Deborah James urges people to still seek treatment despite lockdown

BBC podcast presenter with incurable cancer Deborah James blasts Boris Johnson for not stressing that ‘NHS is open for all business’ during lockdown – as she urges people to get check-ups

  • Deborah James, 38, urged people to attend medical checks despite lockdown
  • Told she is ‘angry’ Prime Minister made no mention NHS is open for ‘all business’ 
  • Podcast presenter had received the all-clear from cancer back in January
  • However, doctors later found evidence that the cancer returned to her bowel 
  • She has had surgery and is taking and ground-breaking cocktail of drugs 

BBC podcast presenter Deborah James has urged people to still attend medical check-ups and seek treatment despite the news of another national lockdown. 

The mother-of-two, 38, from London, who presents the Radio 5 Live podcast ‘You, me and the Big C’, appeared on Lorraine today – just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged England back into a March-style lock-down. 

Deborah, known as Bowel Babe, has had 17 tumours in her lifetime and was told in January she was cancer-free. However, she said doctors discovered news signs of her bowel cancer which required surgery and she underwent an operation in December – but is now feeling much better.  

‘I have to be honest with you…I was really angry with the news last night,’ she said, speaking via video link. ‘I 100% support it – it’s the right decision.’

‘The thing I am really angry about and was Tweeting about very honestly was that yet again there was not a mention that the NHS is open for all business.’

BBC podcast presenter Deborah James (pictured), 38, has urged people to still seek checks and treatment despite new of another national lockdown.

Mother-of-two Deborah appeared on Lorraine today just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged England back into a March-style lock-down. Pictured, previously in hospital

‘I know people are reiterating that, but this happened from the outset in April last year. It was just kind of, “The NHS is overwhelmed don’t come.”

As a result, cancer referral rates dropped by 75% in the first lockdown. People were left with undiagnosed cancers, sitting at home worrying about a lump, a bump, a change of bowel habits, whatever it is and they didn’t go to their GPs. 

‘As result we then had backlog of thousands of people and very sadly, we had lives lost.

On average each year in UK, 165 people will die from cancer. Cancer hasn’t got anywhere just because Covid is around.’

The Podcast presenter told how her message which is ‘very loud and clear’ is that the NHS is open for all business, so please, please go. Pictured, with Lorraine

Lorraine went on to ask Deborah (pictured) how she is now doing following recent surgery

My message, very loud and clear, which should’ve been said last night, is that the NHS is open for all business, so please, please go.’

Deborah, whose comments come after the government instructed the public to Stay Home, Save Lives and Protect the NHS until at least the end of February, also revealed she is doing better following recent surgery. 

‘You was the first person I spoke to on television after my operation,’ explained Deborah. ‘I was in intensive care five weeks ago. Hopefully you can see my breathing has massively improved. I had thoracic surgery so can now speak without really gasping.’

When Deborah last appeared on Lorraine in December, she told how she was ‘putting her hope in science’ after a new combination of drugs ‘saved her life’. 

Deborah, who was previously told doctors had discovered new signs of her bowel cancer which required surgery, has since revealed the disease is ‘stable’ thanks to a suite of ground-breaking drugs, pioneered by Dutch cancer researcher René Bernards, which have just been approved for use across the NHS.  

‘I think for me, I call it riding on the wings of science,’ said Deborah, ‘And I think if nothing else, Covid has taught us to celebrate how important science is. I’m now putting my hope once again in science.’ 

The presenter has a specific type of bowel cancer called BRAF mutation, and in 2012 met Bernards in the Netherlands, who has just been given the green light to start a new clinical trial, the Beacon Trial. 

She told her oncologist fought ‘tooth and nail’ for her to receive compassionate use of the drugs, which include Braftovi, and the mother has been taking the non-chemotherapy drugs since August last year.   

She previously explained: ‘He told me about the trial he was doing and it was running here in the UK, and data was showing it was really prolonging the life of people like me. 

‘My oncologist fought tooth and nail for me to get compassionate use of the drug, and nearly two years later the drugs have taken me to no signs of disease. 

The host of the BBC’s You, Me And The Big C podcast, had previously said the operation ‘went well’ and she had been released from hospital 

‘Essentially I’m living when I shouldn’t be living and it’s made me very emotional to get this approved for others.’ 

While there are no longer signs of the disease, Deborah admitted she felt drained after her previous procedure.

‘I’m delicate to say the least’, she said. ‘It’s quite a major surgery. Forgive me if I don’t sound myself. 

‘Learning how to walk and breathe again for the first time, it’s like I’m at the bottom of the mountain, but I’m going to climb it’.  

Despite the return of her cancer – which had already required operations to remove 15 tumours and 24 rounds of chemotherapy plus radiotherapy – she has set her sights on a trio of achievements next year: to run the London Marathon again, celebrate her 40th birthday and reach the five-year mark of living with cancer. 

The cancer first reappeared in May, when two cancerous lymph nodes were removed. The latest is in a third node.

Approval by drugs regulators means about 1,400 advanced bowel cancer patients will now get the Braftovi combination. Deborah said it would bring hope to thousands.


Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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