Sharing Her Bowel Cancer Journey
- BBC podcast host Deborah James, also known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ recently wrote an article for The Sun detailing how she feels about the negative comments she’s received while sharing details of and pictures during her colorectal cancer journey.
- Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, but generally we use the term colorectal cancer in the United States. Possible symptoms to look out for can include a change in bowel habits, a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, cramping or belly pain, weakness and fatigue and unintended weight loss.
- Staying positive during cancer treatment can help you achieve better health outcomes. So, whether that means dancing during treatment, dressing up in fun clothes, taking up a new hobby or making time for friends, it’s important to prioritize your mental health.
James, 40, from London, has been living with incurable bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, for five years. She was diagnosed in 2015 and has since dubbed herself the “Bowel Babe” on Instagram where she’s shared the details of her journey. She’s also documented her journey on the BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C and, most recently, with articles for The Sun.Read More
In her most recent piece, she talked about receiving countless unfortunate comments throughout her time battling the disease.
“Since sharing my life with cancer on Instagram (@bowelbabe) and in my Sun column ‘Things Cancer Made Me Say,’ I have had to put up with cruel taunts, snide remarks and painful judgment on an almost daily basis,” she wrote. “I share the highs and lows of my life with cancer. I’ve dressed as a poo emoji to raise awareness of a disease people refuse to talk about because it’s embarrassing. And I’ve posted photos of hideous skin rashes after treatment.”
She goes on to say that she’s been accused of “sexualizing cancer” with ruthless remarks about her facial expressions, her body and her clothes.
“I’ve been asked if I should really be wearing that, in reference to some short skirt or dress, or a plunging neckline,” she wrote. “Nasty trolls have even dragged my children into it, questioning what my son must think of me — deciding he must be embarrassed, despite not knowing him or me.
“I get comments like: ‘She obviously loves herself.’ As if that should be a bad thing. More recently, after nearly dying when my cancer caused a major internal bleed, I have been told I look frail and skinny.”
She then went on to share her empowering message of body positivity and harped on her belief that no one should be judged by other peoples’ standards.
“For me, looking good helps me feel better. Putting on a bright, tight dress and taking the time to do my hair and make-up just to go and sit in a chair at the Royal Marsden Hospital for yet another chemo session helps me face it,” she explained. “Dancing while hooked up to my pump, toxic drugs dripping into me to kill the cancer inside, is the coping mechanism I need.
“I appreciate it doesn’t work for everyone. Lots of friends with cancer have their own coping mechanisms. But I have to be myself and do what’s right for me. And like it or not, this is me.”
Understanding Bowel Cancer
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, but generally we use the term colorectal cancer – or colon cancer or rectal cancer depending on the location – in the United States.
Bowel cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Dr. Yeo also reminds people of the importance of colorectal screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but these are possible symptoms to look out for:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Staying Positive during a Cancer Journey
Cancer can be both a mental and physical battle. James has said that doing what she can to feel confident in her own skin and happy has helped her face her ongoing battle with bowel cancer.
“I wouldn’t wish incurable cancer on anyone — and that includes the nastiest of trolls. So all I ask is you let me face it how I see fit, in a way that gives me the strength to survive,” she wrote. “And if that means wearing short shirts, flaunting my 40-year-old body and dancing while I have more chemo, I am afraid you just have to deal with it.”
And just because you’re undergoing cancer treatment does not mean you should stop doing the things that bring you joy. In fact, experts recommend quite the opposite. Studies have shown that patients who are able to stay upbeat and positive often have better treatment outcomes.
It doesn’t really matter what you do, but experts like Dr. Dana Chase, a gynecologic oncologist at Arizona Oncology, recommend doing whatever makes you happy. And if that means dancing around during treatment and dressing up in clothes that make you feel good, then that’s exactly what you should do.
“We know from good studies that emotional health is associated with survival, meaning better quality of life is associated with better outcomes,” Chase told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “So working on your emotional health, your physical well-being, your social environment [and] your emotional well-being are important and can impact your survival. If that’s related to what activities you do that bring you joy, then you should try to do more of those activities.”