I KNEW this day would come.
The drugs that are keeping me alive have stopped working.
Deborah James is having another operation to have a stent put in her liver[/caption]
The mum has spoken candidly about her latest blow in her illness[/caption]
Though I didn’t want to admit it, deep down I knew I was running out of time.
I’ve been lucky ever since I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, four-and-a-half years ago, I’ve been an outlier.
The stats said I shouldn’t even survive a year after diagnosis. And my chances of making it to five years was about 8 per cent.
Due to an aggressive mutation in my cancer, most people like me live for about seven months, two-and-a-half years at best.
Yet my five year milestone is just six months away, almost to the day.
Two-and-a-half years ago I was given a lifeline, hope.
I was one of the first people to access (thanks to a plea by my team for compassionate use) some new experimental drugs that were being trialled.
The hope was that they would extend my life by six months. And now I have to face the reality that I might not reach it.
Deborah has kept fans updated with her journey through her cancer battle[/caption]
It doesn’t sound much, I know. But when you are living with incurable cancer, anything is better than nothing.
So I grabbed the opportunity, and held on to hope.
It wasn’t easy, in the first few weeks I was hit by some awful side effects including really severe skin reactions, and even a temporary loss of vision.
After navigating the side effects, I was bowled over.
My response to these drugs was so phenomenal that I was told I had ‘no sign of active disease’, not once but twice. And the six months I had been given to live, quickly turned into a year, 18 months, two years.
Each and every single day these drugs have given me, has been another 24 hours seeing my kids grow up, spending time with my husband, my family and friends.
I have woken up every day for two-and-a-half years thankful to have this lifeline.
My doctors were so amazed at my reaction to the drugs that I became a case study when the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) were debating whether to make them available on the NHS.
I felt so proud to be a part of the process which ended up with Nice approving them for use.
‘MY DRUGS AREN’T WORKING’
But, as with all good things, sadly they can’t last forever. The signs have been there for a while, if I am honest with myself.
My cancer has been bubbling away in the background, and I’ve had flare ups that have resulted in two major operations in the last six months alone.
I’ve had weeks of radiotherapy and CyberKnife as well in the last six months.
And blood tests have been showing my tumour markers rising, while at the same time my liver function is failing.
It’s confusing for people. I regularly get asked, ‘ but I thought you were cancer free, aren’t you cured? Has it come back?
The truth is it never really went away. It went to sleep for a bit, but now it’s back again and this time, my drugs aren’t working.
So what are the options? After five different lines of treatment, my oncologist wants me back on chemo.
There aren’t many other options, and I know, I’ve done hours of research.
Chemo worked for me when I was first diagnosed, so I felt relieved – if my drugs aren’t working at least chemo might again.
But, then I fell off a cliff, in spectacular fashion.
A rapidly growing tumour close to my liver has managed to wrap itself around my bile duct.
Sun columnist Deborah out and about in London[/caption]
Deborah and her daughter, Eloise[/caption]
It’s inoperable and is now causing an obstruction, to the point where my liver is starting to pack it in.
The irony is, even with my cancer, I always thought it would be my rose that got to my liver first.
Every blood test just shows my liver function is getting worse and worse, so I’m at a critical point.
My liver is in such a bad way, I can’t have chemo.
But chemo is my only hope to shrink the tumour that’s obstructing my bile duct.
I’m going more jaundiced by the day, my skin is itching like ants have moved in and I’m checking my reflection in the mirror every two seconds terrified at whether my eyes are looking more yellow.
That, and my pee is the colour of Coke, I feel sick, I feel emotional and for the first time since being diagnosed I feel like my body is starting to shut down.
For the first time, I can see I might not survive this.
The idea has always been at the back of my mind, but death has felt comfortably far away.
I’ve always had a series of options, a buffer that has kept my fear at bay.
No amount of positive energy, running, giving two fat fingers to cancer and dancing through the pain is going to help right now.
Any chemo right now would only accelerate my liver failure and mean I’m unlikely to see the end of the summer holidays.
So sh*t has just got very, very real and I’m having to face my biggest fear.
While some people have been losing their minds at nightclubs not being able to open, I’m trying to work out how to live for a few more months – it puts lockdown life in perspective a bit.
KNOWING THE SIGNS COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE
BOWEL cancer is the second deadliest and fourth most common type of cancer in the UK.
I was 35 years old when I was diagnosed, despite the disease being more common in the over-50s.
Every year, 42,000 people are diagnosed, and around 2,500 people under 50 are among them.
Catch the disease in the earliest stages, at stage 1 and more than 90 per cent of people will live five years or more.
But catch it at stage 4, when the disease has already spread like mine had, and your chance of living five years plummets to around 7 per cent.
One of the best ways to ensure you are diagnosed early is to regularly check your poo, and your body for the signs of bowel cancer.
To mark Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, I joined forces with Lorraine to help them launch the No Butts campaign.
Like The Sun’s No Time 2 Lose campaign, it aims to encourage all Brits to learn the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.
The red-flag signs of bowel cancer, spell out ‘BOWEL’:
- : B: Bleeding
There are several possible causes of bleeding from your bottom, of blood in your poo.
Bright red blood could come from swollen blood vessels, haemorrhoids or piles, in your back passage.
Dark red or black blood could come from your bowel or stomach.
Blood in your stools is one of the key signs of bowel cancer, so it’s important to mention it to your doctor so they can investigate.
2. O: Obvious change in loo habits
It’s important to tell your GP if you have noticed any changes in your bowel habits, that lasts three weeks or longer.
It’s especially important if you have also noticed signs of blood in your poo.
You might notice you need to go to the loo more often, you might have looser stools or feel like you’re not going enough or fully emptying your bowels.
Don’t be embarrassed, your GP will have heard a lot worse! Speak up and get it checked.
3. W: Weight loss
This is less common than the other symptoms, but an important one to be aware of. If you’ve lost weight and don’t really know why, it’s worth mentioning to your GP.
You may not feel like eating, feel sick, bloated and not hungry.
4. E: Extreme tiredness
Bowel cancer that causes bleeding can cause a lack of iron in the body – anaemia. If you develop anaemia you’re likely to feel tired and your skin might look pale.
5. L: Lump or pain
As with lots of other forms of cancer, a lump or pain can be a sign of bowel cancer.
It’s most likely you’ll notice a pain or lump in your stomach or back passage.
See your GP if it doesn’t go away, or if it affects how you eat or sleep.
This week, as ever, my incredible team has given me a ray of hope.
So today, I am going into hospital again to have yet another operation, to have a stent put in my liver.
It should be a straightforward procedure, and if it works it should stop my liver failing.
These stents tend to work for around three to six months, and I haven’t asked what happens then.
If my liver plays ball, I can have chemo again. If that works, it might shrink the tumour enough to stop it obstructing my bile duct.
There are a lot of ifs, and I am trying not to let my mind jump too far ahead.
I have asked my team if I should start to get my affairs in order, even writing that makes me feel sick.
But they’ve told me not to write myself off just yet.
As is always the case it’s one step at a time, it’s just these steps are starting to get really bloody scary.
I have hope, even if it’s a dim glimmer, and I have options. Decent options at that.
I want to see my daughter start secondary school, a simple want but it feels like I’m back at square one.
I’m back at rock bottom, like when I was first told I have cancer, thinking the worst.
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I’m scared, I’m not sure how to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Right now I am focusing on finding a way to keep walking. I’ve got to keep walking.
So, here I go again.