Deborah James has a regular appointment in her diary for March, to go to Manchester and run for 5 km in the time it takes the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
It seems like a fun challenge to take on in aid of Sport Relief. But for Deborah, the problem is not so much if she manages to reach the finish line in half an hour or so it will take the musicians in Salford Quays to reach the final note: “I hope they play slowly, because you really” run very fast “, he laughs, but he’s making plans.
Since December 2016, when Deborah, 12-year-old Hugo’s mother and Eloise, 10-year-old has been diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer, she has been living day by day.
She has never engaged in anything in the long run, as she may end up in hospital undergoing yet another session of chemotherapy or radiation therapy (there have been 23 to date), or another operation on her lungs, liver or intestines ( has been chased up to ten so far). ‘Every time I planned something, the cancer would have blinded me,’ he says.
Deborah James and her husband Sebastien Bowen in April last year. They had just decided to retry their relationship after they nearly divorced when Deborah was diagnosed
Then there was the inevitable reality that before an event happened, Deborah, 38, could have died.
He had metastatic carcinoma in the fourth stage – which means it had spread to the lungs and liver – which has a survival rate of 8% after five years.
For the past three years, she has dealt with her mortality daily and even visited a local hospice, so she knew exactly where she was going to die.
But last December, Deborah learned that “there was no evidence of cancer” in her body, which at one point was full of 15 cancers.
He appears to have been killed by a new drug trio, prescribed “as a last resort”. But, he says, “I replied to them in a way I didn’t think possible.”
Deborah James will go to Manchester and run for 5km when it takes the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in March (pictured with her husband Sebastien)
Yet the normally ebullient Deborah is oddly down on the news. ‘I would like to have the mentality: “Yes, let’s go and celebrate,” he says.
‘But I’m still super, super, very cautious. I’m sadly realistic and you’re only as good as your last scan.
‘If you follow the statistics, I shouldn’t be alive. Honestly, nobody knows what the future will be like for me. “
His apprehension is understandable. In recent years, Deborah has learned to always expect the unexpected.
The former deputy chief imagined he was undergoing treatment for his cancer in the hospital
Prior to her diagnosis, she was an ambitious vice principal who had been introduced to resolve a bankruptcy in Surrey. He also had two small children to raise.
It meant that she and her almost 12-year-old banker husband, Sebastien, were always stressed and barely seen each other. ‘It was a classic case of our marriage that would last,’ he says.
Sebastien moved in 2015 and they embarked on an initially “bitter” divorce, hiring both lawyers and starting to see other people. Deborah even attended some of Tinder’s “horrible” dates.
They had already had the nisi decree when they agreed to advise, not with any hope of reconciliation, but simply to be on a more cordial basis for the children.
Last December, Deborah learned that “there was no evidence of cancer” in her body, which at one point was full of 15 cancers. Pictured receiving treatment
Then, to Deborah’s amazement, the couple started having a drink, then at dinner, after the sessions.
In November 2016, they took a “big step” and got back together, only for Deborah to receive her shock diagnosis soon after.
“Nobody thought 35-year-old vegetarian runners had bowel cancer,” he says. ‘Everyone assumed it was something older men who ate meat.’
Deborah is very aware that her current medications have so far kept cancer at bay for seven months in trials. ‘I have already been eight months old, so if you were a person who would bet you would say that he could come back anytime.
Seven weeks since everything became clear, Deborah’s body is getting stronger every day. Represented by the sea during a vacation in Mauritius
‘We just have to continue until the cancer returns again and live in the hope that new treatments will be found around that time.’
Seven weeks since everything became clear, Deborah’s body gets stronger every day (“Touch the wood!” She cries). But mentally, “she feels like a cancer patient” still undergoing normal operations: she recently had one on the liver to remove a tumor that had stabilized.
‘I am still in the hospital every two weeks and I take 12 tablets a day with all the side effects, from feeling shattered one day, to the disease and diarrhea the next day, or to my skin that is really bad.’
Even in her weakest form, Deborah has always been determined to stay rooted and do as many normal things as possible.
Deborah, in Lorena’s photo, says that exercise is rebuilding her lung capacity, which has been reduced by operations
So she was devastated when she had to quit her beloved job. “I knew I was going to be hospitalized a lot, and I’m so passionate about teaching that I couldn’t reluctantly do it,” he says.
But instead of crying, he started co-hosting the hugely popular BBC Radio 5 Live You podcast, Me And The Big C, and writing the best-selling book F *** You Cancer: How To Face The Big C, Live Your Life And Still Be yourself.
‘I ended up with a completely new career almost by accident,’ he says. ‘Everyone said, “Calm down,” and I thought, “But I’m going to be bored.”
‘I’ve been depressed for a while, because when you have cancer you lose your sense of self, so educating people about cancer and supporting them has given me a new purpose. ‘
Deborah speaks passionately, having witnessed many exuberant characters, of whom she became friends in real life and online, die of cancer (pictured in December)
She is delighted with the revelation of Dame Julie Walters last week that she was cleared of third-stage bowel cancer.
“It is so important that Hollywood stars like her give a face to the disease because if bowel cancer is detected early it has a 97% recovery rate,” says Deborah.
‘But so many people are still too embarrassed to go to their doctor with the symptoms and accept their offers of screenings. The educator in me finds it ridiculous. ‘
Sitting in a bar in his South West London neighborhood, you would never guess that Deborah has lived on the death gate for so long. Lively and fun, she is dressed in the running gear she now wears on a daily basis to prepare for the Sport Relief race – which she will take part in along with BBC stalwarts like Sophie Raworth, as well as all members of the audience who sign up.
Deborah is extraordinarily nonsense when discussing her children, probably because if she gave in to emotions the tears would fall
Even before Deborah was diagnosed, running was her way of dealing with stress. Since then, he has run several 5k and 10k races and has even completed a half marathon (wary of the tempting fate, he didn’t tell friends and family until the same day).
To distract himself from his fears of his illness, he also regularly ran 8K from his home for appointments at the Royal Marsden cancer hospital, even when he was open-mouthed before an operation.
Now he hopes to run the London Marathon in April.
It seems staggering to me, but Deborah says that exercise is rebuilding her lung capacity, which has been reduced by operations.
He adds, “I think running has helped me stay sane. Research shows that cancer patients who exercise have lower levels of anxiety and depression and that exercise reduces the side effects of chemotherapy.
‘So as long as your medical team is fine and don’t go overboard, exercise can really help.’
Sebastien supported Deborah in all of this, and she describes it as “my rock in the darkest times”.
However, it was not all easy. “Life with cancer has its ups and downs for a couple,” he says. ‘Apparently it is quite common for people to separate during illness and I can understand why. The dynamic changes and your lover becomes your companion. “
Tensions over the relationship included Deborah’s loss of libido – “It’s hard to talk about it” – not to mention the fact that her body is so mistreated that even the gentlest touch felt “distressing”.
Deborah would love Strictly Come Dancing to take part in Strictly Come Dancing, but was unable to do so while she was ill
‘Some days I want attention, I just want to feel desired,’ he said. ‘Other days, my husband can’t sneeze near me without getting his head bitten. Understand in an understandable way that – for both – it is difficult. “
However, he says, “One of the good things about cancer is that it makes you reevaluate your relationship. It’s time for the crisis. You think,” Do I really want to be with this person? “And if you don’t, then it’s” Hello! “Since life is really short.
“But cancer can also make you realize how special your connection is, and this is where we are: in a good place.”
There is no doubt that Deborah is very resistant – something that comes in part from the national competition as a schoolgirl gymnast.
‘I don’t want to be like: “Oh, poor me.” But there were definitely “Woe to me” moments. It’s just that they don’t get you anywhere, “he says.
But it’s clear, she hates the myth that “strong” people can beat cancer. ‘When I announced that I was cancer-free, many people said, “I knew you were going to beat him, you are so positive.”
‘But actually I find it quite offensive. You can mentally control the impact that each situation is having, but can you beat the disease? No.
“People talk about my” magic cure “, but in reality they depend on big medical decisions, a great team and – above all – a lot of luck.”
Deborah previously posted the ride on Instagram because it makes her feel alive
Deborah speaks passionately, having witnessed many exuberant characters, who made friends in real life and online, die of cancer.
‘I am abnormally surrounded by death for someone my age. Every week my inbox is full of goodbye messages from people and it’s a mess, “he says.
The most shocking thing was the death, almost two years ago, of her friend and podcast host Rachael Bland, who had breast cancer.
The presenter of Radio 5 Live was 40 years old and had a young son. “One hundred percent feel guilty that Rachael is dead and I’m not,” says Deborah.
‘But I think guilt can actually be positive because – without looking like an idiot – it makes you so grateful to be alive.
“That’s why I run, because I know Rachael would kill to be still here and have this opportunity.”
She laughs when I ask her if cancer has made her more patient. ‘Actually I think I’m less tolerant now and I just want to do everything.
‘I am still stressed by things like traffic jams; I’m too short-tempered not to do it. And I still cry out to the children not to dress in time, because otherwise they won’t come out the door. “
BBC Radio 5 live presenter Rachael Bland with Lauren (Girl Vs Cancer) Mahon and Deborah (left) while recording their podcast You, Me and the Big C
Deborah is extraordinarily nonsense when discussing her children, probably because if she succumbed to emotions the tears would have fallen.
‘More than anything else, I want to have resilient children. I don’t want them to be weak and pathetic if I die.
“I am not saying that it is pathetic to be sad, but the deputy chief in me has an apologetic policy.
‘I said to them, “If I die, you are not allowed to ruin your life as a result and blame me for it,” because I think people often blame their circumstances for failure: “Oh, my dead father”; “Oh, I’m from a destroyed house.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but you’re your person and you can only blame yourself.”
Hugo and Eloise are a fact about his illness. ‘They don’t give me compensation; they know nothing different.
Unfortunately, their formative years, when your memory starts to crystallize, have been on me with cancer.
“But I don’t think their life was necessarily hampered by it – if anything they saw much more than me.
‘Before, I had never been around. Not that I regret it, because I loved my job. Then the children were absolutely fine and now they will be fine. “
And he says he doesn’t care that Sebastien should ever raise children alone. ‘He understands what I want for them,’ he says.
I tell her that I would have worried that my husband would not know which school uniform to buy. ‘No, this is not my husband’s competence either. If I was dead I wouldn’t have wanted him to quit his job and play mom and dad.
‘There are other people in my life who are really good at that sort of thing, like my mom, and you just make them draw around you.’
But enough of such a morbid speech. Let’s take a look at Deborah’s indicative plans. Since it is completely clear, he has agreed to write another book.
Then there is the question of Strictly Come Dancing, which you would like to ask. “But I’ve never met the BBC about it – you have to be fit and healthy, so before it wasn’t possible,” he says.
And this year? Deborah smiles. ‘I’d definitely like to have a meeting about it.’ Again, start looking for some wood to touch. ‘See, even saying this, I’m nervous. I don’t want to rack my brains. ‘