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Medway mum backs calls from late Dame Deborah James to check for bowel cancer

When Bex Papa-Adams was diagnosed with stage-four bowel cancer at the age of 29, she was told she had about a year to live.

Now 17 years and nine major operations later, the 45-year-old is cancer-free and has become a fully-qualified yoga teacher.

She believes Dame Deborah James, who died last month at the age of 40, and was laid to rest yesterday, has done a lot to release the stigma of the disease with her Check Your Poo message and Me and the Big C podcast.

The campaigner was diagnosed with the same cancer as Bex and both stressed the importance of pushing for an early diagnosis.

The mum-of-three, who lives with husband Theo in Hempstead, near Gillingham, said: "It took 18 months to diagnose me, yet I had symptoms like blood in my stools.

"They said I was too young when I asked if it could be cancer. They said I was paranoid it could be piles."

Her family have been told by doctors she is likely to be the longest surviving stage-four bowel cancer patient in Britain.

Deborah James. Photo: Alamy / PA
Deborah James. Photo: Alamy / PA

She now has a permanent stoma but believes had it been caught earlier it might have been a different scenario as the disease may not have spread so fast.

She said: "Dame Deborah has opened up a conversation about bowel cancer. Too many people suffer in silence. They feel embarrassed talking about it."

Previously fit and healthy, she said: "I couldn't even go out in the garden without having an accident."

In 2007 she was told she had secondary liver cancer and again her life was put on hold with more gruelling treatment as she was bringing up a young family.

She added: "Many times I was told I might not pull through and my family were called to come and say their goodbyes.

In training - Phodi Papa-Adams
In training - Phodi Papa-Adams

"All my operations were life-saving and lasted about six hours. My last operation was six weeks ago, and I was a week in intensive care and four weeks in a high-dependency ward."

She puts her strength to carry on down to her yoga and her husband, who she describes as "a pillar of strength".

Her Inspire My Yoga online programme has 130,000 subscribers and she used breathing techniques and meditation throughout her treatment.

Theo, who runs Papas Barn Fish and Chips Restaurant at Takeaway in Aylesford, stressed the importance of challenging doctors and medics if you feel "there's something wrong".

He said: "You must push for answers and ask questions.

The family are encouraging people to check for bowel cancer symptoms
The family are encouraging people to check for bowel cancer symptoms

"We are taking one day at a time and each time we are bouncing back."

Now their eldest son Phodi – a personal trainer who also works at his dad's business – is planning to run five marathons in five consecutive days in September to raise awareness of bowel cancer and, in particular, of post surgery care.

The 25-year-old, who is based at the Sisu gym on the Medway City Estate, said: "I'm super fit and strong, but I don't run. In fact, I hate running, which is why I'm doing it because my mum hates going to hospital. It's a challenge. Up to now I've only managed a 10k."

His parents are "immensely proud" of Phodi's mammoth fundraiser in which he will run 130 miles – about the distance between Rochester and Norwich cathedrals.

Theo said: "This is way out of his comfort zone." To donate to the cause, click here.

The couple have two other children, Claire, 25, and Andy, 21.

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