London – Dame Julie Walters revealed on Thursday that she has been given the all-clear after being treated for advanced bowel cancer.
The 69-year-old actress spoke of her shock diagnosis 18 months ago, urging people who thought they had symptoms to get themselves checked.
Dame Julie said that she must have already had tumours developing when she visited her best friend Victoria Wood as the comedienne was dying of an inoperable form of cancer aged 62 in 2016.
A year later she saw her GP for indigestion and a "slight discomfort", which over the subsequent 12 months developed into stomach pain, heartburn and vomiting.
Doctors who performed a CT scan and a colonoscopy found two primary tumours in her large intestine. She was told she had stage three cancer as it had spread to nearby lymph nodes.
In a recorded interview on Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC2 show, Dame Julie said she thought doctors had made a mistake when they told her their diagnosis.
"First of all, shock," she said. "And I thought, ‘Right’. Then you hold on to the positive which was that [the doctor] said, ‘We can fix this’." She said she would never forget her husband Grant Roffey’s tears when she broke the news.
The couple have been married for 23 years and have a daughter, Maisie Mae, 31.
Dame Julie – whose films include ‘Educating Rita’, ‘Billy Elliot’, ‘Calendar Girls’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and the ‘Harry Potter’ series – had surgery in which a 12in section of her colon was removed. She was then given a course of chemotherapy tablets. "I will never forget taking the first lot – my hand was shaking," she admitted. "I felt like I was killing myself."
The treatment caused her tongue to swell but she did not lose her hair, she told Derbyshire – who was successfully treated for breast cancer in 2015. Dame Julie said for anyone who thought they had symptoms, "you’ve got to go and get things checked".
If caught early, it is easier to treat and survival rates, which have more than doubled in the past 40 years, can be higher than nine in ten. Referring to the stigma of being examined, she said: "Your bowel is part of your digestive system, it’s just what digests your food. Doctors are used to bottoms. They’ve got one themselves."