“Young and the Restless” and Breast Cancer — A New Relevant Soap Storyline

Welcome Back, Cher Marlena Readers!

At long last I’m thrilled to be with you again, dear readers. Since we last convened here five years ago, Life has taken my dear husband Moose and I on a convoluted journey, not always pleasant, but ultimately productive. I’ve never stopped loving soaps, or yearning to share that love with you. Now, I’m happy to say, I’m ready to come home and resume the weekly soap seminar with you that meant so much to me.

Like you, we’re sequestered at home, face masks and gloves at the ready for those necessary trips to the grocery and the pharmacy. As always soaps are a comfort, especially in this difficult time. And I intend to review all of what I see. In addition, since three soaps are going to run out of episodes soon and present repeats, I intend to reproduce some of my classic columns. I loved writing them and am so happy to offer them to you again.

Marlena loves all her readers—and most of all hearing from all of you. Keep in touch with me constantly and I will respond to all your questions and comments.

So on with “moi”. I can’t wait wait to hear from all of you. Again.

“Young and the Restless” and Breast Cancer — A New Relevant Soap Storyline

From the time daytime soap operas were invented in the 1930’s, they were treated as artless and inferior entertainment. That stereotype didn’t begin to change until the 1960s and 70s, when pioneers like the great Agnes Nixon declared that soaps could and should get serious about dealing with real social and cultural issues.

In 1974, right after the Roe v. Wade decision, Ms. Nixon plunged her “All My Children” into the controversy and brought to television drama its first abortion, performed on the fabled Erica Kane, as played, then and always, by Susan Lucci.

Jump ahead to the 80s, when the death toll of the AIDS epidemic was mounting. Several soap characters succumbed to the disease. And on “One Life to Live” in 1988, the AIDS quilt memorializing the victims made a stop in Morristown, N.J. en route to its permanent home in the Smithsonian.

Cancer, of course, has sadly been with us all along, and characters like Kate (lung) and Adrienne (breast)  0n “Days of Our Lives” came down with it in recent years, though their stories weren’t told in depth. Such is not the case today on “Y&R.”

As timely as it is tearful, “Y&R”’s new dramatization of heroine Sharon Newman’s forthcoming breast cancer ordeal is a welcome throwback to the days when soaps got serious ab out reflecting the real lives and times of their loyal viewers.

Sharon Case

Sharon is played, of course, is played as ever with touching vulnerability by Sharon Case, a soap opera veteran whose work compares favorably to any seen in prime time. Her Sharon is an eminently relatable young mother who has suffered her share of pain and loss, memories that never seem far from the surface.

Now she has a nice boyfriend named Rey (Jordi Vilasuso), who stayed with her while she was reeling from the impact of the diagnosis, and sweetly tucked her into bed. The nightmares came right away, visits from the dead so realistic she couldn’t tell what was real and what was not.

The writing of this sequence, like the execution of the entire episode, was superb, one of the most chilling sequences ever aired on daytime.

Her dead daughter Cassie (Camryn Grimes) was the first to appear, offering a hand that would lead her mother to Heaven. Just let go. But Sharon refused and wanted to fight. Then, to make matters worse, Sharon’s ex-husband Nick (Joshua Morrow) and daughter Mariah, twin of Cassie, escorted her to a spooky nightclub where she was put on trial for life. Foremost among those testifying against her was her lifelong nemesis Phyllis (Michelle Stafford). Horrifying as all this was, the worse was yet to come. She watched doctors worked on her in a hospital, administering chemotherapy in vain. She watched herself die.

But since all soaps are about hope-which is the reason so many millions of viewers have stayed faithful to their shows for decades (“Y&R debuted in 1973)—the Sharon episode ended in a flurry of love and tears that probably brought tears to viewers’ eyes. When Sharon finally woke up, Rey was there in addition to Sharon’s daughters Mariah and Faith (Alyvia Aly Lind) were there to have breakfast with her. The meal was a feast of love. In the last scene of the episode Sharon, Mariah and Faith were seen cuddling together is Sharon’s bed.

Yes, Sharon had her first day of chemotherapy ahead of her. Viewers know everything would be alright in the end. Soaps are about love and hope—which is why they have continued to be one of the most popular and enduring television mediums on earth.


  1. Welcome back! And I can’t wait to revisit some of your classic columns.

  2. Marlena,
    New fan! Just discovered your work last year and love your brilliant insight on the genre and providing a perspective for an audience that likes to think while watching these shows. While, numerous factors are at play, it’s refreshing to see Y&R tackling a social issue when it used to be in the heydays of Bill Bell, Kay Alden, Jack Smith, and as recent with Sally Sussman, a show that tackled social conscious issues which is what this genre used to be predicated on. I haven’t been a big CBS soap watcher in over 10 years so it’s refreshing to see they slowed things down and examined this story with the brilliant Sharon Case.

    Great to see your pieces again! Can’t wait to see what you have in store next.

  3. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for returning to us!!! You have been missed. I enjoy your columns and your love and appreciation for the genre of soap opera!

  4. Pamela Avery says:

    Good work Sharon welcome back Marlena

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