‘I’m worried it’s cancer’ – Julie Walters thought doctors ‘made a mistake’ with diagnosis

Julie Walters discusses her cancer recovery with Lorraine Kelly

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The actress who has played roles in Harry Potter, Billy Elliot and Educating Rita is best known for her perfect comical timing and natural wit, but a serious health diagnosis severely impacted her career. The actress was cut from certain scenes in The Secret Garden and also missed the premiere of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again due to receiving treatment.

Although keeping the state of her health private at the time, in an interview she revealed that she was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer. In the exclusive interview with Victoria Derbyshire she said that it came as a great “shock”.

Bowel cancer is the UK’s fourth most common cancer and second biggest cancer killer with more than 16,000 people dying from the disease every year.

The actress admitted that when first hearing the news that doctors were “worried it’s cancer”, she thought they “must have made a mistake”.

Doctors were able to firmly come to the conclusion after finding an abnormality in the actress’s intestine.

After telling her husband Grant Roffey who immediately started to well up with tears, she increasingly became more worried.

The now 71-year-old said she had first gone to see her doctor a year earlier with indigestion and “slight discomfort”, and later returned with symptoms such as stomach pain, heartburn and vomiting.

Only two years prior to Walters’ diagnosis, close friend and fellow comedienne Victoria Wood was also diagnosed with the deadly disease, sadly passing away in April 2016.

After receiving her diagnosis, Walters thought of her friend. She said: “Oh God, yeah I thought of her loads and how frightened she must’ve been because at least I could have an operation – she couldn’t.”

Doctors informed the actress that the cancer was treatable and after having chemotherapy she has now been given the all clear. She added: “As far as I know everything is fine.”

However, since her experience with cancer she admits that she has “felt like that was a different person, the person who was acting the whole time”.

Due to this, the actress also hinted at stepping back from the limelight. She said that The Secret Garden could “possibly” be her last film. Although she is uncertain on retiring from acting altogether, she is assured that the hectic schedules and silly start times were something she wanted to put behind her.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. And is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 60.

Stage three bowel cancer – which is what Walters was diagnosed with – meant that the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to distant body parts. The two primary tumours were in her large intestine.

The three main symptoms of bowel cancer according to the NHS are:
Persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
A persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny
Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss.

Sometimes, a tumour can block the bowel, causing sudden strong pains in the stomach area, bloating and feeling or being sick. This is called a bowel obstruction. You may also be unable to empty your bowels or pass wind.

If you experience any of these symptoms or similar it is crucial that you consult your GP.

Luckily bowel cancer is very treatable, but the earlier it is diagnosed the easier it is to treat.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are two of these treatments options, however there is a high chance that the cancer could return.

This is why another treatment available is surgery. Together with radiotherapy and chemotherapy it makes the cancer easier to remove and minimises the chance of it returning. The type of surgery you will receive depends on where the cancer is, what size it is and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

Recovery after surgery is possible and most people are able to go home within a week of an operation due to an enhanced recovery programme. Routine check-ups for the next few years to look for signs of the cancer returning are mandatory.

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