Podcast host Deborah James has said there is no stone that “we haven’t tried to turn” as she spoke from her parents’ house where she is receiving end-of-life care for bowel cancer.
The much-loved presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C revealed on Monday in an Instagram post that, while they have “tried everything”, her body simply is not “playing ball”.
She has set up the Bowelbabe Fund, which has so far raised more than £2 million since it was announced at the beginning of the week.
“You always want to know as a mother, are my kids going to be okay? My kids are gonna be fine but it doesn't mean that I'm not gonna miss every chance that I could have had with them.”
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) May 11, 2022
The 40-year-old campaigner told BBC Breakfast: “You know, I always said to you I don’t want to leave a stone unturned.
“I don’t think there is a stone that we haven’t tried to turn in order to make my liver work again, in order to kind of get my body functioning, but unfortunately I’m exhausted, I’m absolutely exhausted.
“We’ve got to the point now where I just… I know I can’t really do anything more.”
The former deputy headteacher was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 and since then has kept her more than 500,000 Instagram followers up to date with her treatments, with candid posts about her progress and diagnosis, including videos of her dancing her way through treatment.
The podcast host said she “always knew” she wanted to set up the fund before she died, and, had she known what little time she had left, she would have set it up six months ago.
She hopes the fund will continue working on some of the things that helped her life, such as innovative drug studies.
We have followed Deborah James' bowel cancer journey since she was first diagnosed 5 years ago.
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) May 10, 2022
Speaking about her family, the mother-of-two said: “I have a really loving family who I adore and couldn’t… I honestly, like… they’re just incredible.
“All I knew I wanted was to come here and be able to relax, knowing that everything was OK. We’ve had some really, really hard conversations in the last week.
“You think ‘Gosh, how can anybody have those conversations?’ and then you just… you find yourself in the middle of them, and people are very nice but you’re almost… you’re talking about your own death, and I’ve had five years to prepare for my death.
“I don’t feel begrudged, I don’t feel angry that I haven’t tried anything, I don’t feel like we’ve run out of drugs, but I’m still not kind of quite there yet”.
She continued: “I know, because I trust my husband, he’s just the most wonderful man, and so is my family, and I know that my kids are going to be more than looked after and surrounded by love and you always want to know as a mother are your kids going to be OK?
“And my kids are going to be fine, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to miss every chance that I could have had with them.
“I’ve been having sleepovers with my brother and my sister, we’re all in our 40s. You know I’m never alone, which I think is great. It’s like being kids again, and I can’t think of a better way to go.”
In a post on her Instagram stories on Wednesday morning she thanked people for their donations and added: “We have brilliant, enthusiastic talent in this country – let’s support them to do the best job they can to give more people more time living.”
James wrote her last column for The Sun on Tuesday in which she said: “The last six months have arguably been the hardest of my whole cancer journey.”
She said the “unrelenting medicalisation” of her body has been “heartbreaking” and that her moments out of hospital and pain-free have become more and more rare.
Professor David Cunningham, who has been James’ consultant at The Royal Marsden hospital, told BBC Breakfast: “Deborah has been a beacon of inspiration, hope and courage to many patients with cancer.
“She’s supported, personally, probably thousands, and reached many, many more than that through social media.
“This is very much how Deborah thinks – she’s unselfish, she’s thinking about the future, she’s thinking about other people.
“And that’s, I think, the driver for this fantastic initiative to set up a research fund to support further cancer research.”
The fund name echoes her social media handle, Bowelbabe, and is raising funds for Cancer Research UK.
The Just Giving page said it is “raising money to fund clinical trials and research into personalised medicine for cancer patients and supporting campaigns to raise awareness of bowel cancer”.
Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer.
“Symptoms of bowel cancer can include bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo; a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit; unexplained weight loss; extreme tiredness for no obvious reason; a pain or lump in your tummy.
“Being aware of the symptoms and visiting your GP if you are concerned can help increase chances of an early diagnosis.”