Dame Deborah James’ inspiring life from spreading awareness to raising £6million as she dies age 40

Dame Deborah James has sadly passed away at the age of 40, after battling bowel cancer for five years.

The tragic news was announced on 28 June on the journalist and podcaster's Instagram page, with Deborah's family releasing a lengthy statement alongside a stunning photograph of the star and a clip of her happily dancing.

Deborah's family finished off the message by sharing a brief note from Deborah herself, with her permission, which said: "And a few final things from Deborah…“find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life.” x (Shared with Deborah’s permission)".

In her final years, Dame Deborah, who was also known as Bowel Babe, used her terminal diagnosis of stage four bowel cancer to inspire the public and raise millions for charity.

The former deputy headteacher gained more than 900,000 followers on social media as she documented the high and lows of her treatment with a unique sense of humour and optimism.

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As one of the co-hosts of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C, she took part in frank discussions about cancer that could be both serious and light-hearted, with conversations often punctuated by laughter.

In her final days, her campaigning earned her a damehood and her Bowel Babe fundraiser for Cancer Research UK passed the £6 million mark.

Back in December 2016, when Deborah was working as a deputy headteacher, a consultant told her a colonoscopy showed she had a large tumour.

She had typical symptoms – losing weight, passing blood when going to the toilet – but put them down to being a busy working mother.

A GP earlier said Deborah may have irritable bowel syndrome and tests showed no irregularities.

She never got a follow-up appointment and was told the symptoms were stress-related, but she said a “sixth sense” told her something was badly wrong.

It was only when she paid to see a private specialist she finally got a diagnosis, and aged just 35 she was told she had stage four bowel cancer and was unlikely to live to 40.

Despite her diagnosis, she remained relentlessly optimistic and began documenting her treatment on social media and in a newspaper column.

Against the odds, December 2021 marked five years since her diagnosis. “I’m fully aware I shouldn’t be alive to write this today,” she wrote on Instagram.

“But the best advice I was given was not to think too much about the what ifs, and to take on whatever challenge I have here and now and do it all little by little – and then we might just get far!”

Dame Deborah initially co-hosted the You, Me And The Big C podcast with Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland.

Bland died in September 2018 aged 40 after treatment for breast cancer, and her widower Steve has since become a regular on the show.

In early May 2022, she shared a blog post on social media announcing she had stopped active treatment and moved to hospice-at-home care, with doctors telling her they had done all they could.

Deborah's post prompted an outpouring of emotion online as she revealed she had returned to her parents' home in Woking.

The 40 year old then opened up about her "to-do death list" in an interview with The Times, and revealed that the first item was recording her children, Eloise and Hugo, letters they could open when she died.

She also praised her husband Sebastian and revealed she had given him “strict instructions” to move on after her death.

“He’s a handsome man; I’m, like, ‘Don’t be taken for a ride, don’t marry a bimbo, find someone else who can make you laugh like we did’,” she said.

Deborah continued to document her cancer battle and raise awareness about bowel cancer, and after setting up a JustGiving fundraiser, she raised millions for charity.

She set it up with an optimistic target of £250,000, and within four days, she had raised more than 16 times that.

By the Friday after stopping treatment, more than £4 million had been donated for Cancer Research UK and this continued to rise over the weekend to more than £6 million.

The podcast host also released a clothing line with In The Style with 100% of the profits going towards the charity, and raised £1 million.

In another surprise, Number 10 announced that she was being honoured with a damehood for her “tireless campaigning”.


Dame Deborah later said she felt “honoured and shocked” to even be considered for the honour.

Unusually, her damehood was conferred by the Duke of Cambridge at her family home, where he joined them for afternoon tea and champagne.

Damehoods are usually handed out by members of the royal family – but at investiture ceremonies at royal palaces including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

She continued her campaigning by announcing she had written another book, titled How To Live When You Could Be Dead, documenting what she had learnt about how to have a positive mindset when faced with life’s biggest challenges.

Despite not being due to be published till August 2022, the book shot to number one on the Amazon list through pre-orders, with her royalties going towards her Bowelbabe Fund.

In her last days, she also attended the Chelsea Flower Show to see a blush pink rose which had been named after her, and hosted her “last impromptu party” after her brother Benjamin got engaged to his long-term partner Ashley Hall.

READ MORE

  • Deborah James dies aged 40 after bowel cancer battle and heroic £6.7m fundraising

  • Thank you Dame Deborah James, I had stage 3 bowel cancer but you saved my life’

  • Deborah James' incredible acts of kindness and bravery amid end-of-life care

  • Dame Deborah James enjoys a pint as she breaks two day social media silenc

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