What do you do when the unthinkable happens and you are diagnosed with cancer? April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month and here mum-of two, Deborah James, 35, shares her experience of living with stage-4 bowel cancer
Did you know that every 30 minutes someone dies from bowel cancer in the UK?
Yet, if it’s caught early, it is preventable, treatable and curable.
So why isn’t it being detected earlier?
According to Bowel Cancer UK, nine out of 10 people diagnosed under 50 didn’t know their symptoms were related to bowel cancer.
Key risk factors typically include being over 50, having a low fibre diet, eating processed meat, being overweight, smoking and drinking.
But you can never be too young to have bowel cancer.
Deborah James knows this only too well. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer, aged 35, and her life with her husband Seb and two children, Hugo, 11, and Eloise, nine, was thrown upside down.
She is sharing her story to highlight the fact that if a young, marathon-running, vegetarian woman like her can get it, anyone can.
Deborah says: ‘We need to debunk the myth that bowel cancer only affects older, overweight men.
‘Despite having symptoms for over a year, I was deemed extremely low risk because I didn’t meet any of the usual criteria. By the time I was diagnosed, I already had stage-3 cancer.’
As anyone living with cancer knows, getting a diagnosis takes its toll on every part of life — physically, mentally and emotionally.
Deborah says: ‘When you are first told you have cancer, you go into a dark place. I started to plan my funeral, and write the letters I wanted to leave my beautiful children.
‘You wake up in the night in a blind panic, hoping it was just a bad dream. You wonder if by ignoring it, you can make it go away. You long to not have to deal with the monster that awaits. And you cry — a lot.
‘Most people tell you not to look at cancer statistics, because they can be scary. All the things that you took for granted — growing old, sending your kids to secondary school, seeing in another new year — become a question of which dot on a graph your luck may place you.’
Yet Deborah believes having cancer should not define you.
She says: ‘It is these blindsiding moments that challenge us to show how strong we can be. Not only to have faith to get through it, but pull yourself out when you feel there is no hope. To function when you want to cry, to smile when inside you are scared.
‘For now, I am focusing on creating wonderful memories, so that whatever happens, my children can always look back to our happy times together for reassurance of the enduring love I have for them. Not just by telling them they are loved but ensuring they know it — forever.
‘If I can’t see them grow up, I want them to remember me as being a fun mum who taught them to get the most out of life by grabbing it with two hands, and believing that anything is possible.
‘People tell me I’m brave, positive and resilient. But I’m not — I have no other choice.
‘I could curl up in a ball, run away and essentially let the cancer take over. Instead you grit your teeth and take one more step on the journey.
‘I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I am just trying to stay alive.
We navigate through cancer in whatever way we can. We smile, dance, laugh and cry as we always did, because really all we want is more time.’
Deborah’s book F*** You Cancer is available on Amazon, priced £9.99. Find her on Instagram by searching for @bowelbabe
For support and information, visit bowelcanceruk.org.uk
BOWEL CANCER — THE SYMPTOMS
Bleeding from the bottom and/or blood in your poo.
Bowel habit changes for three weeks or more.
Unexplained weight loss.
Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.
A pain or lump in your tummy.