Deborah James Q&A
25 Mar 2019, 3:15 p.m.
Deborah James presents the BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C with Lauren Mahon. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35. Since then she has had several major operations including bowel and lung resections and multiple rounds of chemo – and is still undergoing treatment. Last year she published the book F*** You Cancer: How to face the big C, live your life and still be yourself. Deborah is hoping to still be alive at the end of May so she can take part in the Vitality London 10,000 to demonstrate to people that if she can run 10K, anyone can do it.
How did you get involved in the Celebrate You project?
“Bryony dragged me into it – everything’s her fault! I was going to run this year’s London Marathon, but I’m currently having active cancer treatment so I can’t run a marathon for medical reasons – running the Vitality London 10,000 is a really good achievable, alternative goal.
“Lauren and I co-host a podcast called You, Me and the Big C, which talks about living with cancer – and I use the word ‘living’ very particularly, in that we explore the highs and the lows.
“We lost our other co-host Rachael [Bland] last September. We documented the whole of that, which was hideous and heartbreaking. We have continued with the podcast; we get to meet some amazing people. We also want to show that if we can run the Vitality London 10,000, then anyone can run it.
“Before I got cancer I ran the New York City Marathon. I’m very slow but I enjoy running. I’ve run all the way through my treatment when I’ve been allowed to. I’ve had loads and loads of lung operations to remove tumours and the fitness I’ve maintained through running has meant that my lung capacity has returned to normal really quickly after the operations.”
Who inspires you to run?
“My children inspire me to run. I run because it makes me feel alive, and I want to stay alive, so I run. It sends a good message to people who are struggling because sometimes I have really rubbish days when I don’t want to do anything, so if I can run a couple of kilometres – when I have stage four cancer and shouldn’t really be alive today – then anyone can do it.”
What’s your proudest running moment?
“I ran a half marathon in October, just after Rachael died, to feel alive – but I’d just had some very targeted cancer treatment and I ended up fracturing my ankle because my body wasn’t really up to it. People ask me how I mentally got through that period and I literally put one foot in front of the other and ran the half marathon.”
What gives you confidence?
“I want to feel strong, and I want to be heavier and put on weight. When I’m weak and frail and skinny, that’s not a good thing for me because I have to undergo so much treatment that if I can’t tolerate food for a couple of weeks, I’m not going to have any strength. I run to make myself feel strong and I couldn’t care less what I look like.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Stop worrying about things! I used to have massive health anxieties and now I don’t worry about anything because I’m already facing my biggest fear.”
If you could run with anyone, who would you run with?
“I’d make Richard Branson run with me around Necker Island.”
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?
“It’s more of a mindset. I used to be a deputy head teacher and I did loads of research into resilience. Telling a child that anything is possible is so powerful.”
What’s your greatest strength?
“My resilience. When faced with shit, I try to turn it into something positive. I think you can learn to be resilient over time. Being a teacher and working in some of the best and worst schools in the UK has also given me resilience.”
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
“Probably being alive today! I genuinely mean that because I shouldn’t really be alive. Statistically I have already outlived my prognosis. I jokingly told everyone that my New Year’s Resolution was to stay alive – and get on Strictly.”
Describe your last run…
“I did a bit of running in January along the river in Barnes where I live. I went with my son, who is 11, and he absolutely whipped me.”
How do you think you’ll feel on the Start Line in May?
“I genuinely think it will be awesome to run the Vitality London 10,000 with this group of women. I have to believe that I’m going to be alive by then. I don’t plan very far in advance because part of me thinks that I won’t be alive, so anything that encourages me to set a goal is a good thing because I have something to look forward to and aim for.
“I move in an online world where a lot of people have cancer. Rachael’s death taught us that you cannot predict what will happen. On paper I should be dead and Rachael should be sitting here now.
“You just don’t know with cancer; you have to take it one step at a time. There are people like me who shouldn’t really be alive. You can’t predict your response to drugs. There is nothing Rachael could do to stop her cancer. And I can’t control my cancer, but I can control my mental state and running is part of that.”
What advice would you give to a new runner?
“Just sign up and do it. Half the battle is signing up – just enter the race and you’ll be a step closer to running with us!”