WHEN Fabulous columnist Deborah James was diagnosed with incurable cancer four years ago, it turned her world upside down. Here, she explains h
WHEN Fabulous columnist Deborah James was diagnosed with incurable cancer four years ago, it turned her world upside down.
Here, she explains how she found the joy in life.
Fabulous columnist Deborah James explains how she found the joy in life after being diagnosed with incurable cancer four years ago[/caption]
There are some good things about living with cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather not have this death sentence hanging over me. For four and a half years, I have lived every day in fear that it might be my last. I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer when I was 35 years old.
I’d been a veggie for years, I ran all the time, I was a healthy mum of two with a busy job as a deputy headteacher. So to say I was blind-sided is an understatement.
I lie awake at night panicking about leaving my kids, Hugo, now 13, and Eloise, 11, without their mum. I spend days sobbing in bed, unable to even get up. I live with this burden, but so do they.
While I am currently cancer “free”, I know that without aggressive and ongoing treatment I will die. I’m already pushing my luck – I shouldn’t have lived this long, and that keeps me going. In my life before cancer (BC), I rushed about and rarely saw my kids during the week.
I just assumed I’d have time to make more memories with them and my husband Seb, 41. Cancer is a pretty big wake-up call.
I was forced to reassess everything, and in doing so I have grown to love my life with cancer. It has shown me how to live for now – and for that I will always be grateful. To mark April’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, here are a few things I’ve learned about living life to the full.
The mum-of-two reveals that being diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer ‘has shown me how to live for now’[/caption]
MAKE SURE THE FUTURE IS NOW
Deborah says ‘this dramatic shift has led me to take risks, book wild last-minute holidays and never put off that catch-up with a friend’[/caption]
Pre-cancer, I was a pain in the arse. I lived in the future, always assuming I had more time, and my diary was permanently full. Nowadays, I plan three months ahead at most, because I live from scan to scan, never wanting to get too cocky.
However, at the same time, this dramatic shift has led me to take risks, book wild last-minute holidays and never put off that catch-up with a friend. Anything can happen on this crazy rollercoaster called life, so say yes to new things. Don’t put off your dreams, hoping you’ll have time to come back to them.
TAKE ONE STEP AT A TIME
Living with cancer will be ‘like climbing a mountain one day, only to fall off it the next’[/caption]
Living with cancer is like climbing a mountain one day, only to fall off it the next. It takes hard work and resilience. To cope, I have had to build a mental tool kit. Running is my cornerstone – however far I manage, it’s my way of proving to my body I’m still alive.
When I have to pick up scan results, I run to The Royal Marsden to cope with the overwhelming anxiety. After each op, I celebrate the milestones – reaching the end of my street or a lap of the park. It’s my way of sticking two fingers up at cancer and showing it who’s boss.
The symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
Most people with these symptoms won’t have bowel cancer, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, talk to your GP. Sometimes a tumour can block the bowel, causing strong tummy pains, bloating and feeling or being sick. If you think you have these symptoms, see your doctor straight away.
FACE YOUR FEARS
Deborah’s biggest fear is leaving her kids, but she now takes huge comfort in knowing ‘they will be OK if the worst happens’[/caption]
My biggest fear is leaving my kids. It petrifies me – the thought of not seeing them grow up, go to uni, get married and have their own kids, the thought they might need me and I won’t be there.
Seb and I made a pact to always be honest with them. We don’t know what the future holds, so we’ve never made promises we can’t keep. We talk about my cancer, we let them ask questions and we stick to the facts.
I know that every day I get with them is a blessing, and I feel safe knowing that they have a great dad and lots of wonderful family and friends who’ll be there to support them if I’m not.
That doesn’t stop the fear, but I know they will be OK if the worst happens, and I take huge comfort in that.
SUPPORT IS VITAL
My cancer doesn’t just affect me, it’s rocked my family and friends. If you have a pal who’s been diagnosed, remember who they were before cancer. Don’t ask: “How can I help?”, as then they have to think about the answer. Just do it.
Drop off a meal, take the dog for a walk, book a cinema night. Don’t treat them like a victim, understand they might just need you to listen. You don’t need to have the answers. Just be there.
KNOW YOUR NORMAL
‘If there’s one thing I’d tell my pre-cancer self it’s to check regularly for any signs’, reveals Deborah[/caption]
Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t really understand the importance of early diagnosis. Bowel cancer is the second-deadliest form of the disease, claiming 16,000 lives a year.
But it can be treated and even cured. Catch it at stage 1 and around nine in 10 people will be successfully treated. But catch it at stage 4, like me, and your chance of living five years or more is about 10%.
While it’s true that bowel cancer is much more common in the over-50s, I’m proof that you’re never too young. If there’s one thing I’d tell my pre-cancer self it’s to check regularly for any signs.
About six months before I was diagnosed, I noticed a change in my bowel habits, then blood in my poo. I’d lost weight, too, but just put that down to stress and working hard. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your GP – they have seen and heard much worse, believe me! I ended up showing mine photos of my poo. Enough said!
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CHOOSE TO LIVE
I get asked a lot: “How do you stay so positive?” The truth is I don’t always feel positive. Some days are good, others are horrendous.
But what the last few years have taught me is that, laugh or cry, my outcome stays the same.
Some days it’s easier, some days there are more tears. But I make a conscious decision each day to focus on the living, not the dying.