Life

EastEnders’ Jamie Borthwick: I have terrible health anxiety – but therapy really helped me

The actor talks to Abi Jackson about running the London Marathon for Prostate Cancer UK.

Jamie Borthwick at the British Soap Awards 2023
Jamie Borthwick at the British Soap Awards 2023 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Like many people running the London Marathon later this month, EastEnders actor Jamie Borthwick will be pounding the pavements for a cause close to his heart.

Borthwick, 29, who plays Jay in the popular BBC One soap, is tackling the 26.2-mile challenge in support of Prostate Cancer UK – raising funds and awareness of the disease which has impacted various members of his family.

Both his dad, Simon, 57, and uncle have overcome prostate cancer, while he also has a cousin currently going through treatment.

“Thankfully, with dad and uncle Charlie it was caught very early. We managed to get [it] removed and thankfully it was all fine. My cousin is having treatment, but it’s all looking like it’s going to be fine,” says Borthwick – who will also be filming for EastEnders on marathon day, running in character along with co-star Emma Barton (who plays Honey Mitchell). Viewers have already seen the pair training for the iconic event in memory of Jay’s late wife Lola, who died from a brain tumour last year.

“But I appreciate that I’m one of the very lucky ones,” Borthwick adds of his dad and uncle’s subsequent recovery. “Because I know there’s a lot of people who sadly don’t have the same news as me.”

According to Prostate Cancer UK, one in eight men will get the condition. It mostly affects people aged 50 and over, and is also more common among Black men and those with a close family history.

Symptoms mainly involve changes in someone’s urinating habits – such as difficulty starting to pee or fully emptying the bladder, a weak flow and needing to go more often, especially at night. While none of these things automatically mean you have cancer, getting things checked is important, as prostate cancer is usually easily treatable when detected early.

Jamie Borthwick (L) and his dad, Simon
Jamie Borthwick (L) and his dad, Simon

Still, a diagnosis is always a shock. Borthwick recalls being knocked for six when his parents sat him down a couple of years ago to break the news about his dad’s cancer.

“As you can imagine, I was in fits crying. I was in floods. When my mum actually explained to me that it had been caught early and was going to be ok, I was like, ‘Ok…’,” the Barking-born actor recalls.

“I took him to hospital the next day with my mum. The surgery went well, the doctors were fantastic, and thankfully he’s been through his checks and it’s all clear, we’re all good.”

While Borthwick didn’t know a lot about the disease before this, prostate cancer had previously been on his radar – after experiencing bouts of prostatitis, an inflamed prostate due to an infection.

“I remember being really worried and health anxiety kicking in, because I thought I had prostate cancer. Thankfully, I just had an infection,” he explains. “But now because my dad’s had it, I do have an increased risk of getting it, so I’ll go for checks when I’m 45.” (There’s no national screening programme in the UK for prostate cancer, but anyone concerned can ask their GP for a PSA blood test – which can help detect cancer – from age 50, or age 45 if they have a family history or known higher risk.)

As someone who’s struggled with health anxiety since his teens, for Borthwick, it’s a balance of taking care of his mental wellbeing and staying informed about his health.

“I have terrible health anxiety, I’m a massive hypochondriac. Every day, I wake up and go, ‘what’s wrong with me today?’ I had a really bad phobia about being sick, emetophobia it’s called, it actually started with that,” Borthwick explains. “Then as I got older, that developed into more health things.

“I’ve just had to manage it, really,” he adds. “I had therapy for the phobia, it was that bad, and ever since then the coping mechanisms and tools I gathered in the therapy sessions have really helped me.

“But I don’t think these things ever fully leave you. You just become equipped to be able to deal with it, and that’s exactly where I’m at now. I’m far from perfect, but I’m certainly in a much better place than it was 10 years ago.”

He’s determined not to let it stop him enjoying life.

“Life can change [in an instant]. For me now, it’s about having that in mind and really remembering that. I feel like I have a responsibility to myself to live my life to the fullest, because everything can change,” he says.

Despite all the marathon training, Borthwick doesn’t consider himself a “natural” runner – but does feel “more revitalised” after getting out there.

“Especially if the weather’s nice, I like being able to go running around the forest and the trees. It gets me thinking about nicer things happening in my life, I kind of go back to nice memories while I’m out on a run.

“And it gives me a chance to manoeuvre all the day-to-day issues and problems. My mind just never stops, so it’s a nice time for me, to compartmentalise things in my brain.”

While not one for following wellness fads, Borthwick has always been health-conscious, saying: “I’ve never smoked, I’ve never drunk, I’ve never taken a drug ever in my life.”

Aside from that, for him, it’s all about embracing the simple joys in life.

“I just do things I enjoy, really. I love playing my guitar, I love being with my friends, going on little trips away. Just being around people, really. I play football whenever I can, I’m a big snooker boy. That’s the stuff that makes me feel good.”

The whole family will be cheering from the side-lines on marathon day.

“It’ll be exciting, because obviously we’re going to be filming, so a few of our crew will be with us as well, it’s going to be a good experience – I’ve just got to get around!

“I’m not looking to do it in any kind of time format, I just want to get round and enjoy the experience.”

Jamie Borthwick is joining more than 190 Prostate Cancer UK runners, funding vital research that will help save and enrich thousands of lives. You can sponsor Jamie online at: 2024tcslondonmarathon.enthuse.com/pf/jamie-borthwick