Lorraine launches ‘NO BUTTS’ campaign to raise awareness about bowel cancer
Following the show’s highest ratings for a decade, on Monday 19th April Lorraine is launching a new campaign, ‘No Butts’, to raise awareness about bowel cancer and educate viewers on the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Lorraine Kelly will be joined by activist and influencer Deborah James, aka bowel babe, who is spearheading the campaign in a bid to get people talking about the nation’s second biggest cancer killer.
Deborah has been living with Stage 4 bowel cancer since 2016, so she is passionate about lifting the lid on toilet taboos and encouraging life-saving early detection.
With April being Bowel Cancer Awareness month, there has never been a better time to get the message out there. The campaign, which is supported by Bowel Cancer UK, will be built around a ‘reminder sticker’ which spells out the symptoms and will appear wherever people park their bums across the country - from public toilets to service stations and sofa stores.
Here, Lorraine and Deborah reveal why this cause is so important, how we all need to get more comfortable with talking about poo and reflect on the life-saving power of television...
What do you hope to achieve with your ‘No Butts’ campaign?
It’s about raising awareness of bowel cancer and the signs and symptoms, as well normalising talking about it. It’s making sure people don’t die of embarrassment. Hopefully if people see me talk about poo on national tv, they won’t feel so embarrassed because, at the end of the day, we all do it. I know it’s uncomfortable for some people to talk about these things, but we have to work hard to diffuse that so people can talk about their bowel habits. I think this is where shows like mine and ITV’s other daytime shows come into their own, because we talk about cancer and other uncomfortable subjects. It’s so important to spark conversation and kick these taboos into touch.
Do you feel a responsibility to use your platform to talk about bowel cancer and raise awareness?
Definitely. It is a responsibility I take very seriously and it is a privilege to be able to do it if you have a platform like mine. These campaigns are at the heart of the show, from whether we’re talking about the menopause, breast cancer or mental health, and it’s one of the things that certainly I am most proud of. I think it is a really important thing if you have a platform like this. It means an awful lot. Of course my show is also there to make people feel better and entertained, but there is an element of informing people and making them aware about health issues.
When you started out in breakfast TV over 30 years ago, could you talk about things like poo on television?
Not so much at first. When I first joined TV-AM, people didn’t talk about cancer on air. It was called ‘The C word’ and it was said in hushed tones. I think we broke down an awful lot of those barriers, not just with cancer but other health issues, sexuality, mental health. It’s silly to think of anything like that as being controversial these days but back then it was.
In breakfast and daytime television, we were the pioneers and we were the first people to actually talk about things like bowel cancer. Before that, you only heard about it on medical shows or in medical articles in newspapers.
Do you hope your ‘No Butts’ reminder stickers, which list the symptoms of bowel cancer and will appear all over the country, will have the same impact as your ‘Change and Check’ stickers?
Yes, that would be incredible because we got such a good backing on that, all the way from Downing Street to Madonna. I think people when they are given the opportunity to help, then I am always astounded by the response that we get from our fantastic viewers. I am sure they will embrace our ‘No Butts’ campaign, take up this cause and make sure that the word gets spread far and wide.
How pleased are you to have Deborah James, aka Bowel Babe, on board to spearhead this campaign?
She is wonderful, an amazing woman and also an incredible ambassador. She has been a trailblazer and making it okay to talk about these sorts of things. Like I said, it’s about getting over the embarrassment and sense of shame that people shouldn’t have. She also shows that it isn’t just older people that get bowel cancer, younger people do too, even though it’s rarer. I feel like everytime she comes on the show, she saves lives because she is encouraging people to get an early diagnosis. As we know, Deborah now of course is living with a Stage 4 diagnosis and while there is a lot more that can be done now, you have got to give yourself that chance and get to your GP. Nine times out of ten, it will probably be nothing, but it’s that one time when you want to catch it.
A lot of people seem reluctant to go to their GPs at the moment during the pandemic. What would you say to them?
Yes, there is a reluctance, partly because people feel their GPs are overwhelmed because of Covid, and also there is that fear that, if it is bad news, you don’t want to hear it. But it’s about getting over that because GPs want to see you, they are open for business. It really is just about getting there and getting checked.
Are you quite open and happy talking about your own health?
I am very lucky in that I don’t really have that many health problems or certainly haven’t up until now. The only medication I take is HRT which I have been on for about four or five years and when I talked about the menopause on my show, it got such a huge reaction.
What is great for me is that I have Dr Hilary, so if I am worried about anything, Hilary is great and I can just call him and speak to him. I was worried about my dad last year and I always ran things past him.
Do you go for all your cancer screenings?
Oh god, yes. We are in such a privileged position in this country with the NHS that we get offered all the checks. But I think that is an absolute privilege. We are incredibly lucky because in many countries you either have to pay, so the poor then suffer the most and the people that need more help than anyone else don’t get it. What a privilege to get a call inviting you for a mammogram or a smear test or a prostate cancer test, whatever it may be. For goodness sake, you have got to take advantage of these things. We are so lucky.
Has bowel cancer affected anyone close to you?
Yes, my friend Lynn Faulds Wood had bowel cancer and, luckily, made a really incredible recovery from it. A lot of people will remember her from presenting a lot of consumer shows and being married to the presenter John Stapleton. She was one of the first people to talk about bowel cancer and changes in your poo on television. That was back in my TV-AM days and she was evangelical about raising awareness. She set up her own bowel cancer charity and did some amazing things. Sadly, Lynn died last year from a stroke, but her legacy lives on. Her husband John is going to come on to the show as part of our ‘No Butts’ campaign and talk about her. I’m so pleased about that because he is a great guy, and it’s been really hard for him losing Lynn.
Finally, have viewers ever told you that a campaign or a health item on your show has saved their lives?
Yes, yes, very often. There is nothing like it and that is just astonishing and very gratifying for all of us. I am just part of a very strong team, and I am so grateful that I have people like Deborah, and also our producer Helen Addis, who came up with our Change and Check campaign. I’m also grateful that we have all these knowledgeable, passionate experts on our show - Dr Hilary, Dr Amir [Khan], Dr Alex [George] - who can relate complex issues in a very digestible way. You can save lives through television, which is remarkable, and you’ll never really know how many people you have helped.
Why is ‘No Butts’ such an important campaign?
It’s literally life or death. And as somebody who lives with bowel cancer, I shouldn’t be alive - statistically I am on borrowed time. Had my cancer been caught early, I wouldn’t be in that situation, so I want to prevent others going through what I have had to deal with. If we just save one life with ‘No Butts’, it is worth it.
How did you feel to be asked to be involved?
Over the moon. Lorraine has always supported my awareness campaigns. Since the early days, she has been my biggest supporter. It’s really good to join up with Lorraine and put this on an even bigger platform. I think Lorraine leads by example, she is not embarrassed to talk about stuff. She is like, we all poo, let’s just talk about it. It’s normal. Because she is so open and honest about stuff, people just listen to her.
As part of ‘No Butts’, you’re going to be hitting the road aren’t you?
Yes, I’m going to be going up and down the country, meeting people and talking about bums and bowel habits. We have a travelling pink sofa and we’re going to be parking as many bums on it as possible and starting a conversation. It’s making people not feel embarrassed to talk about it because that is the gateway into prevention. I think people think when you talk about cancer that it has to be really serious but I always say, cancer is really serious but prevention doesn’t need to be. The more serious you make it, the less people will want to talk about it. I love the fact that our reminder sticker for ‘No Butts’ is using a cheeky peach emoji, because I’m all about cheek, I’m all about talking about your bum. That’s how you engage people.
Does bowel cancer have the bigger stigma than other cancers because people feel embarrassed talking about poo?
Yeah, It’s not British at all to talk about your bowel habits, we have a stiff upper lip and we get really embarrassed. We talk about ‘down there’, but that could be referring to lots of different things for a woman, so let’s just be really blunt and talk about it. We talk sex and relationships, but we don’t talk about going to the toilet. You can’t die of embarrassment. Checking your poo when you go to the toilet is a really big indicator of what is going on with our health. It’s not about becoming obsessive, it’s just about paying a bit more attention and I think Covid has made us realise how important our health is, if nothing else.
What are the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer that people need to look out for?
Blood in your poo or from your bottom, obvious change in your bowel habit, weight loss you can’t explain, extreme tiredness for no apparent reason and a lump and/ or pain in your tummy. If you have any of these symptoms, it is more likely it is something else rather than bowel cancer, but it’s better to get it checked and confirmed.
What do you say to people who might be too scared of hearing bad news to get checked?
Cancer is changing, in terms of the hope we have. Today, more people will live for ten years after diagnosis than will die of cancer. Ultimately the earlier cancer is caught, the more chances you have so ultimately, wouldn’t you rather get it caught than have it diagnosed too late? Also, cancer doesn’t go anywhere so it’s not going to disappear if you ignore it.
What advice would you give to people who might be embarrassed to talk about bowel habits to their doctor?
The more information you give and the blunter you are, the better. To put it into perspective, I just had a 20 minute chat with my doctor about how well I was farting. Doctors don’t get embarrassed, they have heard it all. Don’t hide things from your doctor, be really honest with them. Don’t say, ‘Oh it’s nothing’. If you are worried, you are worried. Don’t let anyone tell you not to get it checked. You are the only one who knows your body, so remember that.
Tell us how you discovered you had bowel cancer?
I was diagnosed at the end of 2016, aged 35. I had just had about six months of change of bowel habits, going to poo eight times a day. I was bleeding but thought it was hemorrhoids. I was really tired, but I was a working mum of two, I was a deputy headteacher, so I put it down to being really busy. I did see a doctor but it took five visits to get diagnosed. That was partly me not fighting my own corner, but also being dismissed because of my age. I don’t want to put people off going to their GP because they think they will be dismissed, but on those rare occasions where you don’t feel listened to, be persistent.
How did you feel when you were finally diagnosed?
By the time I was diagnosed, I was blindsided by it. I had a 6 ½ cm tumour in my bowel and eight tumours in my lungs. It had metastasized and it was already Stage 4, which is the most advanced. I knew that my chances of living for the first year were less than my chances of dying. Most people, unfortunately, don’t survive that first year in my position. I went through a total rollercoaster. At first I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other, and then you start to feel really guilty and beat yourself up about not getting it checked earlier. Then you have to roll your sleeves up, and think, if I am going to live a bit more, you have to face a lot of things that you never thought you could face. Over the last four years, I have had nearly 100 cycles of chemo, targeted therapy, radiotherapy. I have had so many major operations - bowel resection, lung resection, chest resection - and I have to take drugs every day and am in the hospital every week for more treatment that keeps me alive.
How did you deal with talking to family and children about it?
I have always been really honest because it is so serious and it is part of my life, so I can’t hide it. And I don’t want to hide it because I think kids then make up their own conclusions. And they quite often will jump to the worst conclusion. Over the years I have had to have quite a lot of challenging conversations because my cancer goes through lots of different phases. Statistically, only about 8% of people with my type of cancer will survive for five years and sadly that is true because over the years I have said goodbye to so many people. I feel really lucky to be alive, albeit still on treatment and with my own challenges. I statistically knew I wouldn’t make my 40th birthday and it is here in October so let’s hope I make it.
Are you making plans for your 40th or do you not make plans anymore?
I do want to. I think if we weren’t dealing with Covid, I would really plan a massive party but I also haven’t started making those arrangements yet because I am also a bit scared - what happens if I don’t make it?
What do you think has helped you survive this long?
I think it’s a mix of everything. A really good medical team, a lot of luck, and then I suppose to get me through the day, it’s been exercise, positivity and a bit of wine [laughs]. It’s really hard because I know loads of positive people who have died, but for me positivity is a tool to help me function. Science also gives me hope. I’m living in a future I could only dream of, because of treatments that weren’t even around when I was first diagnosed and am now riding into tomorrow on the wings of research. Imagine if we apply the science power behind Covid to cancer next? That’s what gives me hope when at times it might seem hard.
How is your health at the moment?
I think the best phrase is ‘ploughing on’. My cancer hasn’t gone to sleep, but it is not everywhere either. We are trying to sit on it with a big bear. It is being constrained, but it certainly is, sadly, still active. A year ago, it had definitely gone to sleep for a bit, but I am not cancer free at the moment. But as is always the case with metastatic cancer, I have to live with it, I have to learn to manage it. It’s not curable, but it is treatable. I have to be consistently on treatment, but I take it one treatment and one day at a time.
How did this diagnosis change you?
I think it has transformed my life, some for the worst and some for the better. I think I would give up my new life tomorrow if I didn’t have cancer. I might be doing some really cool things now but I would still rather not have cancer. I would give anything to go back to my old life and not have cancer, but I would say that having cancer has taught me a lot about living in the now, rather than for the future.
It has also taught me the value of health. My purpose is now embarrassing my kids about stuff because I just want them to get used to it and not to feel embarrassed, and be able to talk about anything and everything. Naturally the teacher in me is always like, we have got to educate. People need to be aware. People shouldn’t be dying from it. Some cancers we are not quite there yet, but bowel cancer is curable. In the future nobody should be dying from bowel cancer, we should be able to stop that with early detection. We can’t stop cancer happening but we can certainly learn to catch it early, prevent it and raise awareness of it.
What are your hopes for the future?
I genuinely just want to live. It sounds really basic, but the only dream I have is to be alive. I am just so desperate to live, so that desire outweighs anything else. Of course, it would be nice to go on holiday, but everything else pales into insignificance when it comes to the desire to live. Everything else is irrelevant, the only thing that is important is life.
Lorraine’s ‘No Butts’ launches Monday 19th April from 9am on ITV and catch up on the ITV Hub
BOWEL CANCER STATISTICS
Over 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK and more than 16,000 people die from the disease - that's over 44 people every day
Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. However, it shouldn’t be because it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage, but this drops significantly as the disease develops
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers
Every 15 minutes in the UK someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer. Every 30 minutes someone dies from the disease in the UK
Bowel cancer is more common in the over 50s but it can affect people of all ages. More than 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year
1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime