel Cancer UK has worked closely with Emmerdale and has relished the opportunity. Edwards adds: “Having the chance to work with one of Britain’s best-loved and longest running soaps, to get this message across to millions of Emmerdale viewers, is really important and a one-off opportunity for the charity.”

Soap storylines have the power to really engage people in discussions about specific health issues. The power to engage should not be underestimated and for Bowel Cancer UK the opportunity to kick start an important discussion, could not come at an opportune time with Bowel cancer awareness month on the horizon. Edwards went onto say: “Our collaboration with Emmerdale has been an incredible opportunity for us to draw some much-needed attention to a disease that is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. With Bowel Cancer Awareness Month coming up in April, it’s been invaluable to have the chance to work with Emmerdale to raise awareness of the disease.”

Bowel Cancer UK have seen a spike in enquires about the condition. “Since the storyline aired, we have seen an increase in the number of people getting in touch with us requesting more information about the disease. It’s been superb to have Michelle Hardwick – who’s been doing a fantastic job with her moving portrayal of Vanessa – and her cast members bringing this powerful storyline to life,” Edwards enthuses.

Vanessa tells best friend Rhona
Vanessa tells best friend Rhona

Over the course of the past few weeks, viewers have seen Vanessa display signs and symptoms from referencing blood in her stools to fatigue. Edwards explains: “The most common symptoms are blood in your poo and/or bleeding from your bottom, a persistent and unexplained change in your bowel habit, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason and a pain or lump in your tummy. Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer, but if you’re worried or things don’t feel right, go and see your GP. While it might feel awkward talking about these kinds of symptoms, we want to encourage Emmerdale viewers not to feel embarrassed as doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.”

And that’s the message that the storyline is portraying. Vanessa has been seen to be pro-actively addressing the issues surrounding her cancer diagnosis, engaging with healthcare professionals in GP Manpreet Sharma (Rebecca Sarker) and with Hotten General’s oncology department. Emmerdale has handled the storyline with great care and the storyline is shattering the misconceptions about Bowel Cancer. Millions of viewers now will feel more educated and seek help, that in itself underlines the power the storyline has had.

Bowel Cancer UK statistics:

  • Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK claiming more than 16,000 lives a year, that’s over 44 people every day.
  • Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.
  • Every 15 minutes in the UK someone is diagnosed. That’s over 42,000 people every year. Every 30 minutes someone dies from the disease in the UK.
  • Bowel cancer is more common in the over 50s but it can affect people of all ages. More than 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed in the UK every year.
  • 1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.
  • Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer. However this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives.

If you have been affected by Vanessa’s story, please seek support and contact Bowel Cancer UK or visit the website https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk

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