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The Effects Of A Breast Cancer Story Line On Leslie Charleson

October 30, 1994|NANCY M. REICHARDT

"When I first started doing soaps--ages ago--we were restricted," says Leslie Charleson, who plays Monica Quartermaine on "General Hospital."

"You couldn't say words like abortion. You couldn't be political. You couldn't be topical. You couldn't cause any kind of controversy. I always felt that was a mistake. We're seen in people's living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms five days a week. We have a responsibility (to tackle) real issues."

Perhaps that's why Charleson, who has seen daytime "come a long way" since her debut in 1966, suggested her current "General Hospital" story: Monica's battle with breast cancer.

"I pitched the story when Claire Labine first came on the show," says Charleson. "I thought it would be interesting to have a doctor go through something like this. To see how a doctor handled it or rather didn't handle it in Monica's case."

"I thought we could get more information out about breast cancer, because--being a doctor--Monica would know more," she continues. "That's how it all started. Little did I know what I was getting into."

Charleson is referring to the toll the ongoing story has taken on her.

"It's very draining," she says, noting that by the end of a workday she feels as if she has "been run over by a truck. It starts as soon as I go into makeup. They put this pasty, white makeup on me. The hair is not done up. You're not all fluffed and folded. Then, I put on the rig that was made for not having one breast. It's like getting into a period costume. It changes your persona. Gradually, without doing much of anything, you get dragged down."

Yet she's more than willing to go through it all because it "raises people's awareness. That's what I hope to convey first and foremost.

"It has been amazing to me and a bit overwhelming to have people come up to me and say they are very moved by something I've done and that they have lost someone to breast cancer," she says. "I think that's when the impact started; the idea that I'm being scrutinized by anyone who has known someone who has gone through something like this. In that respect the whole story has taken on a bit more depth."

Charleson prepared for the story by reading material on the subject. She visited the Wellness Community with Labine and "General Hospital" executive producer Wendy Riche.

"It was founded by Harold Benjamin in 1984," says Charleson. "His wife contracted cancer; she is a survivor. As a result, he started a support center for survivors. We talked to five women about their experiences and gained quite a bit of insight."

Charleson is proud of this story, which heats up this month--National Breast Cancer Month. She believes it has been handled to perfection by the "General Hospital" writers.

"Monica is going through all the stages of cancer," she notes about how the story is unfolding. "You can't rush something like this. Otherwise it isn't real. It can't be that way."

Does Charleson anticipate her performance in this story line to be considered for a 1995 Daytime Emmy nomination?

"I would be lying through my socks, if I say, 'Gosh, I hope not,' " says Charleson. "I certainly hope so. I hope on the merit of Claire and Wendy we're right in there."

"General Hospital" airs weekdays at 2 p.m. on ABC.

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