Mum-of-two Rebecca counts herself “hugely fortunate” that she beat stage three bowel cancer after revealing it could’ve been a very different story if she had been diagnosed just one month later.
Rebecca, who is mum to William, seven, and Florence, nine, with husband Adrian, 50, has a family history with the disease as her mum suffered from double breast cancer, her grandmother had lymphatic cancer and grandfather had lung cancer. But it was still a shock when she was diagnosed after months of challenging doctors’ diagnoses of anaemia and simple colds.
With the looming results of her annual check up, which is done to ensure her body remains free of the cancer, Rebecca has found Dame Deborah James’ story both difficult and inspiring to hear.
Here, the 42 year old speaks out on Deborah’s incredible campaign to raise money and awareness as she recalls her own cancer journey…
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It was the summer of 2017, I was 38, and I just had a period of time where I didn’t quite feel like myself. I’d suffered on and off for a number of years with what I could only describe as cystitis-type pain – but it was never diagnosed as that. That was the initial trigger that my body just wasn’t quite right.
My symptoms were put down to being a female nearing 40 and having heavy periods – which I wasn’t having – but they just seemed to latch on to this story.
Then suddenly in early 2018, I noticed I’d lost 1.5 stone and I couldn’t put my finger on why.
I had put a bit of weight on over Christmas and was keen to lose some pounds for my friend’s wedding in June, so I found myself stepping on the scales more often than normal. That’s when I noticed the weight falling off really quickly without me making many changes.
By the end of April, my boss actually scooped me up one afternoon and sent me home because of how terrible I looked.
I felt like I was running on empty by that point; I’d picked up sinusitis, colds and I just couldn’t seem to bounce back from anything. I was constantly cold and would end up having to crawl the last couple of stairs. I thought, ‘This is crazy, I’m young, I’m healthy,’ I looked after myself and I was active. It was a huge change to be breathless and cold and not able to do simple things like carry my children.
I found myself going to and from the doctors – around once a month – but kept being told it was just a virus and given antibiotics.
But then one day I saw a nurse who finally booked me in for blood tests having noticed I hadn’t had them taken since the birth of my son William in 2014. That night, about half 10 in the evening, I had a call from an out of surgery GP who said: ‘I need you to get into hospital right now.’
She informed me that a woman of my age should have a count of red blood cells at about 120 – and mine was down to 60. I went to A&E that evening for a three unit blood transfusion. They thought I was severely anaemic.
I pushed for another blood test about a week after I’d come out of hospital and they were down. They had increased to 90 when I left the hospital but had fallen back down to 78. That was the trigger point, and when the doctor finally said: ‘Yeah, there’s something here.’
I was sent to have a colonoscopy on 12 June 2018 and that’s where they discovered the tumour. It had spread to five lymph nodes and two were really severely infected, they looked like black nodules. The tumour had grown towards my kidney and stomach.
I’m hugely fortunate that mine was diagnosed when I was stage three and not stage four. Because otherwise, I’d be in the same position as Deborah James. A month, six weeks, two months later, and I would have been in a very different position.
My early diagnosis saved my life.
I was in shock – you never think you’re going to hear those words; you have cancer – even though I knew something was not right. I lost my mum so young to breast cancer and I was scared.
On 28 June I went into surgery where they removed the right side of my bowel, 43 lymph nodes, and tissue from around my kidney and stomach. I was fortunate enough not to wake up with a colostomy bag, which would’ve been yet another hurdle. I then went through eight rounds of chemotherapy – which I call ‘potion’.
I was declared officially cancer-free, which I regard as NED meaning there’s No Evidence of Disease, on 12 February 2019, but I get checked every year to make sure I’m still all clear. My latest scan was last Wednesday when, thankfully, I was told I’m still clear of the disease.
This month had been tough with the build up of anxiety around my scan, plus it is the 20th anniversary of my mum’s death. And so when I heard about Deborah James’ heartbreaking news, it was really hard. It was a really, really emotional week.
What Deborah has done through her years of living with cancer has been remarkable. She has been so open and so charismatic with it and it’s been amazing to see.
She is giving people living with cancer a voice while also educating others on the symptoms of bowel cancer, which is so important.
And even during her last days, she is still sharing her story and that takes a lot of courage. She won’t have energy and will be sleeping a lot, but is still using her platform to spread awareness. Some quietly shine, others shine vivaciously and some shine as they manage one step at a time
I’m fortunate that 20 years on from my mum’s diagnosis, I’m here. But I still had a cancer diagnosis and I hope Deborah’s efforts to raise funds will go some way to making progress and changes.
I used to always take myself out for a walk come rain or shine because I knew that it didn’t matter if I got wet – I was still here. I was still able to walk and to enjoy it. When you see Deborah in her recent Instagram posts, sitting out in the rain, that really resonates.
On Wednesday I felt really low, lots of tears. But the rain started and I decided to take myself out. There was this lovely little path leading up through a local park, lined with bluebells and little wooden steps. I ran it and got to the top and I screamed out: ‘That’s for you Deborah!’
I think how I live my life and what I do is really right for me and it mirrors how I’ve seen Deborah living. I hope that people out there have been inspired by what she does and remember that they can learn from their own experiences.
I’ve danced my way through what I can only describe as the deepest darkest depths of hell yet somehow found a glimmer of something to get me through. Whether it’s my children, their smile, their voice, it allows you to take that next step positively. So when I’ve seen Deborah dancing around on her chemotherapy ward, it’s like, ‘Go for it! I wish I was there with you. I would’ve been there dancing with you!’
Rebecca is supporting Race for Life in partnership with Tesco. Cancer Research UK’s Race For Life series is running from May to September. Women, men, and children can walk, jog, or run 3k, 5k, or 10k, or join Pretty Muddy or Pretty MuddyKids. For more info, see reverseforlife.org
Donate to Rebecca’s Race For Life fundraising page, here
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