BBC newsreader, who has bowel cancer, says he felt guilty using disabled loos
George Alagiah has told of his feelings of guilt at using disabled toilets when he was not visibly disabled but had a stoma bag attached to his stomach.
The BBC newsreader, who has stage-four bowel cancer, also said he had to get his suits for work altered to allow for the bag on his abdomen.
Alagiah, 63, underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy to treat advanced bowel cancer in 2014 before returning to presenting duties in 2015. In January 2018 he revealed that the cancer had returned.
He previously underwent an ileostomy, where the small bowel is diverted through a stoma, an opening in the stomach. A bag is placed over the stoma to collect waste products that would usually pass through the colon.
Alagiah no longer has the stoma after undergoing reversal treatment, but he has spoken for the first time about the impact it had on his life.
In the podcast In Conversation With George Alagiah: A Bowel Cancer UK Podcast, he said: “I used to find difficult – I had a stoma but I didn’t look disabled, and I would be turning the key in a disabled loo in a motorway service station or something. And if there was a queue and somebody obviously disabled [was there], I used to feel guilty and feel like I needed to apologise and explain.
“The reason you need to go into a disabled loo is that you just need a little bit of space to get the contents of your blue bag out and the sanitising equipment and so on.”
He said he used to find “the embarrassment factor too much” when going out for an evening and he would “load up” on Imodium to “slow it all down”.
Alagiah also said he had not wanted his wife to see his stoma, but she had to help him after he first returned home from hospital as the bag had leaked.
“I remember thinking that I didn’t want my wife to see it, and what happened was I got home and for whatever reason it started leaking. I went back up to the bathroom to try to clean myself up – we had just sat down for what I hoped would be an intimate evening, we’d poured ourselves some drinks – and there I was, in the loo, this thing kept spurting out and my wife had to help me.”
For the podcast, Alagiah spoke to another bowel cancer patient, Andrea Robson, and her stoma nurse Lisa Allison, a clinical nurse specialist in pouch care at Northwick Park and St Mark’s hospitals in London, about managing a stoma.
Alagiah hosts the first series of Bowel Cancer UK’s podcasts, interviewing supporters and leading experts on the disease and discussing his own treatment and diagnosis.
Bowel cancer is the UK’s fourth most common cancer and the second deadliest, with more than 16,000 people a year dying from the disease. It is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early.