Dancing On Ice star Adele Roberts: How I ran the London Marathon with a stoma

‘Cancer has made me a better person,’ the broadcaster reflects.

Adele Roberts joined the Guinness World Record books when she became the fastest runner with a stoma bag in the London Marathon
Adele Roberts joined the Guinness World Record books when she became the fastest runner with a stoma bag in the London Marathon (Sophia Spring)

DJ, Dancing On Ice star and marathon runner, Adele Roberts, calls her stoma ‘Audrey’, branding her a ‘cheeky monkey’ when she misbehaves.

“Audrey is my little friend,” she says playfully of the stoma. “She always seems to play up and humbles me in public. But she’s been my little buddy all the way through it.”

It’s a light-hearted take on a serious issue, as Audrey has been around for more than two years since Roberts, 45, was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer and had a tumour removed, leaving her with the stoma which she has now personified.

Since then, she has become a campaigner for bowel cancer awareness, and last year joined the Guinness World Record books when she became the fastest runner with a stoma bag in the London Marathon, completing it in three hours 30 minutes 22 seconds – a personal best and faster than she had run the course twice, pre-cancer.

Today, the shaven-headed former Radio 1 DJ says she is still recovering from the rounds of chemotherapy that left her with agonising pain in her hands and feet, where her skin peeled off, she lost her fingerprints and everything she ate tasted metallic.

She has remained positive, but admits there were moments of despair.

“There were some nights when I’d just lie there and cry because it hurt so much. It robbed me of so much, just like the pleasure of tasting your favourite food, everything tasted like metal. My tongue got black dots on it. It changed my skin, my face, I was bloated.”

Not being able to control what happened to her body, she focused on her mind and soul, listening to music and getting to the end of each day with her girlfriend, actor Kate Holderness, focusing on the positive.

“Even though it was hurting, I was always moving forward. You have to take it day-by-day, break it down, concentrate on what’s in front of you. I think having cancer made me very present.”

Now she has written Personal Best, a memoir about her experience and how she has changed since her diagnosis in October 2021, being declared ‘cancer-free’ in August 2022, and running her record-breaking London Marathon last year, less than a year after finishing chemo.

“It feels amazing,” she beams. “I did it because I couldn’t find somebody that had done it, so I thought, I’m going to try to set a record if I can, because at least then it’ll show other people with stomas what’s possible.”

Hydration and nutrition had to be precisely monitored on the day, she recalls.

“Anybody who’s able-bodied will know that you’ve got to have enough fuel in your body to make it round 26.2 miles, and with a stoma you are already 30% down on your hydration because you’ve been perpetually dehydrated, and then I had to get enough food and drink into me but not have to empty my bag in the toilet all the time. It was a hard balance.”

The night before the marathon she ate porridge and mashed potatoes, which didn’t quite go to plan as Audrey was playing up. But isotonic running gels helped on the day, there were no further hiccups and she made it, cheered on by crowds yelling for Audrey, emblazoned on her running vest.

Now, Roberts is considering entering the six World Marathon Majors, while she has her stoma.

“I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody but I definitely think it’s made me a better person. It’s made me rise up.”

She wrote the book to raise awareness of the disease, she says.

“In a way, bowel cancer is a silent killer because people don’t talk about it. There’s not enough awareness and the symptoms are easy to explain away (she had blood in her stools, which she thought was from piles).

“I felt like I was in the shape of my life. I didn’t expect to be told I had cancer. I split into two that day – the old me stopped and the new me began.

“When I first got diagnosed, it was obviously very overwhelming. It was a shock, but the first thing I did was read other people’s experiences, because I was really scared and didn’t know what to expect.

“The fact that people have been good enough to share online, whether on Instagram or forums or Twitter (now X) helped me immensely. I thought, if I manage to survive I’ll make sure I’ll do the same for other people.”

Roberts, who left her DJ job at Radio 1 last year to spend more time with her ailing mother (who died in January), does not shy away from the reality of living with a stoma.

She recalls one episode in the book when the stoma prolapsed – when the intestine extends to an abnormal length through the stoma – on the day of Scott Mills’ final show on Radio 1 in 2022, which resulted in her missing the party. She was also due to cover for Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 late show.

Audrey, normally the size of a baby carrot, suddenly became the size of a baby elephant trunk, which had unravelled down to her knee, she recalls in the book.

Roberts and Holderness managed to manipulate her intestine back in – and she still covered for Whiley that night. The episode is written with great humour, but it must have been terrifying.

The stoma prolapsed more recently in this year’s Dancing On Ice, the night before a particularly stressful dance routine, she recalls.

“When you get very nervous or excited your stoma plays up because it’s part of your gut and gut reaction is real.

“At the hotel with my girlfriend, it felt like I had a snake in my bag. Audrey had prolapsed, but not as bad as the other time. I just had to lie on the bed and Kate massaged it back in.” Roberts and partner Mark Hanretty finished third in the competition.

It’s when describing Holderness that Roberts becomes emotional.

“Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it. I don’t even know if I’d be here, because she encouraged me to go to the doctor’s and was with me when I got examined and diagnosed. She has been with me every step of the way.

“Cancer is a very lonely thing to go through, but with Kate by my side, I just knew I would give it everything I had to try and get through it.”

The eldest of six siblings, Roberts grew up in Stockport and describes her early council estate life as chaotic. Her parents split up when she was 16, but she says “they gave us a beautiful life”.

She agrees her stoicism comes largely from her upbringing.

“My mum and dad just didn’t believe in us being ill. I went to school every day that it was available. They were just very practical and down-to-earth and I love that.”

She returns to hospital every three months for cancer checks. It’s a nervous time, she admits, and brings back memories of the original diagnosis.

“Once I’ve cleared the first two years, it will be five years that will be the next milestone,” she says positively. She’s keeping her shaven head for now but might let her hair grow back when she hits that five-year marker.

Music, mindfulness and appreciating the little things in life help her mental health, she says.

“At the moment there’s a lot of cherry blossom around and I remember admiring the cherry blossom where we live when I was on chemo and felt very ill. I got to see that bloom again this year – and I know how lucky I am.”

She’s hopeful about having a stoma reversal this year, but admits: “I’ll miss Audrey. But I’ll also be very proud of the scar, whatever scar she leaves. And I understand it’s probably more beneficial to have your insides inside your body, not outside of them.”

And she’d like to write a children’s book with Holderness about Audrey’s adventures.

“If kids knew about stomas when they were at primary school, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of these problems with people feeling ashamed. Nobody should feel ashamed of having a stoma.”

Personal Best by Adele Roberts is published by Hodder Catalyst, priced £22. Available now.