Deborah James persuaded me to get my chronic stomach pain checked – Hayley Matthews

It's a strange feeling when you're jarred by the death of someone you've never met.

Deborah James, second from left, with Rachel Adedeji, Steve Bland and Ray Quinn, as they receive the award for Best Podcast for the show You, Me and the Big C at the TRIC Awards in 2019 (Picture: Ian West/PA)
Deborah James, second from left, with Rachel Adedeji, Steve Bland and Ray Quinn, as they receive the award for Best Podcast for the show You, Me and the Big C at the TRIC Awards in 2019 (Picture: Ian West/PA)

You may feel sad, have that sinking feeling and with it, possibly, a little guilt that your grief is nowhere near as intense as the family’s.

This is how I feel with the passing of Dame Deborah James. I'd never met her but can relate to her, having had similar careers. I have a family like she does, I have also some bowel troubles and ongoing investigations that worry me hugely.

But the thing that I found really difficult was watching her decline. I'd been following her for a while and always just thought she'd be OK. She was young, happy and radiant. There were no signs of a ‘stereotypical’ cancer patient.

She was lucky enough to keep most of her hair (she'd mentioned how thick it was), was incredibly glamorous, but most of all seemed full of energy.

So to watch her slowly waste away was difficult, and it took me back to my mum’s death last year.

I've not written or even spoken much about my mum passing. There are still a few people I haven't told, mainly because I've shut off from the world but watching Deborah brought it all back.

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Dame Deborah James has been hailed for her 'tremendous legacy' after campaigning to raise awareness of bowel cancer (Picture: Deborah James/bowelbabe Instagram)

To see someone who was always so glamorous shrink in front of your eyes is something words can't quite explain. Deborah reminded me of my mum because they were both so beautiful but were taken by the indiscriminate power of death.

My mum didn't pass with cancer, but their journeys to the end looked similar. Both were unable to eat much, slowly losing weight and getting frailer by the day.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who watched Deborah's health decline and found it brought back the loss of a loved one. However, what is really important to acknowledge is the incredible work she did for raising awareness around bowel cancer and how strong she was.

I've not had any firm diagnosis yet as I'm still awaiting tests. However, seeing Deborah's story has made me more bowel aware and pushed me to get my chronic stomach pain and terrible bowel issues investigated.

I ended up in hospital in January with a bowel bleed so since then I've been quite concerned. I used to feel embarrassed to say "bowel bleed” but since Deborah's campaigning, I'm able to talk about it more freely.

I'm hoping it's just IBS or ulcerative colitis, as suspected, but there have been so many people who have been told they have IBS when it's been something more serious so I'm not taking any chances until I know for sure what's going on.

But I don’t want to make this about me because the hero here is Deborah, a million times over. She's made us look at ourselves and put ourselves first.

Deborah turned a difficult and heartbreaking situation into something that has had such a positive impact. She's raised millions for charity and is an absolute hero for that!

I feel devastated for her family, most of all her children and can't even imagine the pain they're all suffering. My heart goes out to them.

Rest in peace Deborah and fly high, pain-free and knowing you've changed the way we all talk about our poo.