Olivia Williams nearly ‘starved to death’ due to deadly cancer mistaken as menopause

Cancer symptoms: Top 14 early signs to look out for

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Olivia Williams, 53, perhaps best known for her roles in The Sixth Sense, Anna Karenina, and more recently as Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown, was interrupted by an abrupt email on set for a film. The email, which would move her to tears, diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer – the killer of 26 people every day. On the one hand, it ended four years of confusion and a misdiagnosis but on the other would mark the beginning of her invasive treatment.

Since 2014 the star had been experiencing a wide range of symptoms of cancer which were conflated with menopause.

She endured years of chronic fatigue, diarrhoea, and aching limbs, weight loss, and the “very bizarre” symptom of red flushing.

Talking to ITV’s Lorraine about the red flushing, she said: “Everyone told me for four years I was peri-menopausal,” she said. “Which I wasn’t at the time, although I am now.”

She explained more recently: “I very nearly starved to death because nobody knew what was wrong with me.”

Doctors even reportedly tested her for bowel and colon cancer to no avail.

“After that [failed test], I remember sitting in the Counterpart make-up chair and saying, ‘Well, I don’t know what this is but it’s not cancer.’ How wrong I was!” she told the MailOnline.

It turned out the weight loss, which became so bad she could no longer draw blood for testing, was down to pancreas damage. It had become so bad that her body could no longer digest food.

The reality of her condition was uncovered in 2018 when a 7cm by 4cm tumour was found in her pancreas, that was checked via a biopsy.

Her “slightly brutal” doctor shared the news of her condition with her while she was on set in 2018 for the show Counterpart.

The email read: “It’s malignant, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour/cancer. Thank you,” according to Williams.

This type of cancer often releases excess hormones into the bloodstream, which can explain the different symptoms Williams was experiencing. The pancreas is an important gland in the digestive system responsible for creating substances used as part of digestion.

According to Pancreatic Cancer UK, who Williams is now an ambassador for, she specifically had a rare form of pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer called VIP, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide carcinoma.

These tumours specifically cause a substance called vasoactive intestinal peptide to be created.

The American Cancer Society explains that too much of this substance can cause diarrhoea, one of the symptoms Williams had.

“People with these tumours also tend to have low levels of acid in their stomachs, which can lead to problems digesting food,” adds the organisation.

Other symptoms of this condition include nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, feeling weak or tired and flushing – many of the symptoms the star experienced.

According to the NHS, the other symptoms of a pancreatic cancer that may occur include jaundice – yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and a high temperature.

On ITV’s Lorraine, Olivia Williams urged those over the age of 40 to talk to a doctor if they’re experiencing “unusual bowel movements over a long period of time”.

You might have “something more wrong with you.. [than] irritable bowel syndrome,” she explained.

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