BBC Radio 4 – Cancer Tales

Listen again to Cancer Tales via the BBC iPlayer (available until Monday 2nd February 2009)

Listen again to Cancer Tales via the BBC iPlayer (available until Monday 2nd February 2009)

On Monday 26th January 2009 BBC Radio 4 broadcast Cancer Tales as the Afternoon Play (aired at 2.15pm). This interesting and emotional radio adaptation was based on the play of the same name written by Nell Dunn (first published in the UK in 2002 by Amber Lane Press) which provides fictional accounts of experiences of cancer diagnosis and treatment. The accounts are very emotional and moving, and include the perspectives of the patients themselves, their family members and, occasionally, members of their clinical care teams. Dunn’s narratives are based upon the real-life experiences of cancer patients and offer a true-to-life snapshot of their experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Thus, Cancer Tales provides an opportunity to see many aspects of medical care and services from the patients perspective. This is particularly the case with the recent Radio 4 adaptation, which, within it 45minute running time, focusses on three of the narratives contained in the original script. These are all female experiences and explicitly dealt with experiences of clinical services (as opposed to wider social and psychological themes connected to cancer diagnosis).


Cancer Tales (first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 26th 2009, at 2.15pm) based based on the play by Nell Dunn (2002, ISBN: 1872868355)

The play interweaves the stories of three different women, in different circumstances, who are all struggling to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis and the treatments that follow. Each story involves a different types of cancer, and hence different care pathways, prognoses and outcomes. In the descriptions of the cases that follow details from the radio broadcast are supplemented with additional background available in the Cancer Tales: Communicating in cancer care workbook (published in the UK in 2007 by Haymarket medical Publications, and is freely available at


As detailed in the Cancer Tales workbook, Clare is a professional woman who – in Scene 1 – is diagnosed with cancer of the uterus. Much of Clare’s case concerns issues around what makes a ‘good doctor’ in cancer care. In scene 1 for example (00:01:29 – 00:05:17; pg. 10 in the workbook), deals explicitly with issues around communicating diagnoses and the importance of continuity of care to patients. In scene 38 (00:35:40 – 00:36:10; pg. 158), Clare formulates this explicitly stating, “what makes you into a good doctor is being humble, being able to learn from people”. Her case also explores issues around informed consent and participation in clinical trials. Clare’s story can be followed through the following clips:

  • 00:01:29 – 00:05:17 (scene 1, pg. 10)
  • 00:06:12 – 00:08:10 (scene 1, pg. 11)
  • 00:10:58 – 00:11:49 (scene 5, pg. 34)
  • 00:14:32 – 00:15:43 (scene 8, pg 45)
  • 00:19:49 – 00:20.41 (scene 12, pg. 68)
  • 00:21:51 – 00:24:19 (scene 15, pg.79)
  • 00:29:28 – 00:30:28 (scene 20, pg. 98)
  • 00:34:35 – 00:34:56 (scene 27, pg. 120)
  • 00:35:40 – 00:36:10 (scene 38, pg.158)

Mary & Rebecca

In this case we hear the story of Rebecca’s fight with leukaemia from the point of view of both her and her mother. Given this, it spotlights not only how family relationships are affected by a cancer diagnosis, but also how the medical process that cancer patients go through is experience by family members. In particular, Mary and Rebecca’s story foregrounds the importance of qualified, attentive and experienced nursing staff (as in scene 9, 00:15:43 – 00:17:15; pg. 51), as well as discussing how the decision to stop treatment and allow a patient to die (see scene 37, 00:36:10 – 00:38:51; pg. 153). Mary and Rebecca’s story can be followed through the following clips:

  • 00:05:17 – 00:06:12 (scene 2, pg. 20)
  • 00:11:49 – 00:14:32 (scene 7, pg. 42)
  • 00:15:43 – 00:17:15 (scene 9, pg. 51)
  • 00:20:41 – 00:21:51 (scene 14, pg 76)
  • 00:24:19 – 00:25.55 (scene 17, pg. 86)
  • 00:30:29 – 00:32:32 (scene 26, pg.117)
  • 00:33:27 – 00:34:35 (scene 22, pg. 104)
  • 00:34:56 – 00:35:35 (scene 33, pg. 141)
  • 00:36:10 – 00:38:51 (scene 37, pg.153)
  • 00:39:55 – 00:43:46 (scenes 39 and 41, pg. 162)

Penny & Marilyn

The final story featured in the Radio 4 broadcast ofCancer Tales, concerns the same-sex couple, Penny and Marilyn. Marilyn has a rare carcinoma which began in her womb and spread rapidly to her bladder, kidneys and stomach. From the start it is clear that Marilyn’s prognosis is poor, and while she appears to accept this, her partner Penny is struggling to come to terms with it. Thus, much of this narrative focuses on the way patients themselves may need to provide emotional support to their families. Other issues explored in this narrative are designating next of kin, making arrangements towards the end of life (scene 11, 00:17:15 – 00:19:41; pg. 59), and experiences of hospice care in the final days of cancer (scene 18, 00:26:03 – 00:29:28; pg. 90). Penny and Marilyn’s story story can be followed through the following clips:

  • 00:08:10 – 00:10:52 (scene 4, pg. 31)
  • 00:17:15 – 00:19:41 (scene 11, pg. 51)
  • 00:26:03 – 00:29:28 (scene 18, pg. 90)
  • 00:32:32 – 00:33:27 (scene 30, pg 131)
Visit the website

Visit the website

Overall, Cancer Tales is a moving and, it seems, realistic portrait of what cancer diagnosis and treatment is actually like for patients and their families. Although the narratives are intermingled within both the original script and it radio adaptation, each would form an excellent basis for a discussion of various ethical and social issues around cancer care – particularly as they are so well supported by the excellent (though advanced) Cancer Tales workbook (pdf, 1.61MB).

Cancer Tales was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 26th 2009, at 2.15pm. It is freely available on BBC iPlayer (to stream or download) until February 2nd 2009. Members of the BUFVC can obtain copies via TRILT (TRILT identifier: 00D158B3)

One Response to BBC Radio 4 – Cancer Tales

  1. ortal ohayon says:


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