She’s brilliant and British 

By Lauren Edwards 

Dame Deborah James passed away last week. She was someone who I had never heard of before a few months ago but she soon become my social media obsession as I checked in daily to see how she was, see what venture she was promoting for her charity and to just feel a little bit more in awe of her each time I saw her smiling face gracing my phone screen. She exuded fun and a zest for life but was sadly dealt the harshest card as she battled terminal cancer of the bowel. Deborah James was an extraordinary woman, she campaigned tirelessly and showed incredible dignity and bravery right to the end at just 40 years old. 

Deborah reminded me of a former colleague of mine, who sadly died of breast cancer a few years ago. Like Deborah, she equally navigated her terminal diagnosis with a steely determination, admired by all who met her. She once told me that she hated being referred to as ‘brave.’ She said that she had no choice but to live with this devastating disease, that she didn’t feel brave or fearless, and she in fact felt cheated and terrified. She said that the bravery came from her family and friends, her oncologist and the nurses who kept her going and pushing forward. She said that she never wanted to be referred to as ‘losing her battle with cancer’ as it was an unfair fight in the first place!

I first saw Deborah James on the television show Lorraine, where she was launching the #Nobutts bowel cancer awareness campaign. Deborah joined in the discussion live from her hospital ward as she received treatment. Dressed beautifully, she beamed with excitement as she encouraged us all to get behind her fundraising charity Bowelbabe to raise money to fund lifesaving cancer research.

From dressing up as giant poo on national television to being filmed in a sparkly cocktail dress miming to power ballads during her chemotherapy treatment, Deborah James normalised illness and made everyone stand up and pay attention, including the royal family as Prince William visited Deborah at her parent’s house to award her with her well-deserved Damehood. As the donations came flooding in, Deborah increased her fundraising endeavours by creating a clothing line for InStyle to branding toilet roll packaging with advice on how to check your poo and writing two books on her experiences. Deborah James went above and beyond to ensure that other cancer patients would have a better chance of survival than she had.

Born on 1st October 1981 in London to parents Heather and Alistair, Deborah studied economics at the University of Exeter. She was a Deputy Headteacher at Salesian School in Chertsey before moving to the Matthew Arnold School in Staines-upon-Thames. Deborah married investment banker Sebastien Bowen in 2008 and they had two children, Hugo and Eloise. They separated in 2014 but reunited in 2016 after attending counselling sessions during their divorce. A month later Deborah received her cancer diagnosis. 

In 2017, Deborah began working as a journalist and columnist for The Sun newspaper and chronicling her cancer journey. In March 2018, she joined the BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C alongside fellow cancer patients Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland. Sadly, Rachael died in September 2018. Deborah James not only normalised talking about poo and cancer but as she faced the end of life, she did it with earnest honesty and fearlessness.

“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.”

Deborah James

Death is a taboo subject. We have all faced the end with someone, visited a hospice, watched a loved one deteriorate before our eyes, but we as humans find it difficult to talk about ‘the end’. We avoid those conversations and often celebrate our dearly departed and their lives after they have gone. How many of us have regretted not telling someone how much they meant to us until after it was too late?

Deborah James faced her mortality with a smile, ticking off experiences from her bucket list, crammed her days with doing the things she loved to do – going to the races, the opera, and the Chelsea flower show. She spent her last precious days surrounded by her beloved family at her parents’ home in Surrey.

Deborah James raised a staggering £7million and if you would like to donate to this incredible cause, please head over to the Bowelbabe Fund.

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