“Inspirational and unfalteringly brave” Dame Deborah James was laid to rest last week (July 20) after spending her final years challenging the taboos around bowel cancer.
The 40-year-old host of You, Me and The Big C was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 and died in June this year.
But the campaigner and fundraiser leaves a lasting legacy – not just the nearly £7 million she raised for cancer research but also her work to raise awareness of the disease.
No-nonsense approach of Bowelbabe
Dame Deborah, who became known by her social media name Bowelbabe, undoubtedly helped to save lives by talking openly about her own experience of cancer.
She adopted a no-nonsense approach to publicising the symptoms of bowel cancer and in urging everyone to look out for the signs.
After her death the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge described her as an “inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on.”
“Check your poo”
In a final message – released by her family after her death – Dame Deborah said “find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life.”
The day after the campaigner’s death thousands of people checked bowel cancer symptoms on the NHS website – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer/ .
According to the NHS bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Most people diagnosed with it are over 60 – but, as in the case of Dame Deborah, it can affect younger people.
Three symptoms to look out for
The NHS says the three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
1 – Persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit.
2 – A persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny.
3 – 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.
It’s important to note that most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer – but if you do have any of the symptoms for three weeks or more you should see a doctor.
Early diagnosis is key
According to Bowel Cancer UK – https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/ – the disease is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. The charity says nearly everyone survives if diagnosed at the earliest stage. But this drops “significantly” as the cancer progresses.
The NHS says the exact cause of bowel cancer is not known – but we can all take measures to lower our risk.
Nine in ten people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over – and while we can’t change our age we can change our lifestyle.
Risk factors include:
A diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre.
Overweight or obesity.
Alcohol might increase your risk of getting bowel cancer.
Smoking might increase your risk.
Having a close relative (mother, father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer before the age of 50 puts you at increased risk, and you should discuss screening with your GP.
Having ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease in the colon for more than ten years puts you at increased risk.
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