Amanda Mealing: 'Connie’s a war horse... but it's been tough to film her cancer storyline'
Amanda Mealing reveals Connie Beauchamp’s traumatic cancer story in Casualty has been harrowing at times, having survived cancer herself...
There are powerful scenes in this Saturday’s Casualty as Holby ED lynchpin Connie Beauchamp takes a pair of scissors to her hair and starts cutting. In Casualty, Connie is secretly having chemotherapy but it's beginning to hit home that she can’t keep up her pretence of normality for much longer.
If you’re an avid Casualty fan, chances are you know already that Amanda Mealing, who plays clinical lead Connie, is a cancer survivor in real life. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 shortly after the birth of her second son, Amanda went on to have a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. So, understandably, Connie’s crisis isn’t just another storyline for the actor...
These days Amanda – unlike her Casualty counterpart– is bravely open about her ordeal, in the hope it helps others. She’s also the ambassador for Breast Cancer Care.
Here Amanda talks about Connie’s cancer and how filming has affected her…
Are you finding the current Casualty scenes difficult to film?
"It’s been a challenge. More than I thought it would be. To play a person struggling with cancer is to tell myself all day, every day that I am sick. In certain scenes I heard those words said to me for real. It invited old anxieties back and my post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] reared its head again."
How have you dealt with that?
"I’m happy to say I sought help at the time the PTSD was most debilitating, and was able to do so again this time. Anyone who’s survived or is fighting cancer or trauma will have been as affected as I was. When one is faced with one’s own mortality it’s not something you can ignore."
Connie hasn’t reacted to her diagnosis as most people would. Why do you think she continues to work?
"Connie’s a war horse. She doesn’t let anything stop her. But the cancer treatment is taking its toll and getting harder and harder to disguise. I think Connie returns to work because she’s sacrificed everything for her career, including her daughter Grace and any chance of a romantic partner. Ultimately work is who Connie is. Without it she doesn’t exist."
Can you tell us about the build up to the key hair-cutting scene?
"The toughest thing for Connie is the physical effect of sickness and debilitating tiredness. But the most dramatic aspect is the loss of her hair. Connie prides herself on being immaculate at all times so this makes her feel vulnerable."
Was it difficult to film?
"I found the haircut scene really tough to do. It was done by placing a false piece in my hair and cutting that. I was terrified I would could cut the wrong section!"
How important is it for you to tell Connie’s cancer story on Casualty?
"Connie’s story is very close to my heart. Because Casualty is a primetime drama, and has been for thirty years, it is our duty to highlight issues that may, and do, affect the whole nation."
Having been through so much, what advice do you have for readers who may be concerned about their health?
"If anyone is worried about illness or PTSD please seek help without delay. There are so many wonderful support networks, medical and psychological, that are available. Fifteen years on I still use Breast Cancer Care’s services. It doesn’t stop once the medical side is over."
Casualty is on BBC1 at 9.10pm this Saturday
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With twenty years of experience as an entertainment journalist, Elaine writes for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and www.whattowatch.com covering a variety of programs from gardening and wildlife to documentaries and drama.
As well as active involvement in the WTW family’s social media accounts, she has been known to get chatty on the red carpet and wander into the odd podcast.
After a day of previewing TV, writing about TV and interviewing TV stars, Elaine likes nothing than to relax… by watching TV.