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28th Jun 2022

Dame Deborah James: Cancer Campaigner dies aged 40

Steve Hopkins

Dame Deborah, a mother of two, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016

Cancer campaigner Dame Deborah James has died at the age of 40, her family has said.

A post on her Instagram page on Tuesday night read: “We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy.”

She passed away peacefully surrounded by her family, the post read.

The post went on to say Dame Deborah was an “inspiration and we are incredibly proud of her and her work”.

The host of the BBC’s You, Me and the Big C podcast was given a damehood in recognition of her fundraising work.

On Wednesday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid tribute to Dame Deborah, with a post on their official Twitter account, which read:  “Deborah was an inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on.”

She had been receiving end-of-life care for bowel cancer at home and had raised millions to help others affected by cancer.

Dame Deborah, a mother of two, was diagnosed with bowel cancer 10 days before Christmas in 2016. Despite this, she continued to work – using her platform to open up conversations about bowel cancer.

As well as hosting her podcast, Dame Deborah worked tirelessly to raise money for bowel cancer research for more than half a decade.

She became known on social media as @bowelbabe – a nickname she took in her stride in a bid to inspire others to “tell cancer to f*** off”. James kept her followers smiling with positive posts, while using her platform to speak honestly about her challenges too.

However, on May 10 this year, James shared the news that she had started receiving end-of-life care at her family home in Surrey.

“No-one knows how long I’ve got left,” she said in a tragic statement on social media.

She continued: “In over 5 years of writing about how I thought it would be my final Christmas, how I wouldn’t see my 40th birthday nor see my kids go to secondary school – I never envisaged writing the one where I would actually say goodbye. I think it’s been the rebellious hope in me.”

James took the opportunity to urge her followers to support a range of charities dedicated to fighting cancer, including her own fundraiser, the Bowel Babe Fund.

Speaking to the BBC after her fundraiser hit £1m in just over 24 hours, Dame Deborah, in tears, said: “It just means so much to me. It makes me feel utterly loved. But it makes me feel like we’re all kind of in it at the end together and we all want to make a difference and say you know what, screw you cancer. We can do better. We can do better for people. We just need to show it who’s boss.”

The presenter went on to say that she felt safe in the knowledge that her children will be surrounded by love after she died. She described her husband of 13 years as the “most wonderful man”.

“I know that my kids are going to be more resilient afterward surrounded by love,” she said, “my kids are going to be fine.

“But it does not mean that I am not going to miss every chance that I could have had with them.”

In an interview with The Sun on May 24, Dame Deborah admitted she was tired because she was scared to go to sleep.

She said: “I’m not planning on dying anytime soon but it’s just so unpredictable. I’m scared to fall asleep and that’s one of the biggest reasons I’m so tired. I am scared to go to sleep.”

Dame Deborah also took the opportunity to thank her family for going “above and beyond” to take care of her.

“What I have seen from them in the last two weeks is true love, deep love,” she said, “It’s overwhelming. They have all been amazing. I know the pressure on them at the moment is huge, I can’t do anything anymore without their help.”

Despite everything, she was still focused on raising awareness for bowel cancer.

“I just think the more awareness I can help raise, the better,” she said.

And in her final column for The Sun, the mum-of-two said she had prepared memory boxes for her children, Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, and bought them “gifts for certain key future birthdays.”

Ending the column, she said: “I suppose it would be weird to leave my column without saying a few final things: find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope.

“And finally, check your poo – it might just save your life.”

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