James, 40, who announced this week that she has moved to hospice-at-home care has raised £4 million after setting up a Just Giving page to raise money for clinical trials, research, and raising awareness of the disease.
On Thursday night (12 May), Downing Street confirmed that she is to be made a dame for her inspirational charitable work, saying: “The Queen has been pleased to approve that the honour of damehood be conferred upon Deborah James.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson added: “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.”
James said she was “incredibly honoured” to receive the award and that her Bowel Babe fundraising campaign has “surpassed all expectations.
She has already raised more than 16 times her original £250,000 goal for Cancer Research UK after setting up a Just Giving page and said she would “love to get it to £5 million by the end of the weekend.”
She told The Sun: “I don’t know what to say. I’m blown away and feel incredibly honoured.
“I don’t feel like I deserve this. I can’t tell you what this means to my family, it’s so much to take in.”
Prince William and Kate shared an emotional tribute to James earlier this week, saying their thoughts are with her and her family after donating an undisclosed amount to the podcast host’s fundraising initiative.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took to Twitter to praise the BBC star, describing her efforts to increase awareness about the disease as “inspiring”.
In a personal tweet, William and Kate said: “Every now and then, someone captures the heart of the nation with their zest for life & tenacious desire to give back to society.
“@bowelbabe is one of those special people. Her tireless efforts to raise awareness of bowel cancer & end the stigma of treatment are inspiring.
“We are so sad to hear her recent update but pleased to support the @bowelbabef, which will benefit the @royalmarsdenNHS among others.
“Deborah, our thoughts are with you, your family and your friends. Thank you for giving hope to so many who are living with cancer. W & C.”
James has been treated at the Royal Marsden hospital, of which William is patron, and it is one of the beneficiaries of her fund.
The heartfelt message comes after James broke down in tears in an interview this week as she recalled “hard conversations” she had with her children about her death.
She announced on Monday (10 May) that she doesn’t know “how long I’ve got left” in a heartbreaking Instagram post.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning, she said: "I’ve always said I don’t want to leave any stone unturned - I don’t think there isn’t a stone we haven’t tried to unturn to make my liver work again in order to get my body functioning.
"Unfortunately I’m exhausted - I’m absolutely exhausted. We’ve got to the point now where I can’t really do anything more.
“I have a really loving family who I adore. Honestly, they’re incredible and all I knew I wanted was to come here and be able to relax knowing that everything was OK.”
James began to break down in tears as she explained her heartbreak over preparing for her death, but said she knew her children would be “surrounded by love” and “more than looked after”.
She continued: "I’ve had some really hard conversations during the last week. You think, ‘Gosh, how can anyone have those conversations?’ and then you find yourself in the middle of them. And people are very nice, but you’re talking about your own death and I’ve had five years to prepare for my death."
“It’s hard. It’s really hard. The thing that I know, because I trust my husband - he’s just the most wonderful man and so is my family and I know that my kids are going to be more than looked after and surrounded by love.
"You always want to know as a mother - are your kids going to be OK? And my kids are going to be fine. But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss every chance I could have had with them."
The presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C said the last six months have been “heartbreaking” to go through, but that she has been surrounded by “so much love” and has “no regrets”.
Who is Deborah James?
Deborah James is a former deputy head teacher turned cancer campaigner from London.
She has 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.
James 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 is married to Sebastien Bowen, a banker at Pomona Capital, and together they have two children, Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12.
When was she diagnosed with bowel cancer?
James 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?
James has 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.
What did she say in her latest health update?
In her most recent update posted to Instagram on Monday (9 May), James said “the time has come to say goodbye”, admitting that her body “just can’t continue anymore”.
The mum-of-two explained that her “body isn’t playing ball” and said she doesn’t know how long she has left as she opened up about her battle.
In the heartbreaking post, she wrote: “The message I never wanted to write. We have tried everything, but my body simply isn’t playing ball.
“My active care has stopped and I am now moved to hospice at home care, with my incredible family all around me and the focus is on making sure I’m not in pain and spending time with them. Nobody knows how long I’ve got left but I’m not able to walk, I’m sleeping most of the days, and most things I took for granted are pipe dreams.
“I know we have left no stone unturned. But even with all the innovative cancer drugs in the world or some magic new breakthrough, my body just can’t continue anymore.
“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.
“But I don’t think anyone can say the last 6 months has exactly been kind! It’s all heartbreaking to be going through but I’m surrounded by so much love that if anything can help me through I hope that will.”
The former deputy headteacher announced in her post that she is setting up the Bowelbabe Fund, and shared links to charities including Cancer Research UK, Bowel Cancer UK and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
She wrote: “I always knew there was one thing I always wanted to do before I died. I have always over the years raised as much awareness and money for the charities that are closest to me. @cr_uk@royalmarsden@bowelcanceruk. As a result, the @bowelbabefund is being established and I’d love nothing more than for you to help it flourish. Please visit bowelbabe.org for all the info and to donate (link in Bio).
“All I ask if you ever read a column, followed my Instagram, listened to the podcast or saw me dressed as a poo for no reason. Please buy me a drink to see me out this world, by donating the cost to @bowelbabefund which will enable us to raise funds for further life saving research into cancer. To give more Deborah’s more time!
“Right now for me it’s all about taking it a day at a time, step by step and being grateful for another sunrise. My whole family are around me and we will dance through this together, sunbathing and laughing (I’ll cry!!) at every possible moment!
“You are all incredible, thank you for playing your part in my journey. No regrets. Enjoy life x Deborah.”
The fund name echoes her social media handle, Bowelbabe, and it has since received donations of £4 million, a figure which James admitted has exceeded all her expectations and made her feel “utterly loved”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: “I had a figure in my mind of about a quarter of a million, because I thought that would be enough to fund a good couple of projects across the charities that I wanted to fund.
“But in 24 hours to do a million, I’m like absolutely mind blown and I just cannot thank people enough for their generosity. Because it just means so much to me. It makes me feel utterly loved.
“It makes me feel like we’re all kind of in it at the end together and we all want to make a difference.”
The podcast host said she “always knew” she wanted to set up the fund before she died, and had she known what little time she had she would have set it up six months ago. She hopes that the fund will continue working on some of the things that helped her life, such as innovative drug studies.
James added: “Ultimately, what I really want to happen is, I don’t want any other Deborah’s to have to go through this.”
The former deputy headteacher also wrote her last column in The Sun on Tuesday (11 May), opening it by saying this was the one she “never wanted to write. My final one”.
James reflected on her journey, saying: “I do not want to die – I can’t get my head around the idea that I will not see my kids’ weddings or see them grow up – that I will no longer be a part of life that I love so much.
“I am not brave – I am not dignified going towards my death – I am simply a scared girl who is doing something she has no choice in but I know I am grateful for the life that I have had.”