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BBC podcaster Deborah James, who has incurable bowel cancer, shares ‘baby step’ towards recovery

BBC podcast host Deborah James, who has incurable bowel cancer, has revealed her liver functioning is ‘improving’ in a ‘baby step’ toward recovery after she nearly died of an acute medical emergency earlier this month.

The former deputy head teacher turned cancer campaigner, 40, from London, has been living with stage four bowel cancer since she was diagnosed in December 2016, and was told early on that she might not live beyond five years – a milestone that passed in the autumn. 

At the start of the year, the mother-of-two announced she had ‘nearly died’ in hospital, calling it the ‘hardest’ part of her 5-year cancer battle.

However yesterday, she shared some positive news with her followers on her Instagram story as she wrote: ‘The face of someone who just got told her liver functioning is improving! I mean it’s still totally out but heading in the right direction!

BBC podcast host Deborah James, who has incurable bowel cancer, has revealed her liver functioning is ‘improving’ in a ‘baby step’ toward recovery after she nearly died of an acute medical emergency earlier this month

‘I’m still weak as anything, trying to gain weight and exhausted – but baby steps are baby steps! Whoop!’ 

It’s good news for Deborah, who has been emotionally documenting her latest health battle with fans in recent weeks.

Days ago, she said the ‘trauma’ of nearly dying was still ‘very raw and real’ as she returned home after three weeks in hospital. 

She told how she had been discharged as an in-patient, and said it had been ‘the scariest period’ her life, adding: ‘Two and a half weeks ago it was touch and go if I made it through the night.

Last week, Deborah said there had been 'a lot of tears' for days while she was in hospital (pictured)

Last week, Deborah said there had been ‘a lot of tears’ for days while she was in hospital (pictured)  

‘Today after 18 days across two hospitals I walked down the steps of the @royalmarsden discharged from life as an in-patient. 

‘I’m not out of the woods yet, and I’ll be back in soon, but I’ve reach a point that seemed insurmountable weeks ago. I cried on my last IV treatment today.

‘The trauma of it all is very raw and real. I’m realising I’ve been through a lot. 

‘A lot of everything – seeing my life slip away, being brought back to life, hairy moments, operations, general anaesthesia, antibiotics, pain relief, nervously awaiting blood tests, failured canulars, curve balls, tears.

‘It’s been the scariest time of my life – of my whole families lives.’

Last week Deborah said the 'trauma' of nearly dying in an acute medical emergency is still 'very raw and real' as she returned home after three weeks in hospital

Last week Deborah said the ‘trauma’ of nearly dying in an acute medical emergency is still ‘very raw and real’ as she returned home after three weeks in hospital

She continued: ‘I don’t even know where to begin to thank every single medical person who saved me, who got me through the days, the nights, who did all they can to give me more time. Thank you doesn’t even touch the sides.

‘I’m unsure right now of my next steps, but I have options. And I have to recover first. Get some normality, see the outside world! Eat! 

‘But right now, I’m back home, a place I left not thinking I’d see it again. For that, I feel beyond greatful.’

She went on to share a series of images and clips as she was discharged from hospital, including as she was wheeled along a hospital corridor and having an IV canular removed.

The mother-of-two also posted a snapshot of her dog as she relaxed on her sofa at home, saying: ‘I have to say I’m shattered. Think I have weeks of sleep to catch up on.

The mother-of-two posted a snapshot of her dog as she relaxed on her sofa at home, and confessed she felt 'shattered'

The mother-of-two posted a snapshot of her dog as she relaxed on her sofa at home, and confessed she felt ‘shattered’

Deborah shared a selection of clips as she was discharged from hospital, but said she is 'not out of the woods yet'

Deborah shared a selection of clips as she was discharged from hospital, but said she is 'not out of the woods yet'

Deborah shared a selection of clips as she was discharged from hospital, but said she is ‘not out of the woods yet’

‘And I’m still taking lots of meds. Already had three naps today. And that’s after waking up at 10am!’  

While in hospital, Deborah filmed herself walking down a hallway. She said she is ‘making progress’ and tasking her recovery step by step after enduring the ‘hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest’ period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and ‘a lot more procedures’ to come.

Sharing the video on Instagram, Deborah wrote: ‘Today I walked – it’s the first time in nine days I’ve been able to try. 

‘It’s never been so hard to muster the strength and conviction to do so. I’ve had four operations this week (with more to come), am beyond shattered with a very weak body,’ she revealed.

In the video, Deborah can be seen walking tentatively in a hospital hallway.

‘But somehow my body is still ploughing on. Sometimes all we can do is take things step by step. The nurses and doctors are being incredible – I’ve cried on pretty much everyone that pops their head around the door,’ she went on in her post.

Deborah, who has incurable bowel cancer, revealed how she 'nearly died' last month in an 'acute medical emergency'. She shared this photo from hospital

Deborah, who has incurable bowel cancer, revealed how she ‘nearly died’ last month in an ‘acute medical emergency’. She shared this photo from hospital

‘I’m making progress, it’s slow, but steady. I’m still being monitored very closely. No idea what the next plan is- it’s just taking things bit by bit. 

‘It’s hard when you just want a plan, but the plan is really to try to get me better, whatever pathway that takes. My drains are to do with my bile duct – which they finally stented (well we are in the middle of that process), and acities, which I’ve had 10 litres drained already hence why I’m don’t look pregnant anymore,’ she explained.  

Posting on Instagram earlier this month, the mother-of-two spoke of enduring the ‘hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest’ period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and ‘a lot more procedures’ to come. 

She told how her husband watched as doctors fought to save her life after she ‘crashed’ in resuscitation. 

The mother-of-two was told early on that she might not live beyond five years - a milestone that passed in the autumn (pictured)

The mother-of-two was told early on that she might not live beyond five years – a milestone that passed in the autumn (pictured) 

‘A week ago at this time in the evening I nearly died in what was an acute medical emergency,’ she wrote. ‘I’m not ready to discuss what happened yet as the trauma of it all has been incredibly intense – but it’s thanks to an unbelievable team of NHS specialists who worked all through the night and the next day to save me.  

‘I cannot be more grateful. I’m still not out of danger and I have a lot more procedures to deal with. But I’m now out of intensive care. And for the first time felt able to briefly update you.’

Sharing a photo of her giving a thumbs up from a hospital bed, she continued: ‘This is me yesterday having just come round from my 3rd operation this week. I have another operation tomorrow.

‘In 5 years of having stage 4 Cancer – this has been the hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest of them all. I’d always prepared for my death, but I wasn’t prepared for something so blindsiding and traumatic to happen. 

‘I can’t quite believe I’m here to write this. A week ago my whole family was praying I’d pull through the night. I’m getting a lot of help and support to come to terms with the trauma I’ve been through. 

‘My family have been incredible. I don’t know how my husband held it together seeing me crash as an army of doctors stabilised me in resus.’

In new series of cancer podcast, You, Me and the Big C, Deborah revealed she had to learn how to walk again after being bed-bound with colitis in December

In new series of cancer podcast, You, Me and the Big C, Deborah revealed she had to learn how to walk again after being bed-bound with colitis in December

Posting on Instagram overnight, the mother-of-two spoke of enduring the 'hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest' period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and 'a lot more procedures' to come

Posting on Instagram overnight, the mother-of-two spoke of enduring the ‘hardest, most heartbreaking and scariest’ period of her cancer battle in the last week, which has involved three operations and ‘a lot more procedures’ to come

After thanking followers for their support, she added: ‘Do me a favour and go tell your loved ones how much you love them. To realise in a sudden split moment that you are unlikely to see the next day is utterly heartbreaking. Have no regrets.’

It comes days after Deborah returned to her popular podcast You, me and the Big C and revealed how she’d been ‘absolutely floored’ by ‘big gun chemo’ during the summer and then a serious infection at the year’s end –  which saw her carried into a London hospital at 1am by her husband for treatment.

She told co-hosts Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland on the newest episode of the BBC podcast that she’d had to learn to walk again after being forced to remain in bed for almost a month.  

She said: ‘After colitis, I had to relearn to walk again because I had so much fluid.

‘I’d been bed-bound for three weeks and just learning how to walk to the end of the drive or whatever, is just impossible essentially.’  

Discussing how difficult the last six months have been, James said while she was really happy that the ‘big gun chemo’ she endured has slowed her cancer’s growth, which had been ‘on the march’, it had been an exhausting time. 

James marked five years since her 2016 diagnosis - a milestone she thought she wouldn't make - in December but was in hospital with infectious colitis

James marked five years since her 2016 diagnosis – a milestone she thought she wouldn’t make – in December but was in hospital with infectious colitis 

She explained: ‘I have to be honest with you, going from targeted therapy back onto chemo, it was hardcore, big gun chemo, and it absolutely utterly floored me.

BOWEL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE 

Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

‘I would say my quality of life was just hideous.’

Updating listeners on the current state of her health, she said: ‘Some days I feel fine, my quality of life is OK right now, but I’m not the person people have known for the past four years where I’m running around exercising everyday.’ 

‘It’s just stable in a really b****y awkward place.’

The campaigner revealed that because of her reduced liver function and the colitis, she’s not likely to qualify for a clinical trial. 

She admitted she’d been ‘procrastinating’ over potential treatment options during the Christmas break.   

In the summer, James was told she had an aggressive new tumour that had wrapped itself around her bile duct – requiring a life-saving stay in hospital – and a stent fitted to stop her liver from failing. 

The stent fitted to stop her liver failing ‘stopped working’ in December. 

She explained to her followers at the time how hopes at having a ‘quick replacement operation’ had turned into a ‘nightmare’. 

She said: ‘I’m now at the mercy of hopefully some super ‘magic medicine miracle’ – but then I always have been, and any chance is a chance right? 

‘All I ever say Is all I want is hope and options.’ 

In April, James shared that her cancer, which has been kept at bay by pioneering treatment, was back again and she was forced to endure a 12th operation.

The West London mother-of-two, a deputy head, was diagnosed ‘late’ with incurable bowel cancer in 2016.

She has frequently said that as a vegetarian runner, she was the last person doctors expected to get the disease.

After sharing her experiences on living with the disease on social media, Deborah became known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ and began writing a column for the Sun.

In 2018, Deborah joined Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live. 

Bland tragically died of breast cancer on September 5th that year; her husband Steve Bland now co-presents the show. 



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