> Is there a Doctor in the House?
is often criticised for its lack of realism and yet, during
its 28 year run, the show has highlighted a range of different
illnesses and conditions through its range of characters.
This article looks at who was suffering, what they were suffering
from, and how the show tackled the illness, as well as providing
useful links for those wishing to learn more.
has touched upon the issue of cancer several times, with varying
degrees of impact. The first portrayal involved Dorothy Burke
(Maggie Dence), who learnt that she was suffering from breast
cancer. The issue, though resolved fairly quickly, was handled
well and often brought up in Dorothy’s stories when she felt,
after having a mastectomy, that she couldn’t enter into a
relationship again. In the mid-nineties, Annalise Hartman
(Kimberley Davies) was diagnosed with skin cancer, after visiting
Dr. Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher) with an irritating mole on
her arm. The melanoma was removed quickly in hospital and
rarely mentioned again, which felt like a missed opportunity,
given the emotional ramifications it could have had. The next
storyline involving cancer was a far more realistic and gruelling
affair. After applying to join the police force, Luke Handley
(Bernard Curry) was required to complete a medical. When the
results came back – Luke was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma – he found it difficult to adjust. In a moving scene,
Luke shaved his hair off, something Bernard agreed to do himself
to help add to the realism of his portrayal. The storyline
lasted many months, following Luke through his treatment and
looking at every aspect of his life, even the fact that he
couldn’t find work afterwards due to his health problems.
A couple of years later, Ruth Wilkinson (Ailsa Piper) had
a brush with cancer when she found a suspect lump in her breast.
Fortunately, it turned out to be benign. Neighbours’
saddest portrayal of cancer came next, when it claimed its
first life in Ramsay Street. After feeling unwell for a while,
Madge Bishop (Anne Charleston) found herself in agony one
day in the Coffee Shop. After a series of tests, she was told
that she had pancreatic cancer and that there was nothing
more that could be done for her. She was given six months
to live, but after developing an infection, she died after
only six weeks. Her final moments provided
one of Neighbours’ most moving death scenes. The most
recent Ramsay Street resident to be touched by cancer is Steph
Scully (Carla Bonner). In a similar way to Luke’s storyline,
this has shown every aspect of the disease, its treatment
and the effects on everyone’s lives. However, this has possibly
been more successful as Steph has a lot more close friends
and family in the show and they’ve all been allowed to react.
After receiving chemotherapy, Steph went into remission, but
the condition returned in 2005 when Steph was pregnant. This time,
she opted to wait for treatment, not wanting to harm her unborn child,
and had intensive radiotherapy after baby Charlie was born. Arguably,
the writers didn't want to repeat Steph's cancer story in exactly the same
fashion as before, but it was still disappointing to see it rushed through
so quickly the second time. In 2011, guest character Jim Dolan was diagnosed with skin cancer
and shown getting treatment before passing away from the disease.
more information about the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,
you can visit www.cancervic.org.au
(Australia) or www.cancerbacup.org.uk
life of the Hoyland family was turned upside down when mother
Claire died suddenly from a heart condition. Several years later,
Summer Hoyland (Marisa Siketa) began to display unusual symptoms,
as she started to faint for no apparent reason. Though she began
to milk the sympathy she received, things became serious when
Summer was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, the condition which
was likely to be the reason for her mother’s death. Summer was
probably the bravest member of the family after the diagnosis,
as Max and Rosie began to worry about her. The condition wasn’t
explained in a great deal of detail on the show and, after an
operation which would cut down on Summer’s need for hospital
visits, it is rarely mentioned these days. When the recast character
of Summer returned in 2010, her Long QT Syndrome was still referenced,
as she often mentioned that she didn't drink coffee and was also
hospitalised after drinking too many caffeinated energy drinks.
The Sensitive Hearts foundation informs us that someone in Summer’s
condition, regardless of the fact that she had a pace maker
fitted in the storyline, would still require regular check ups
and the fact that she is taking boxing lessons would also be
a serious health issue. For more information about Long QT Syndrome,
visit the Sensitive Hearts website at www.sads.org.au
a typical soap opera storyline, Danni Stark (Eliza Szonert)
was immediately mistaken for a drug addict when people saw her
injecting herself soon after her arrival in Ramsay Street. Danni
was fairly well adjusted to her condition when we first met
her, though preferred that as few people as possible knew that
she was diabetic. Neighbours handled their portrayal
of it well, never forgetting her condition when it mattered.
Storylines included Danni going out and forgetting her diabetes
bracelet, meaning that when she collapsed outside a club, the
police believed she was just drunk. In an effort to learn more
about her condition and meet new people, Danni went along to
a society for young diabetic people, though she convinced herself
that she didn’t fit in. Unfortunately, once Danni left high
school and began a career as a designer, the diabetes was rarely
more information on the diagnosis, treatment and management
of diabetes, you can visit www.diabetesaustralia.com.au
(Australia) or www.diabetes.org.uk
Jarrett (Jade Amenta) is the only major character to have suffered
from epilepsy during Neighbours’ run. Similarly to Danni,
the condition was never an issue for her, only really brought
up when it needed to be. To begin with, her friends found it
slightly difficult to accept her epileptic fits, but they soon
got used to it. In one storyline, Melissa was upset to have
to miss the school dance, as the strobe lights might have brought
on a fit, so her boyfriend Josh arranged a private school dance
in the lounge room, just for the two of them. Neighbours
handled this plot well, never being too preachy about it, but
constantly highlighting the problems that someone in Melissa’s
position could face. A Neighbours youngster faced epilepsy again
in 2012, when Andrew Robinson was diagnosed, following a head injury in a
car accident. Andrew was seen to try and ignore the problem, not wanting
his dad to find out and view it as a weakness, and his fits were shown on
screen, though usually just his legs convulsing. After finally receiving
a proper diagnosis, Andrew appeared to have his epilepsy under control with
medication, though it was still mentioned by other characters, and in a
story in which he was unable to drive due to his diagnosis.
more information on how to cope with epilepsy in your life,
you can visit www.epinet.org.au
(Australia) or www.epilepsy.org.uk
a very hot issue of the nineties, it was only a matter of time
before one of the teenage girls in Neighbours fell pregnant.
However, the last person anyone really expected it to be was
Phoebe Bright (Simone Robertson). After having sex with Todd
Landers only once, Phoebe fell pregnant, quickly dispelling
a lot of myths. Deciding to have an abortion, Phoebe was at
the clinic when Todd raced over to stop her, but was run over
and killed. The show didn’t really show Phoebe’s struggles as
a single, teenage mother though, as she was quickly paired off
with older man, Stephen Gottlieb and, after the birth of baby
Hope, they were married. A similar storyline occurred in 2003,
when Lori Lee (Michelle Ang) fell pregnant after a one-night
stand with Connor O’Neill. However, this time Lori made the
decision herself not to abort her child and disappeared back
home to New Zealand. In the years that followed, Lori returned
and introduced Connor to his daughter, Maddy, and the pair both
ended up settling in Lorne. Further teen pregnancies occurred in
2006, when Sky Mangel gave birth to daughter Kerry, not knowing at
first which of the Timmins brothers, Dylan or Stingray, was the father.
And popular teen couple Declan and Bridget also brought a new life into
the world, baby India was born in 2009, thought Bridget died a few months
Neighbours character Susan Kennedy found her life changed dramatically when she was
diagnosed with M.S. in 2007. After blacking out at the wheel of her car, Susan hit neighbour
Bridget Parker, but it was still a while before Susan's diagnosis came, and she had to
suffer through other symptoms, including temporary blindness, before her M.S. was discovered.
Seeing a much-loved character facing such a difficult health crisis made for a
powerful story, and the issue continues to crop up from time to time, as Susan agreed to
act as a surrogate for daughter Libby, and later when the stress of being the Erinsborough News'
new editor became too much for her.
MS Australia for further information.
has handled this issue twice. The first time, involving Daphne
Clarke (Elaine Smith), was fairly typical of Neighbours,
showing Daphne falling to pieces very quickly and picking
herself up again at a similar speed. When the show once again
tackled the problem, with Lyn Scully (Janet Andrewartha) almost
15 years later, things seemed to be a little more considered.
Lyn’s problems appeared slowly and gradually and her problem
was justified with a difficult birth and many other factors.
Lyn’s shame over her feelings was extremely well portrayed,
though, as with many of the other storylines, and most probably
to keep storylines fresh, little of her recovery or counselling
sessions was shown.
and Daphne’s cases were not uncommon, as one in eight new
mothers suffers from postnatal depression. For more information
and advice on how to get help, you can visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
in Australia and www.mama.org.uk
in the UK.
Billy Kennedy (Jesse Spencer) was caught smoking by his parents,
they thought the best way to teach him about the downside
would be to let him continue smoking. Unfortunately, forcing
the cigarettes on their son only led to him almost choking
to death and the discovery that Billy was infact asthmatic.
Neighbours handled the problem well, with Billy taking
up swimming as a means to reduce his suffering from asthma
attacks. Sadly, the problem seemed to suddenly be forgotten
about when Billy began his career as a carpenter, since surely
being in a dusty workshop would do more harm than good…
more information about coping with asthma, visit www.nationalasthma.org.au
in Australia or www.asthma.org.uk
in the UK.
Martin (Marnie Reece-Wilmore) seemed to be remarkably well
adjusted for a teenager with her family history. However,
things began to change as her friends noticed her behaviour
becoming secretive and a sudden loss in weight also caused
alarm bells to ring in her family. Debbie justified it by
saying she wanted to look good for the Debutante Ball, but
when Cody discovered a huge stash of chocolate under Debbie’s
bed, she realised her friend was suffering from bulimia. This
was certainly one of Neighbours’ better attempts to
handle such an issue, with Debbie’s behaviour spot on and
with the reactions of those around her particularly well observed
by writers. Marnie even seemed to look a little more gaunt
when the scenes were being shot. After a spell in a retreat
for people suffering from eating disorders, which was shown
on screen and certainly added a lot to the plot, Debbie gradually
went back to normal, eventually deciding to change her life
completely by going to live with Rosemary in New York. In 2007, the
issue was shown from a male perspective when Ringo Brown became
obsessed with his weight and started taking appetite suppressants. The
issue came to a head when he almost drowned during a swimming trial at
school, and as the truth came out, his family convinced him to get help.
The issue was revisited the following year as Ringo suffered through the
death of girlfriend Jess Wallace.
more information, help and advice about eating disorders,
you can visit www.eatingdisorders.org.au
in Australia and eating-disorders.org.uk/
in the UK.