Dame Deborah James, the director-turned-podcast host who raised millions of pounds for charity with her campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer, has died, her family said.
James, who was 40, stepped away from her career as an assistant manager and began blogging about her diagnosis under the name Bowel Babe in 2017. She went on to become a columnist for The Sun and published a book, Fuck You Cancer: How to Face the Big C, live your life and still be yourself.
She was best known for sharing her six-year battle with terminal bowel cancer on the BBC’s popular podcast You, Me and the Big C, which she began co-hosting in 2018. Alongside Lauren Mahon and live news anchor from BBC Radio 5, Rachael Bland, James created a program that won praise for its intimate, frank and spirited discussion of cancer.
When Bland died of breast cancer six months after the show’s launch, James formed an hosting duo with Mahon and spoke with celebrity guests, tackling practical matters like hair loss, and trying to raise awareness with his trademark good humor. During bowel cancer awareness week in 2018, James attempted to de-stigmatize the condition by dressing up in a “poop suit” – a poo-emoji costume sized for a six-year-old.
James candidly detailed his treatments, progress and diagnosis to his massive Instagram following, which grew from 300,000 to 500,000 towards the end of his life.
In a May 10 post, she said she never expected to reach her 40s or see her children go to high school.
He described how his health had deteriorated over the last six months and said he was no longer receiving active care. She had moved into a hospice at her home, where she slept most days and had trouble walking. She said that she had left “no stone unturned” in seeking treatment, but that even a “new magical breakthrough” wouldn’t make a difference.
She wrote: “The message I never wanted to write. We’ve tried everything, but my body just isn’t playing ball. my amazing family [are] around me and the focus is on making sure I’m not in pain and spending time with them.”
After announcing that he was receiving end-of-life care, he launched a fundraiser for cancer research, the Bowelbabe Fund, which has so far raised more than £6 million in its JustGiving Page.
A few days after its launch, she became a lady, with Prince William going to her parents’ house to present her with the award for her awareness campaigns. A tweet from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s account read: “From time to time, someone captures the heart of the nation with their zest for life and their dogged desire to give back to society. @bowelbabe He is one of those special people.”
James’s second and final book, How to Live When You Could Be Dead, topped the Amazon UK bestseller list on pre-orders alone. The volume of memoirs and self-help soared to the top of the charts a day after James advertising on instagram that it was possible to reserve a copy. He’s also launched a clothing line whose proceeds go to his Bowel Babe fund, and he said a tearful goodbye in one final appearance on You, Me and the Big C.
As she and her producer wiped away tears during the episode, titled Deborah James’s Last Dancehe thanked listeners and urged them to be on the lookout for signs of bowel cancer, in his characteristic way.
“Thank you guys for everything, for being our partners in crime in the club you never wanted to be a part of. I guess that’s all from me. It’s very sad to say, but I’m glad I’ve gotten to the point where I can say it and we’ll meet again somewhere, somehow, dancing. Oh, and also: check your poop. I can’t put it down with other words.”