When soap opera actors hear the news that their character is headed for dire circumstances like a serious illness, they can't help but assume their days on the show are numbered. And General Hospital's Finola Hughes (Anna Devane) was no different. When the fan favorite actress first heard that her longtime alter ego was going to be diagnosed with polycythemia vera (PV), a rare type of chronic blood cancer, she didn't know how to react.
“Last year, I was on set, or actually just walking off set, and Frank [Valentini, our executive producer] called me over and said, ‘So, this is what's going to happen. We want to do a story that raises awareness about these rare cancers, and we've been talking and we think Anna should get this rare blood cancer.' And I was just standing there going, ‘Okaaaaayyyy...'” she recalls with a laugh during an interview with Soap Opera Digest. “And he goes, ‘It's ok; it's treatable! It's a treatable illness and we're going to kind of walk along this journey with Anna and there will be a lot of opportunities for you to work with Robin, Kimberly McCullough, and we just think it's a good match.'”
Hughes says she walked away after her talk with Valentini without a lot of questions but “a few different conversations happened as time went on and he told me the name of the disease, and we sort of went from there,” she shares. “The whole story started to build and it became a big undertaking and I had the good fortune of meeting with a patient, a woman who has PV, and was able to ask a lot of questions and build what Anna would be going through from that. It's interesting to play a strong character who suddenly feels as if she is felled by something.”
The most interesting thing, from Hughes's perspective, is how her cancer diagnosis will affect Anna's life not just in the near future, but forever. After all, PV is treatable but not curable. And that means its symptoms -- which include headaches, weakness, dizziness, and blurred vision -- will likely be a part of her storyline from here on out and will ultimately affect Anna's kick-ass international spy/police officer persona.
"I think there's opportunity in those limitations," she muses. "[Valentini] did immediately follow up telling me with, 'It's okay, you're not going to die.' But I do see opportunities in her limitations because it's just as interesting to play someone who maybe can't reach the potential on a daily basis that they used to. There's melancholy in that, and I find that interesting. And also, there would be even more spirit of heroism in overcoming something that may be seen as a limitation. You know, I work with the Art of Elysium and when I go to the children's hospital and I see those children who are long-term patients and they're facing diseases, fighting daily, some with diseases that can be treated and others, maybe not, I see them as the true heroes, honestly. Because they just keep fighting. On a storytelling front, Anna's a fighter, and so is her daughter, Robin, who fights daily with an ongoing disease and prognosis (HIV). So, heroism is there even in the limitations. And it's a great honor to be part of telling this story."
What do you think about GH's choice to bring awareness to rare blood cancers with Anna's medical diagnosis? How would you like to see the soap handle the emotional storyline? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.