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Breast Cancer on TV

Breast Cancer on TV: 8 Characters Who Got It Right

We're happy to present this excerpt of a story from one of our favorite sites, YourTango. Today, Jessica Ashley talks about how actresses raise hope and strength about cancer battles through the lives of your favorite characters.

Kristina Braverman's breast cancer diagnosis on the second episode of this season's Parenthood may not have played out as it does in real life — being called into the office immediately after a mammogram, silence, all overplayed by Iron & Wine's haunting "Naked As We Come." But the strained smile and tears as Kristina waved across a parking lot to husband Adam, the look of distress that pulled him toward her to see what was wrong — that felt very real.

Television scripts and actors may not always get the real story of breast cancer right. Bringing the experiences to screen, however, has changed the way we think, speak and view the true-life patients and survivors of cancer. TV keep us very up to date and aware, reminding us all through fundraising or gentle nudges or walks for the cure to get a mammogram.


In a nod to the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we're taking a look at the television characters who were diagnosed, treated with chemo and surgery and radiation, lost and shaved their Hollywood-long hair, died and survived and sweat and laughed for us during prime time.

  1. Dana Fairbanks from The L Word was played by Erin Daniels and is one of few television characters who dies from the disease on-screen. Diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, Dana's final episodes were full of aching moments. After it aired, Daniels said that preparing for the passing of her character and her own time as a cast member was very emotional for her. "It felt like I was experiencing the slow death of a best friend and of course that was really painful because I'd become so attached to her. I knew her better than anybody else and I still do and always will," the actress commented.

    Online rumors point to creator Ilene Chaiken as admitting she regrets how Dana's fight ended. What was real about Dana's experience? Dana is fit, athletic and young, a counter to the images often written about breast cancer. While her death startled viewers, the tense and sad hospital scenes showed a side of illness otherwise glamorized in medical dramas.

  2. Celia Hodes of Weeds, played by Elizabeth Perkins, is main character marijuana dealer Nancy's manipulative, self-involved, alcohol abusing, too-close-for-comfort neighbor. Celia's breast cancer is discovered in season one and she moves on in subsequent seasons to become an informant against her friend and deal pot through her cosmetics line.

    What's real about Celia's experience? Breast cancer doesn't always happen to likable people. Hopefully, characters who resemble Celia a little too much have their own circle of supportive friends and family — no matter how many hijinks they pull.

  3. Murphy Brown of Murphy Brown, dry-witted and determined, has to be persuaded by friend Corky Sherwood to get a mammogram. The show's last season is centered on Murphy's treatment, which includes a medical marijuana controversy.

    What was real about Murphy's experience? The number of mammograms women is said to have soared 30 percent after the show aired. The character's snarky comments didn't dissipate and later, the American Cancer Society honored Candice Bergen for her contributions to breast cancer prevention and education.

For the rest of the article, head to YourTango: Breast Cancer on TV: 8 Characters Who Got It Right.

— Jessica Ashley

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