Don’t let it happen to you too… the bowel cancer symptoms I wish I’d known earlier

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LET’S go back to basics.

Why do I do this? Why do I share my story?

Deborah James sporting her England shirt for Football Shirt Friday
Sporting my England shirt for Football Shirt Friday today

It’s a question I’m asked all the time. And one I ask myself a lot – it can be draining, exhausting and painful a lot of the time.

But, then there are the days when it all makes sense.

The days when I get a message to say someone has caught their cancer early – in time to live.

The days when people tell me by raising awareness I helped them spot the signs of bowel cancer in time.

Once a teacher, always a teacher

Before I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, I was a teacher.

And the truth is that once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher.

I spent years trying to help kids shape their lives, their futures.

I always tried to explain to the kids why what they were learning was important.

Now I know what it’s like to live with stage 4 bowel cancer I figure, never has their been anything more important to teach

I tried to teach them that knowledge and self belief are power. Cheesy, yes – but true!

Well, now I know what it’s like to live with stage 4 bowel cancer – and face a really dodgy and uncertain future – I figure, never has their been anything more important to teach.

Now I teach cancer – and the signs in your poo

It can be draining and exhausting sharing my story, here I am after the op to blast three tumours in my liver
It can be draining and exhausting sharing my story, here I am after the op to blast three tumours in my liver
Deborah James
Some days it makes sense and I feel much better
Some days it makes sense and I feel much better
Deborah James

Cancer is my specialist subject – and my experience is the curriculum.

Now, rather than teaching IT, I’m teaching you about your poo! Why? What impact can anyone really make talking sh*t – literally?

Well, after two-and-a-half years of living with cancer, I’m discovering the answer is: quite a lot.

This week new figures from NHS England showed that two million people asked their GPs for cancer checks in 2017 – that’s a record.

And it just shows the power of raising awareness.

By talking about cancer, in all its guises, we make it more normal.

We can break down taboos and stop people feeling embarrassed.

We all know the stiff British upper lip is a stumbling block for us as a nation and society.

It’s been blamed for a 20-year low in women having smear tests to check for cervical cancer.

It’s stopped people having bowel cancer tests, for fear of having to talk about poo.

But, these new stats show the tide is changing.

Breaking taboos and opening up the conversation saves lives

Talking about cancer makes it more normal - which is why I do it
Talking about cancer makes it more normal – which is why I do it
Deborah James
Wearing my England shirt with David Seaman has we promote Football Shirt Friday
Wearing my England shirt with David Seaman has we promote Football Shirt Friday

Cally Palmer, an NHS cancer big boss said it herself, thanks to greater awareness of symptoms more people are seeing their doctors to get checked.

It’s thanks to every cancer patient sharing their story, whether in public or privately with friends and family.

It’s thanks to brave patients like my friend Rachael Bland sharing the heartbreak of their final months.

The message is clear, you must never underestimate the impact of telling your story, even if you share it with just one other person

It’s thanks to celebs like Stephen Fry, Bill Turnbull, George Alagiah and Jeremy Bowen sharing their experiences.

And sports stars like David Seaman helping to promote Football Shirt Friday with me and others.

And it’s thanks to all the public for listening and taking note.

The message is clear, you must never underestimate the impact of telling your story, even if you share it with just one other person.

It could save a life. Literally.

The difference between an early and late diagnosis is the difference between life and death in many cases, where cancer is involved.

It’s the difference between seeing your kids grow up, or missing out.

The signs you need to know…

So, given awareness really is working, let me recap on a few things.

First up… these are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer you NEED to know – it’s what I wish I had known three years ago, before I was given my diagnosis.

The five red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
  • a change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
  • pain or a lump in your tummy
  • extreme tiredness
  • losing weight

Other signs of bowel cancer include:

  • gripping pains in the abdomen
  • feeling bloated
  • constipation and being unable to pass wind
  • being sick
  • feeling like you need to strain – like doing a number two – but after you’ve been to the loo

If you spot any of these signs, or generally feel something is up, don’t delay. Go and see your GP.

Yes, it can be tricky to get an appointment at times, but be persistent.

There is more awareness raising than ever going on, thanks to social media and the national press being brave and agreeing to talk about poo.

We live in a world where it’s easy to share your story, your journey and help others in the meantime.

But it’s important to remember, there’s no right or wrong way to share your story.


Be open and public about it, shout about it from the rooftops, if you feel comfortable doing that.

If you don’t, why not try just telling a trusted group of friends or family what cancer is really like.

Pass the message on to just a few other people you know, and urge them to do the same.

That way, we can keep this conversation moving, growing and in doing so we can do our best to stop cancer in its tracks.

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