Deborah James health: ‘I knew there was something wrong’ – star on first signs of cancer

Deborah James leaves hospital after bowel cancer surgery

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After being first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, James writes a regular column for The Sun, one of which back in February of this year, she said was the “hardest thing” she has ever written. Most recently, James has had to overcome a bout of sepsis, but trying to remain in her characteristically high spirits, the podcaster has updated her social media channels thanking NHS staff and her close friends who have gathered round to support her.

Having become a patron of Bowel Cancer UK back in February 2021, James shared her own cancer battle with the charity, explaining that her life changed one Thursday evening back in December 2016.

Writing for the charity website, James wrote: “Despite being reassured on numerous occasions that I must have IBS, haemorrhoids or worse case colitis, my blood tests and stool sample came back ‘normal’ so everything must be fine!

“And yet I was still losing weight, passing blood, going what felt like 100 times per day and feeling shattered. I knew there was something wrong with me, a sixth sense if you will, because for the first time I was afraid – very afraid about taking this further.

“Fed up with waiting for a referral, I’m lucky I was able to take myself off privately to have a colonoscopy. Being so scared however, I made sure I went skiing, had finished the school term and bumped three appointments just because something was telling me this might change everything.

“I was blind-sided at 7pm on Thursday, December 15 2016, when having refused the sedative and having researched what cancerous tumours would appear like in a colonoscopy (total hypochondriac geek alert!), I stared at my ugly 5.5cm cancerous, ulcerated stage three tumour in the face and everything went silent.

“On that idle Thursday however, I came back sobbing to the day ward (maybe it was the gas and air!) proclaiming that I know ‘he’ found something – I mean I saw it too. You know there is an issue when the consultant asks, ‘Is someone here with you?’. Calmly the fantastic consultant comes in and confirms my worst fear. That he had found a large tumour that I will need to have removed via an operation and whilst he can’t be 100 percent certain, it’s likely that it’s cancerous.”

From there James’ cancer journey only got tougher as she was told by a consultant that she had a “mucinous tumour” found only in 10 percent of bowel cancers. After mutating, the tumour became “the rarest and most hardest to treat” type of cancer, making it clear that chemotherapy was not going to work for James.

Most recently, in 2022, James shared a horrifying experience when her family, including her two young children, were told that she might not make it through the night.

Writing in her column for The Sun, James said: “A month ago my family were told I might not survive the night. An hour earlier, I held it together while drifting in and out of consciousness to say goodbye to my children, Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12.

“I had just suffered a medical emergency that most people don’t survive. It’s taken me a month to attempt to articulate what happened to me, and I’m writing this with tears streaming down my face.

“My stage four bowel cancer diagnosis hangs over my head like a dark cloud that I don’t want to catch up with me. I’m way past my sell by date, and I’ve always known it would get me one day.

“As a result, I’ve had to face my death head on and think about what my wishes are.”

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A post shared by Deborah James (@bowelbabe)

The writer went on to explain that her most recent traumatic medical event started at the beginning of the year just after Christmas.

After a trip to hospital James was given the heartbreaking news that due to a break in treatment, her cancer had grown and had blocked her bile duct, meaning she was suffering from liver failure.

Despite losing a lot of blood and drifting in and out of consciousness, James was saved by medical staff and the quick actions of her husband Seb. She wrote: “I nearly died. In fact, not nearly. I was dying and I was saved.”

Sharing recent updates to her Instagram account, James is currently recovering from sepsis – a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues. Despite all she has been through, James remains positive and fights to get her strength back.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Deborah James (@bowelbabe)

Bowel cancer, also called colorectal cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum. Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK with most people diagnosed with it over the age of 60.

The NHS states that the three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • Persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
  • A persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny
  • Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss.

If you or someone you know has been experiencing any of the above symptoms for three weeks or more, it is advised you seek a medical opinion, where GPs can examine your tummy, arrange a blood test and check for the cause of the symptoms.

To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening home test kit every two years.

Treatment for bowel cancer depends on the grade of the condition, but the main treatments used include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted therapies. As with most types of cancer, the chance of a complete cure depends on how far it has spread by the time it’s diagnosed. If the cancer is confined to the bowel, surgery is usually able to completely remove it.

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