Hollyoaks star Carley Stenson talks about how her cervical cancer storyline has taught her to never miss a smear test
How much did you know about cervical cancer before you were given the storyline?
“It’s not necessarily something you want to have to read up on. But I knew a bit as I’m an ambassador for the NHS’s Arm Against Cervical Cancer in Wigan. I got involved in 2008 when they were promoting the HPV Vaccination in schools for girls aged 12 and 13.”
Do you think there’s been enough done to raise awareness of the disease?
“I think Jade Goody [the Big Brother star who died last year aged 27] did so much good in bringing it to the public’s attention. The numbers definitely increased for girls who had smear tests and who went in for the jab. A lot of the cases show how early diagnosis save lives.”
And presumably, it’s also made you more aware of the importance of having regular smear tests?
“Oh gosh yeah, I went and checked-in straight away. My best friend is a nurse, which helped! You just have to go and do it and you’ll wonder why you put it off for so long. It’s vital. It’s embarrassment or your life.”
What kind of research did you do?
“At Hollyoaks we have two researchers – one who specialises in cancer research. I wanted to know the timeline of Steph’s story, what she would have been told word for word and what leaflets she’d have been given because Steph has never been touched by cancer and neither have I, thank God. I wanted to find out in the way she would have.”
Did you speak to anyone who has suffered from the disease?
“Everybody knows of someone and unfortunately my best friend has been touched by cancer in her life. But I chose to not approach anyone directly for two reasons: I didn’t want to put anyone through being questioned and I thought, Steph isn’t chatting to anyone about it, so I would play it quite raw.”
Some of the scenes must have been difficult to get through…
“There’s a scene where Steph has a hysterectomy and when the camera stopped rolling I couldn’t stop crying!”
How do you unwind after a tough days’ filming?
“I have a lovely half hour drive home and put music on! I live in a little village in St Helens so as soon as I turn the corner and see all the trees and the greenery I start to unwind.”
What’s the future for Steph?
“You can have a storyline like this that’s sad but as part of it we wanted to show that in real life people still get on with their daily business. We’ve tried to make it so you’re not reminded of the cancer every time you see her. Yes she’s diagnosed, but she still laughs, she still enjoys chocolate, those things are still the same.”