Belle... Cancer Cluster

As one of the world's largest killers in all its forms, it is granted that cancer would come up every now and again and as we say goodbye to Belle from bowel cancer, it's time to look back at how the show has covered cancer over the years.

In the first few years, cancer was only really briefly touched upon as the cause of the predicament that the youngsters found themselves in. Bobby's "mother" Doris Simpson had died of cancer, which attributed to her going of the rails, and Blake and Karen had arrived in Summer Bay after their mother had died of cancer.

One of the first real cancer storylines came in 1992 when teenager Meg Bowman was revealed to be suffering from terminal leukaemia. The storyline is well remembered by those who watched the show at the time and has become a benchmark for such stories of young women dying of cancer, with examples up to the recent Belle story seemingly borrowing iconography from it. Although Meg wasn't a major character, we saw her boyfriend Blake, her friends and her mother trying to come to terms with the fact that she was dying while Meg tried to stay strong and dignified throughout. After her loved ones tried to make her last days as special as possible, she finally breathed her last on the beach in her boyfriend's arms as they watched the sun rise.

The first real case of a main character suffering from cancer came in late 1994 when Roxanne Miller was diagnosed with breast cancer, after her boyfriend Rob noticed a lump in her breast.We saw for the first time a character being faced with such a diagnosis and her loved ones struggling to cope, but unfortunately the character's departure early the following year meant the storyline just fizzled out. Roxy left town to get treatment and wasn't heard from for some time until she was suddenly corresponding with Ailsa and apparently completely recovered.

In August 1995, Angel Parrish's 4 year old son Dylan was discovered to be suffering from leukaemia, uncovered after a visit to the doctors following his hostage ordeal with his biological father Paul Harris. In desperation, Angel considered having another baby with Paul, via IVF, in order to provide a bone marrow donator for Dylan. Shane was understandably not too keen on this idea, and Angel's plan was scuppered when she discovered she was in fact already pregnant with Shane's baby. Following a brief indecision about whether to have an abortion, she kept the baby and Dylan was later declared to be in remission following treatment.

The next character to be hit by cancer was Lachie Fraser, who only weeks after becoming a father to Olivia with his partner Chloe Richards, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Whilst surgery to remove it proved to be successful, he later suffered a haemorrhage which left him in a coma. On regaining conciousness, he was found to be brain damaged with severe problems with communication and mobility. His relationship with Chloe became strained over the coming weeks, not helped by the presence of his overbearing mother Diana. Whilst he agreed to let Chloe look after him at home, an accident there on his first day back made Lachie realise that he couldn't let his relationship with Chloe become even more strained. With this in mind he accepted Diana's offer to head to the USA for specialist care. When Chloe went to visit him later on, she was shocked to find him with another woman, whom he later went on to marry. A few months later Chloe received the news that Lachie had died following a second haemorrhage.

Vinnie discovered in 1999 that he was suffering from testicular cancer. Most of the time Vinnie was a lovable buffoon, whether it be chancing his luck with the ladies or some get rich quick scheme that was doomed to failure. Ever the proud man, Vinnie decided to go it alone swore his girlfriend Sally to secrecy, though his housemates Gypsy and eventually found out the truth. Sally convinced him that he could trust his friends and he came clean. Unfortunately the storyline didn't amount to much and Vinnie was quickly given the all clear. The show has admitted since then they didn't think they covered the storyline well and was part of the reason they did a similar storyline with Kane years later.

Later that year, Marilyn and Donald's baby son Byron was revealed to have a tumour in his liver, with secondary tumours in his lungs. Marilyn took Byron away to the USA for treatment, only for him to later die. In a way, the storyline was constructed to let Emily Symons move to Yorkshire and so a lot of it appeared off screen in the US and focused mainly on Donald's continued suffering as he ultimately outlived another of his children. As a way of coping, Donald wrote a children's book entitled 'Letter to Byron'. Marilyn never returned to the bay, and it wasn't until 2001 after a short reunion in London after his book launch, that both Donald and Marilyn were able to bring closure to their marriage.

During 2001, it was discovered that Sally had ovarian cancer and this played a part to a degree during storylines for the next three years. After a bang against a chest of drawers whilst trying to protect Ashley from one of her old drugs suppliers, what seemed like a check-up because of a bad hit suddenly became a lot more serious and it culminated in the discovery that Sally had ovarian cancer. The main bulk of this story can be seen in our video section under the 2001 episodes. It took Sally getting the all clear around six months later for Flynn to move in with Sally, as she didn't want to be a burden on him, and it was also the effects of her ovaries being removed continued onto the two surrogacy storylines involving Leah and Sophie.

A few months later, Anna Miller arrived in town with her son Seb. They secretly set up home in one of the disused caravans and Anna got a job with Jude cleaning at the school. Anna was frequently in discomfort and appeared very drawn. When she later collapsed, people were quick to assume that she was a heroin addict - however Seb angrily confirmed that she was in fact dying from leukaemia. Just over a week later she died, but not before revealing to Seb the real reason she brought him to Summer Bay - his father was the late Alan Fisher, therefore Donald Fisher was Seb's grandfather.

When Alf Stewart started having mood swings and displaying worrying symptoms, Morag feared that her brother was in the early stages of Alzheimers which their father had suffered from in his latter years. This reached a head in the 2002 Season Finale when Alf, suffering with a bad headache, returned home to find his dead wife Ailsa alive and well in the Diner kitchen. Over the following 6 weeks (off-air), they lived in bliss once again as man and wife. However when the time came for Alf to reintroduce Ailsa to his friends and family, it became apparent that Ailsa was simply a figment of Alf's imagination. Growingly concerned about Alf's mental health, tests were carried out which showed that Alf was not suffering from Alzheimers, but rather a brain tumour. After weeks of insistence that he didn't want to lose Ailsa, she started becoming more and more trying. Realising that it wasn't the woman he married, Alf agreed to have the operation. On the operating table Alf teetered on the brink of death and had a vision of, arguably, the real Ailsa's spirit who gave him the choice to live or join her in death. In one of the show's most surreal episodes of all time, and one which won writer Coral Drouyn a prestigious AWGIE award, Ailsa took Alf around the future Summer Bay, showing the town as it would be should he choose to die. In the end he chose to live, and things were back to normal.

The next main character to suffer from cancer was Colleen. Colleen had touched on a few weighty issues since her return in 1999, such as a gambling addiction, however it was arguably her biggest story to date. Whilst Flynn was giving Colleen a free check-up to celebrate the opening of his surgery, he discovered a lump in one of her breasts and Colleen was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was thought provoking and humorous at the same time, not because we were laughing at Colleen's suffering, but occasionally the way she reacted to her unusual surroundings and in a way, once she was released from hospital, it gave Colleen a new lease of life for around a year.

Another cancer related death occurred in 2003 when young Max Sutherland fell for a new girl at school, Eloise Lennox, who, like Meg, turned out to have terminal leukaemia. Although some fans compared the story unfavourably to the earlier storyline, feeling Eloise was a less well developed character than Meg had been, the character's young age, barely in her teens, added an extra level of tragedy to the tale, culminating in a nicely played moment when, attending a funeral for Max's pet rat, Eloise effectively delivers a eulogy for herself. The story closed with a charity for terminally ill children arranging for Max and Eloise to have dinner at a posh restaurant and as the limousine drove them home Eloise died with her head resting in Max's lap.

After Vinnie's testicular cancer story in 1999, the show returned to the topic when Kane discovered he had it in 2004. With Kirsty approaching her exams, Kane decided to keep it a secret from her, relying on Sally, Flynn and remarkably Colleen (who he formed a bond with due to her own cancer suffering) to keep his secret. Unfortunately for what could have been an important male health issue it sort of got railroaded into lots of other storylines. Whilst you could see that Kane was sick, there was a never-ending saga as to whether anyone would catch him staying at Sally and Flynn's when he was supposed to be on a boat and also into the Tasha paternity/security camera storyline. Even the fact that he was now infertile was brushed over by the fact that Kirsty had managed to fall pregnant just weeks before he had had the treatment.

During 2005, it was Flynn who was to fight cancer. In a way, this storyline felt like it went a bit deeper as he ultimately lost his battle. After Matilda had ended up looking like a beetroot after a day at the beach, Flynn gave a talk at Summer Bay High on the dangers of skin cancer. In a cruel twist of fate however, colleague Dr. Matthews, discovered a cancerous mole on Flynn's back. When it was discovered that Flynn's cancer was terminal, he called off his treatment and spent his remaining few months trying to live his life to its fullest. The storyline briefly touched upon euthanasia, but that's for another day. Flynn eventually died when he was accidentally knocked down the stairs by Belle. Karma?

Only a few months later, Sally discovered that Brad's new wife Emily was dying of leukaemia. By this time, it really did seem like just another case of a young woman we didn't know very well dying of cancer, right down to the climax of Emily dying in Brad's arms on the beach at sunset. Although Emily was a sympathetic enough character and showed a quiet dignity, at one point hiding the extent of her deterioration from Brad, she was largely a plot device to bring Sally and Brad together by having them both lose the people they loved to cancer.

One of the show's most curious treatments of cancer came in 2007 when Donald Fisher returned to town and announced that his ex-wife Marilyn was suffering from breast cancer in London. Even more strangely, his last comments on the subject hinted that her prognosis was terminal. While there is nothing wrong in principle with killing a character last seen six years previous off screen, here it seemed to serve no narrative function and in the end the fate of both Donald and Marilyn was never revealed, as Don headed off for his possibly last reunion with Marilyn and the viewer was told nothing further.

In 2008, Martha was diagnosed with breast cancer, just as she and Jack were getting their lives back on track after almost two years separated and her newly discovered aunt, Colleen, was on hand to help her through most of it. Conveniently she collapsed and almost died from the cancer during the Olympic cliff-hanger, but eventually recovered.

Soon afterwards, 2 year old Joe Morton was brought into hospital with bruises on his knees. Rachel, who 2 years previously was going to adopt Joe before his natural mother Lee changed her mind, initially suspected that Lee's partner Dane had been hitting Joe. However tests revealed that Joe was in fact suffering from bone cancer, with a tumour in his femur. Dane went off to find Lee, whilst Joe was left in the care of Rachel and Tony in order for him to start treatment. Dane later returned and took Joe away with him back to Queensland. Soon afterwards, Dane arrived back in the bay and broke the news to Rachel and Tony that Joe had passed away following an infection he picked up. The death of Joe would prove a key element into Belle Taylor's investigation of the development site, which it was suspected was responsible for the high number of cancer cases in Summer Bay.

Which finally brings us up to Belle's battle, which is covered in more detail elsewhere.

So, how has Home and Away covered cancer? It's fair to say that its done so with success on occasions, and rather badly on others. Of course, when one thinks of cancer, they think of a sort of stock sequence of events and 'Home and Away' is an entertainment show, not a documentary, so it could get in some way repetitive if every storyline went the same way. However, on occasions it has been trivialised to the degree where it becomes the reason for another story. Despite this, when the worst happens or the seriousness of the situation strikes; it can usually take a poor writer to make it anything, but hard hitting TV.