'The Banham Marsden March gives me a sense of purpose'
Ahead of The Banham Marsden March, we’re sharing Debbie’s story on living with bowel cancer, treatment at The Royal Marsden and why taking part in the big day is important to her.
In 2017, Debbie – a chartered surveyor and mum from Cobham – was diagnosed with bowel cancer on the week of her 50th birthday. She is now on long-term chemotherapy at The Royal Marsden.
Debbie will be joining us and thousands of dedicated fundraisers at The Banham Marsden March, alongside a large group of friends and family supporting her every step of the way.
“This won’t be my first Banham Marsden March, I’ve taken part in the last three! I’m lucky in that I’ve got a great support network – it looks like I’ll have 25 or so in ‘Team Debbie’ this year.”
“My team is made up of family, neighbours and old friends from school and university – one good friend has flown over from Australia twice to walk with me! My daughter took part last year, and this year my nephew, who is only 10, will be joining in for the first time.”
“It’s an emotional but supportive atmosphere. People along the route are really kind, laying out drinks and shouting lots of encouragement. You can have coffee, ice-cream or cake on the way, taking little pit stops if you need to. It’s not a race, it’s not about who gets there first, but everyone crossing the line together.”
“There might be a time when I can’t walk 15 miles, or I have to do the shorter route. But while I can, I want to do it.”
How it all started
“I was diagnosed the week of my 50th birthday. I was busy planning a party and it didn’t even cross my mind that it could be anything serious. I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms associated with bowel cancer, other than fatigue.”
"I was so exhausted that I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. I would finish work and have no idea how I was going to walk across the car park to the car."
“I was lucky that my GP was very on it and referred me for bloods and a colonoscopy. From there, the cancer was picked up and it all kicked off quickly. It was a completely overwhelming time. Once someone says those words to you, life is never the same again.”
Treatment for bowel cancer
Debbie was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer and referred to The Royal Marsden. She underwent 30 cycles of chemo-radiation followed by bowel resection surgery, where she was fitted with a temporary stoma (an opening in the tummy where the end of the colon is diverted). 18 months later, the cancer progressed to stage 4 and had spread to her liver and lungs.
“It was devastating. You go through all of that, and then the next scan shows the cancer is back. Telling my parents and children was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
“The Royal Marsden have thrown every treatment option at me from the get-go. I’ve since had parts of my liver and lungs removed, radiotherapy for a lung lesion, as well as numerous different chemotherapy treatments.”
“I’ve been at stage 4 for a few years now. I’m on long-term chemotherapy with regular scans to control the cancer for as long as possible – hopefully for a very long time. There may be clinical trials I can access, but for now I try to stay fit and well and take one day at a time."
“Everyone on the Medical Day Unit at The Royal Marsden is lovely. From my day-to-day nurse Keely, my chemotherapy nurses including Mary and Ashling, to the staff on the front desk, everyone is so kind and can’t do enough. I’m also fortunate to be under the care of Professor David Cunningham who is at the top of his game in oncology.”
"I now have a different life than the one I thought I was going to have."
“It’s not just me with a different life, though – it affects everybody around you. My children have spent their teenage years with their mum in and out of hospital and undergoing treatment."
“The upside is I’ve been around a lot more. I haven’t been pressured to go back to work and I’ve been a ‘stay-at-home’ mum, having been a career mum previously charging around at 100 miles an hour and juggling many plates.”
Fundraising is key
“The last five years have been a rollercoaster, but I want to help raise vital funds and give back to the hospital that has become my second home. Dame Deborah James did a tremendous job raising the profile, and she’s very missed in the bowel cancer community.”
“The Banham Marsden March is a target for me, it gives me a sense of purpose and something to aim for – I’m really looking forward to it.”
Together we walk
Every year we walk from Chelsea to Sutton between the two Royal Marsden hospitals.
Registration has now closed for this year's Banham Marsden March. If you're inspired by Debbie's story and want to be the first to sign up for next year's event, register for our early bird alert.
There are lots of other ways to get involved and help raise funds for The Royal Marsden.