Health

Woman says Deborah James’s bowel cancer campaigning helped save her life


A woman has told how the health campaigner Dame Deborah James helped save her life from deadly bowel cancer.

Lyndsey Ainscough, from Leigh in Greater Manchester, only decided to seek advice after seeing James on television shortly before she died.

The 40-year-old, who has three children, told PA Media that she was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer after suffering from symptoms for several months but thought it was irritable bowel syndrome.

She said: “I’d been getting quite a lot of symptoms during the Covid lockdowns and had bleeding, weight loss and fatigue. I’d seen Deborah James was on the news and she was trying to highlight her story. It was one day that it clicked.

“I remember being in the kitchen ironing and she came on the news and she just mentioned something that caught my attention. And I turned to my husband and said: ‘Those are the symptoms I’ve been getting, maybe I’ve got bowel cancer’.

“He kind of just shrugged it off with: ‘Don’t be silly, you’re too young to have bowel cancer’. And it was from that moment that I actually decided to go and get checked.”

James, the headteacher turned podcaster who raised millions of pounds for charity with her campaigning to raise awareness of bowel cancer, died in June 2022. She stepped away from a career as a deputy headteacher and began blogging about her diagnosis under the name Bowelbabe in 2017.

She went on to become a Sun columnist and released a book, F*** You Cancer: How to Face the Big C, Live Your Life and Still Be Yourself. She was best known for sharing her six-year battle with terminal bowel cancer on the popular BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C, which she began co-presenting in 2018.

Ainscough, a secondary school attendance manager, booked an appointment with her GP, who sent her straight for a colonoscopy in June 2022 to examine the inside of her bowel.

“I thought I was going because I had got IBS or something like that because I’d always kind of had trouble with bloating,” she said. “I really didn’t think anything of it at the time.

“I didn’t make a big deal out of it, my husband was working and I didn’t ask him to come with me or anything like that. I genuinely thought I was going to get diagnosed with IBS.

“My mum took me for the appointment and it was more or less confirmed there and then that it was rectal cancer.

“Dame Deborah helped save my life,” she said.

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After receiving her diagnosis, Ainscough went home and told her husband, Christian, the news. The couple decided to tell their eldest child, Alfie, now aged 12, but felt their other children Perry, now four, and Spencer, now eight, were too young to understand.

“The worry was tremendous, particularly with having such young children,” Ainscough said. “To be fair, [Alfie] did accept it quite well at the time, but that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

“And telling my dad was one of the hardest things to do as well because my dad wasn’t there and it was totally unexpected. Telling him was horrific.”

Scans in January last year showed she was completely free of cancer – the immunotherapy combined with chemotherapy and radiotherapy had wiped out the disease.

James’s mother, Heather, said: “Deborah worked relentlessly to improve the lives of others right up until the end of her life, so it’s an honour to hear the impact of her work through wonderful stories like Lyndsey’s.”



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