Deborah James: Colon Cancer Survivor Says Bowelbabe Fundraiser Changed Mindset and ‘Showed Us There Is Life’


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Dame Deborah James’ high-profile colon cancer awareness campaign has changed attitudes and shown others “there is life with the disease”.

Colon cancer survivor Dr. Anisha Patel said the podcast host’s visibility and determination to speak openly about her cancer diagnosis made a huge difference to other people like her who have been dealing with the disease

she said I: “She keeps us from feeling alone, we feel seen because of her.

“She showed us that there is life for those of us who live with cancer and she changed the terminology around her.

“Just because you have stage four cancer doesn’t mean you’re incurable, it means you live with cancer.

“She inspires us all to live life to the fullest and not to take anything for granted.”

Dame Deborah, known online as Bowelbabe, has raised more than £4million for cancer research and put colon cancer in the spotlight.

Dame Deborah James honored for her “tireless campaigning” (Photo: Deborah James)

The 40-year-old BBC podcast host You, me & the big C announced on Instagram this week that she had moved into end-of-life care at home.

But in her latest episode of the podcast, released on Tuesday, the former assistant principal urged others to “enjoy life because it’s so precious,” captioning it with the phrase “Check your poo.”

The activist’s open approach to talking about colon cancer and raising awareness, even while disguising herself as poop, was key to a shift in attitude, as far as Dr. Patel, not only for her personally, but also for her work as a general practitioner.

“One in two of us will get cancer,” she said. “Colon cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK after lung cancer.”

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Still, the doctor said patients often don’t recognize colon cancer symptoms or are reluctant to talk about them, using euphemisms like “There’s a problem downstairs.”

“They never want to talk about butts and poop, they’re embarrassed,” she said. “We want to be able to talk about these things so people don’t die of shame.

“And that’s what Deborah started with.”

dr Patel, a mother of two from Surrey, was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 colon cancer in September 2018 at the age of 39.

Dr.  Anisha Patel
Colon cancer survivor Dr. Anisha Patel said Dame Deborah James inspired her to “live life to the fullest” (Photo: Dr Anisha Patel)

Although generally fit and healthy, she said she suffered from symptoms associated with colon cancer, including bleeding from the buttocks, changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss and extreme fatigue.

But she had put them down to possible irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and being a working mother of two young children.

As her symptoms persisted and worsened, she consulted her GP and was referred to her local hospital.

A colonoscopy revealed she had colon cancer and she said: “My world collapsed”.

The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and she had to undergo two major bowel surgeries and chemotherapy to treat it.

Thankfully, in February 2019, she was told her cancer was in remission and she now has six monthly scans to check for recurrence.

Like Dame Deborah, Dr. Patel encourages others to get screened early and avoid having to go that route.

“If colorectal cancer is diagnosed early, you have a very good chance of survival,” she said.

More than 16,500 people die from bowel cancer in the UK each year, according to the charity Bowel Cancer UK, but almost everyone survives the disease if diagnosed at its earliest stages.

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dr Patel, now 42, said after surviving colon cancer her life changed and she’s living a “new normal” but she was inspired by the Bowelbabe attitude.

“I’m aware I’ve been given another chance,” she said, “I’m about to climb Snowdon right now because I can”.

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