Who was Dame Deborah James? Husband, bowel cancer diagnosis and her legacy

It’s hard to imagine that it’s already been 16 months since the world sadly lost the late, great Dame Deborah James, but tonight the iconic cancer campaigner and broadcaster will once again be remembered as part of a special TV show Stand up To Cancer: The Takeover on Channel 4.

Kicking off at 7pm, a whole host of famous faces will be drawing attention to the plight of cancer sufferers around the country amidst a mixture of light hearted entertainment from some of our favourite stars including: Davina McCall, Adam Hills, Joe Lycett and Munya Chawawa.

The event hopes to raise money to help support the Francis Crick Institute (a hub of biomedical research) and will be paying a very special tribute to the late Dame Deborah James, who famously raised millions for cancer research in the final few months prior to her death.

But who exactly was Dame Deborah James? Here’s everything you need to know about her life and legacy…

Who was Dame Deborah James?

Dame Deborah James was an English journalist, educator, podcast host and charity campaigner from London, who is best known to fans for hosting the You, Me and the Big C podcast on BBC Radio 5 Live.

The unique podcast, which first launched in 2018, featured three cancer patients, Deborah, Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland as they documented their experiences with the brutal disease both during and after treatment.

Prior to shooting to stardom, Deborah had also worked as a deputy head teacher with a specialism in computer science, and even had a background in economics after studying the subject at the University of Exeter.

Loving Family

Deborah was happily married to her husband Sebastien Bowen at the time of her death, who works in the financial industry at Pomona Capital.

Together, the couple shared two children, Hugo and Eloise, who were both present to bid their mother farewell during her final few hours.

Speaking about telling her children she had bowel cancer, Deborah told BBC Breakfast “It’s been hideous telling my children. My first thought was, ‘I don’t want them to see me like this’.I didn’t think I’d be able to speak to them without crying, but I’d love one last cuddle.”

In her final column in The Sun Deborah wrote: "I’ve gone into mental overdrive and with the help of my husband, Seb, we have made sure that the kids have memory boxes – we’ve bought them gifts for certain key future birthdays. 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."

Bowel Cancer Battle

Deborah was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer in December 2016, while she was still working as a teacher, and soon embarked on a gruelling treatment regimen to combat the disease.

It was while undergoing treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital that Deborah was able to come into contact with several other cancer patients and realised there was a huge opportunity for people to share their stories and find comfort and solidarity at such a trying time.

This lead Deborah to launch the You, Me and the Big C podcast alongside two other cancer sufferers, Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland, while continuing to fight the gruelling disease that was taking over her life.

Although initially her treatment appeared to be working, sadly, Deborah’s health soon deteriorated, with the star revealing in June 2021 that despite undergoing multiple treatments sadly her progress had begun to move in the wrong direction, with her medication no longer working to fight the tumour.

Unwilling to give up however, Deborah continued to persevere with treatment until at last in May 2022, she revealed that there was nothing further that could be done and that she was moving back to her parents home to receive palliative care for her final few weeks.

Tragic Death

After fighting for as long as she could, Deborah sadly finally passed away with her loved ones by her side on 28 June 2022. She was aged just 40 at the time.

Having known her death was imminent, Deborah had shared one final post on social media before her passing, which read: "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.”

Following her death, thousands of fans paid tribute to the late campaigner, who had made it her mission to educate people on the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer to stop others from suffering as she had done.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described her as "an absolute inspiration”, while Prince William and Kate Middleton said: ”Deborah was an inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on."

Lasting Legacy

And the royals were indeed right about Deborah’s ongoing legacy, as a special fundraising project entitled the BowelBabe fund, which ran in the final few months of her death and beyond, raised over £11.3million for cancer research to help try and find ways to beat the gruelling disease once and for all.

In addition, Deborah’s advice to “check your poo” also went on to see a huge spike in the number of people visiting their doctors with concerning symptoms, something which went on to save a number of lives by helping medics to spot cancer early and treat it effectively.

One woman, a mum of three named Kate, even recently discussed how Deborah had saved her life thanks to that one piece of crucial advice.

“I was 58 when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I remember listening to [Dame Deborah] talk so publicly about how important it is to check your poo. But then I just slotted the information to the back of my mind.

“Then in October 2021, I noticed blood in my poo. If I hadn’t had that knowledge stored away, I might have ignored it for longer. But I’d remembered Deborah saying that if she’d been diagnosed six months earlier, her story would have been so different.

“So I monitored it for three weeks and it still wasn’t right. At first the doctors thought there wasn’t anything wrong, but then they did a biopsy on a polyp they’d found and the cells behind it were cancerous.”

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