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Deborah James: cancer campaigner dies aged 40 - who was the podcaster, what did her family say?

Deborah James said she had a “gut instinct something wasn’t right” before her bowel cancer diagnosis

Podcast host and cancer activist Dame Deborah James has died following a battle with bowel cancer, her family has confirmed

Dame Deborah became an icon for her outspoken activism in raising awareness for bowel cancer, after launching the popular BBC podcast ‘You, Me and the Big C’.

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Her family shared the news on her Instagram, where she regularly updated her followers on her cancer journey.

BBC presenter Deborah James has told fans she doesn’t know “how long I’ve got left” (Photo: Deborah James / bowelbabe Instagram)

What did her family say?

Sharing the sad new on Instagram, Dame Deborah’s family updated her followers to let them know that she had lost her battle with bowel cancer.

The statement read: “We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy. Deborah passed away peacefully today, surrounded by her family.

“Deborah, who many of you will know as Bowelbabe, was an inspiration and we are incredibly proud of her and her work and commitment to charitable campaigning, fundraising and her endless efforts to raise awareness of cancer that touched so many lives.

“Deborah shared her experience with the world to raise awareness, break down barriers, challenge taboos and change the conversation around cancer. Even in her most challenging moments, her determination to raise money and awareness was inspiring.

“We thank you for giving us time in private as a family, and we look forward to continuing Deborah’s legacy long into the future through the Bowel Babe fund.

“Thank you for playing your part in her journey, you are all incredible. “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”

Who is Deborah James?

Deborah James was a former deputy head teacher turned cancer campaigner from London.

She had written for and featured in a variety of publications including The Sunday Times, The Sun, Daily Mail, The Times, Grazia, Women’s Health and Marie Claire, and the Independent.

She also appeared as a regular co-host on Talk Radio and BBC radio London, and has featured and presented for BBC Breakfast, Lorraine, Sky News, Victoria Derbyshire, Stand up to Cancer and The One Show.

Deborah also penned a bestselling book titled “F*** You Cancer”, which is a self-help guide to living your best life with cancer, and is presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C.

She was married to Sebastien Bowen, a banker at Pomona Capital, and she leaves behind two children - Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12.

Deborah was also honoured with a damehood last month after raising more than £6 million for charity after setting up a Just Giving page to raise funds for clinical trials, research, and increase awareness of the disease.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “If ever an honour was richly deserved, this is it. Deborah has been an inspiration and her honesty, warmth and courage has been a source of strength to so many people.

“Through her tireless campaigning and by so openly sharing her experience she has not only helped in our fight against this terrible disease, she has ensured countless others with the Big C have not felt alone.

“I hope this recognition from Her Majesty – backed I’m sure by the whole country – will provide some comfort to Deborah and her family at this difficult time. My thoughts are with them and Deborah should know she has the country’s love and gratitude.”

Deborah said she was “incredibly honoured” to receive the award and that her Bowel Babe fundraising campaign has “surpassed all expectations.

When was she diagnosed with bowel cancer?

Deborah was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 and has kept her nearly 300,000 Instagram followers up to date with her treatments ever since, sharing candid posts about her progress and diagnosis.

On 14 December 2021, she marked five years since her diagnosis and said in a post: “I’m fully aware I shouldn’t be alive to write this today”.

What symptoms did she have?

Deborah said that her symptoms began with weight loss, passing blood, going to the toilet more regularly than normal, and feeling tired. She sought medical advice after admitting she had a “sixth sense” that something was wrong.

The NHS says that symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill.

More than 90% of people with the disease experience one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids)
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating, sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss

Constipation is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.