28 June 2022 was a sad day for so many colleagues in the cancer community and many people throughout the country. Shortly after 9pm that evening, news broke that BBC podcaster and cancer awareness campaigner, Deborah James, had passed away from bowel cancer.
Deborah was one of 3 original presenters for the BBC’s ‘You, me and the Big C’ podcast, along with friends Rachel Bland (who was treated at The Christie before she died several years ago) and Lauren Mahon.
Since the launch of the podcast, Deborah did a huge amount of work to break down barriers and taboos around bowel cancer, in her unique way, particularly through social media as bowelbabe on Instagram (instagram.com/bowelbabe) and Twitter (twitter.com/bowelbabe).
Sadly, Deborah’s cancer progressed and in May she announced she was having hospice at home care. She launched an appeal for bowel cancer research, raising more than £6m in just a few weeks, and was made a Dame.
The production team at BBC Radio 5 live, which is based at Media City in Salford, contacted The Christie to ask if they could come to our cancer centre to do a live outside broadcast with presenter Naga Munchetty. The programme aimed to not only celebrate Deborah’s legacy but also to look to the future of cancer treatment.
Photo: The Christie communications team with BBC broadcaster Naga Munchetty
The Christie agreed, and the communications team started to contact a range of patients, staff and fundraisers to ask if they would be willing to take part in the programme. Despite the short notice and sad circumstances, many people were so moved by Deborah’s life and work that they wanted to do whatever they could to help continue her work around cancer awareness.
On 29 June, shortly after the 11am news on BBC Radio 5 live, in our conservatory, The Christie’s medical director Dr Neil Bayman welcomed Naga Munchetty and her listeners to The Christie and set the scene for the work we do in providing care and treatment to 60,000 patients a year. Dr Bayman was followed by a further 8 guests during the next 2 hours.
Listeners responded very warmly to the 4 patients who were interviewed, including bowel cancer patients Sharon Williams and Cindy Huxley who met each other and become good friends during chemotherapy at one of our local treatment centres. Fundraiser and testicular cancer patient Paul Ferriday spoke passionately about men checking themselves for cancer and former nurse and bowel cancer patient Sarah Zaidi described how she coped following her diagnosis.
One of our bowel cancer consultants, Dr Mike Braun, discussed current treatments, Mr Aziz Gulamhusein showcased developments in robotic surgery, senior clinical research nurse Lilly Simpson shared her motivations for working in cancer nursing and how clinical trials are administered and Dr Richard Berman discussed best practice in supportive and end of life care.
In total, there were 73 minutes of live coverage from The Christie. The programme is available on the BBC Sounds website and app until 28 July 2022.
We have received some very positive feedback from patients, staff, fundraisers, and the BBC following the broadcast. The BBC was very grateful for the opportunity to hear so many different voices talking about cancer experiences.
We hope that hosting this broadcast in the most sensitive way possible with compassion and understanding has helped to raise awareness of cancer, and current and future treatments.