A Northumberland mother whose teenage son has fought a long-running cancer battle has praised Coronation Street for running a controversial storyline about the disease – which has lead to some fans vowing to boycott the ITV soap.
Sarah Nicholson, from Amble, has spoken out in favour of the current plot, which sees Fiz Brown’s five year-old daughter Hope diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that mostly affects young children. About 100 youngsters are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year in the UK, of which only about 30 per cent will survive.
The heartbreaking storyline has split opinion and some viewers have found it so upsetting that they have threatened to switch off or boycott the show altogether.
But Sarah, whose 13-year-old son Brandon Ballance was diagnosed with an inoperable brain-stem tumour when he was just two, believes the hard-hitting plot is helping to spread awareness of the disease and she is pleased that the soap has the courage to tackle such an emotive subject.
She said: “All credit to Coronation Street. I am a massive fan of the show and I am really pleased that they are doing this and I think I speak for a lot of cancer families.
“The show is helping to put things into perspective and let people know what it is like for families who go through this sort of thing. I really do think it is raising great awareness.
“Childhood cancer is not that rare and it is happening more and more now and a lot of kids are dying because of it, so it is important to raise awareness of the disease. After all, awareness is vital for more research to be carried out into more treatments.
“September is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so the storyline has certainly come at the right time.”
Reflecting on fans’ criticism of the storyline, Sarah said: “Unfortunately this is real life. I actually find the attitude of people, who have said that they won’t watch the show anymore or have had to turn it off, quite upsetting.
“This sort of thing is happening all around us and people shouldn’t feel the need to turn off the show. The more people that are aware of cancer, then the more chance there is of people catching cancer early and being aware of the symptoms, because nobody is safe from cancer.”
While she has backed the hard-hitting storyline, Sarah, 37, openly admits that she has found the plot upsetting and tough viewing.
“I have been sitting watching it with a box of tissues,” she said. “It is hard for me to watch because obviously I can relate to it.
“It has brought everything back and I remember the exact conversation that I had with the oncologist all those years ago when Brandon was diagnosed. That will never go away and to be honest, it feels like it was only yesterday.”
Nicknamed The Champ by his loved ones, Brandon has endured a tough ordeal during his 11-year cancer fight, which has included rigorous bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. A scan in December showed his tumour is stable, but Sarah admits that she takes it one day at a time.
“I count my blessings every single day that Brandon’s tumour remains stable,” said Sarah, who is also mother to Brandon’s younger sister Sienna. She added: “You never know what each new day will bring, so we try to make every single day count.”
In April, doting Sarah made an impassioned call through the Gazette for cannabis oil to be legalised in the UK for medicinal purposes. She also shared her delight after her brave son became a teenager in the summer, admitting ‘there were times when I didn’t think he would reach 13’.
Earlier this week, Jennie McAlpine, who plays the role of Fiz, insisted that though of course she realises the subject matter of the childhood-cancer plot is harrowing, she’s ‘proud’ to be such a pivotal part of it.
While appearing on ITV’s This Morning programme, she said: “We’ve had such brilliant feedback and lovely messages from parents and families who’ve got children going through it or have had children going through cancer. Corrie raises awareness like nothing else.”