Home And Away ac­tor Kestie Mo­rassi re­veals how her char­ac­ter’s can­cer di­ag­no­sis has af­fected her fam­ily. Kerry Har­vey re­ports.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

Home And Away ac­tress tells how char­ac­ter’s can­cer di­ag­no­sis af­fected her fam­ily.

As Home And Away’s Mag­gie As­toni slowly re­cov­ers from can­cer, one spe­cial fan could not be hap­pier. “My nonna has been re­ally af­fected by see­ing me sick on­screen,” says Kestie Mo­rassi, who plays the ma­tri­arch of the first nu­clear fam­ily to live in Sum­mer Bay in nearly two decades. “She’s en­joy­ing the per­for­mance but finds it hard to sep­a­rate. Bless her.” The As­to­nis – Mag­gie, Ben (Ro­han Ni­chol) and daugh­ters Ziggy (So­phie Dill­man) and Coco (Anna Coc­querel) – moved to the bay last year when Mag­gie was ap­pointed prin­ci­pal at Sum­mer Bay High. At the time, Mo­rassi said she knew lots of things went wrong in the de­cep­tively peace­ful sea­side town, but says she couldn’t have pre­dicted her char­ac­ter’s bat­tle with lym­phoma. “I had no idea. I knew there would be drama – it’s a TV drama af­ter all. When the script first landed in my hand I was ini­tially ner­vous. You know there will be a long, emo­tional road ahead and you re­ally want to do it jus­tice,” she says. “I’ve had rel­a­tives pass away from can­cer and friends who have been di­ag­nosed and had treat­ment. There isn’t a per­son I know that hasn’t been af­fected in some way.” Con­scious there would be few, if any, view­ers who hadn’t felt the im­pact of can­cer in some way, Mo­rassi re­searched the ef­fect it has on suf­fer­ers and those around them. “I have dif­fer­ent ways I re­search – talk­ing to peo­ple, read­ing, watch­ing videos, draw­ing on my own life ex­pe­ri­ences and imag­in­ings,” she says.

“I have close fam­ily mem­bers who have re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced their own real-life can­cer story and they have let me know how proud they are of my work on screen.” – Kestie Mo­rassi

“The in­ter­net can be a won­der­ful tool for re­search but imag­i­na­tion and my in­stincts are my great­est tools.”

Mo­rassi was also grat­i­fied the show’s writ­ers al­lowed the sto­ry­line to play out over months rather than rush it.

“I’m ex­cep­tion­ally happy that the jour­ney was rep­re­sented with as much re­al­ism and re­spect as pos­si­ble, and for an ac­tor it’s re­ally im­por­tant to know your work is ring­ing true,” she says.

“With ev­ery step and stage of her bat­tle, from di­ag­no­sis to treat­ment, there were no short­cuts. Ev­ery­thing was laid bare.”

The sto­ry­line in­ves­ti­gated both the emo­tional and phys­i­cal as­pects of the disease.

Mag­gie en­dured sev­eral rounds of chemo­ther­apy and its ef­fects, in­clud­ing hair loss, be­fore toy­ing with the sug­ges­tion by her mother Diana (Sara Chad­wick) that she head over­seas to take part in an as-yet-un­proven treat­ment.

How­ever, a last-minute stem-cell trans­plant starts her on the long road to recovery.

If the re­sponse from view­ers is any­thing to go by, Mo­rassi nailed it.

“I have close fam­ily mem­bers who have re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced their own real-life can­cer story and they have let me know how proud they are of my work on screen with this char­ac­ter and that means ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing to me,” she says. “To know I’ve hon­oured their story, there’s noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing.”

Home And Away fans have also show­ered the ac­tress with pos­i­tive feed­back.

“I have had noth­ing but the kind­est, most sup­port­ive words from the show’s most ded­i­cated fans and view­ers,” Mo­rassi adds.

“The sto­ries peo­ple have told me about their own ex­pe­ri­ences have been very hum­bling. I’ve had peo­ple send me hand-writ­ten let­ters and mes­sages via my so­cial me­dia ex­press­ing grat­i­tude and love, and re­ally gen­uinely root­ing for my char­ac­ter to re­cover.

“It’s been over­whelm­ing and it’s such a won­der­ful part of the job, if not the best part, to know peo­ple con­nect to and are com­forted by the work you’ve done. It’s very spe­cial.”

Now in re­mis­sion, Mag­gie is back home with her fam­ily but Mo­rassi says she knows lit­tle about what the fu­ture holds for her char­ac­ter – or if the can­cer is gone for good.

“I’m un­sure about that. I haven’t been given any in­di­ca­tion that it will (re­turn), as we only re­ally know the sto­ry­lines about a month be­fore we shoot them,” she says.

“What I do know is that the re­al­ity of a re­lapse will al­ways be a con­cern. Her ex­pe­ri­ence of can­cer will have changed the way she sees the world and her­self for­ever.

“I think it’s changed her for the bet­ter in that it’s given her a new and more pro­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ev­ery­thing.”

Mag­gie (Kestie Mo­rassi) sees her re­flec­tion with­out hair for the first time. Be­low: Mag­gie has the love and sup­port of Ben (Ro­han Ni­chol).

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