I was fit and healthy at 39 – if it weren't for Dame Deborah James my son would be growing up without a mum | The Sun
EXACTLY a year ago, mum of one Lauren Roberts sat in stunned silence in an oncologist’s office.
The 40-year-old was trying to take in the devastating news she’d just been given.
“Hearing the words ‘stage 3 bowel cancer’ was the worst moment of my life," says Lauren, who lives in Twickenham, South West London with her husband Nick, 38, and their son Leo.
“My thoughts instantly turned to my four-year-old son, who was at home waiting for me, and I felt a flash of fear I may not see him grow up."
Lauren's diagnosis came just weeks after Dame Deborah James died from the same disease in June 2022.
"It was a really scary reminder of how serious this was," she tells Sun Health.
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“Yet, I also knew it was largely thanks to her I now had this information and could take action to save my life.”
Dame Deborah’s final public message, before she passed away, was ‘Check your poo – it could just save your life’ and Lauren says she is living proof of the valuable legacy of awareness the Sun columnist, campaigner and mum of two left behind.
Dame Debs died of stage 4 bowel cancer in June 2022 at the age of 40 – five and a half years after she was diagnosed.
For years she spoke candidly about her condition, the highs and lows of living with cancer in her Sun column, Things Cancer Made Me Say.
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Lauren says: “Following her on social media, where she shared information about bowel cancer and her own experiences with it, was what led me to push back against three years of being dismissed by doctors, and find out I had the same condition as her, while it was still treatable.”
Between 2019 and 2022, Lauren saw a colorectal specialist, a gynaecologist and her GP several times, about a variety of symptoms.
“It began with bleeding from my bottom when I went to the loo, which I was told on a number of occasions was just down to haemorrhoids and prescribed cream for.
“I then developed a deep pain in my abdomen, including when I ran, but had a scan and nothing untoward was seen.
“Then in early 2022 I began to feel so lethargic.
"My energy levels were at rock bottom, and I didn’t know why I felt so exhausted all the time.”
In early summer last year, Lauren decided to order an online stool test, inspired by Dame Deborah’s campaigning.
“It actually didn’t cross my mind that I had bowel cancer, but I knew from following her that it’s important to get symptoms like bloody poo and pain checked out and I was tired of seeing doctors and being told there was nothing to worry about,” says Lauren.
“I knew instinctively something wasn’t right inside me. I thought perhaps I had a condition like irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis.”
When the test results came back a few days later as ‘abnormal’, Lauren made an appointment to see a colorectal specialist.
“I was fortunate my husband has health insurance through his work, which I am included on, so I was seen very quickly,” she says.
“On July 25, 2022, I had a colonoscopy under light sedation and the same day was told a tumour had been discovered, and they were 95 per cent certain it was cancerous.
“I was devastated, and totally blindsided by this news.”
Further tests and scans the following month confirmed that Lauren had stage 3 bowel cancer.
“I know now that in women in the UK, bowel cancer is the third most common cancer with around 19,000 new cases a year, but at the time I felt very alone.
“I was 39 with a young child, I lived a healthy lifestyle, and I just couldn’t believe this was happening to me.
“The doctor was very reassuring, she believed it had been caught in time and they could cure me.
“But no amount of positivity can dilute the sickening fear you feel when you know cancer is growing inside you.”
In August 2022, Lauren underwent surgery to remove the tumour, along with a foot of her colon, and 20 lymph nodes.
“A few days later I learned that the cancer had spread into the lymph nodes which meant I needed chemotherapy.
“Nick and I had been trying for a second baby before my diagnosis, so I decided to have eggs harvested and frozen for use in the future, before starting chemo in late September,” says Lauren.
After undergoing four cycles of chemo, a mixture of infusions in hospital and tablets at home, Lauren completed treatment at Christmas last year.
“I didn’t lose my hair, although it did thin, but chemo left me feeling exhausted and I was practically housebound for those months.
“It was frustrating not being able to run around after Leo, but I knew I was doing the right thing to make sure I was around to see him grow up,” she says.
Since the start of 2023, Lauren has been having quarterly CT scans and blood tests, and so far they have all come back clear, to her enormous relief.
“I feel incredibly lucky. It’s been the hardest year and the first anniversary of my diagnosis earlier this month was surreal, reflecting on everything I have been through,” she says.
“Nick and I still hope to have a sibling for Leo one day, when I am further on in my physical and emotional recovery, and I also plan to help other women who've had cancer in my job as a life coach.”
Lauren recently launched a podcast called ‘Not Your Usual Cancer Podcast’, which is about holistic therapies she’s tried as part of her healing post cancer.
"I feel so much gratitude, including towards Dame Deborah, whose tireless work right up until she died gave me the encouragement to trust my instincts and take matters into my own hands,” says Lauren.
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“Had I not listened to her, it may have been too late. Her legacy is a life-saving one, I am proof of that.”
Follow Lauren on Instagram: @iamlauren_jane
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