Podcaster and campaigner Dame Deborah James, whose frank accounts of life with bowel cancer sparked an extraordinary deluge of charity donations, has died, her family have announced.
In a statement posted on Instagram, her family said Dame Deborah passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family, adding that she “was an inspiration” and “her determination to raise money and awareness was inspiring”.
The driving force behind the BBC podcast You, Me and The Big C, Dame Deborah broke the news to followers last month that she had moved into end-of-life hospice care at home.
The 40-year-old told them: “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.”
Since then, James revealed she finished her second book and continued to campaign and inspire people.
Within 24 hours of breaking the news of her impending death, Ms James’ fans, as well as people across the world who had been inspired by her moving and candid stories about dealing with bowel cancer, had raised more than £1.6m for research into the disease.
She said she had been “blown away” by the reaction.
The Bowelbabe Fund currently sits at more than £6.8m.
After announcing that she was receiving end-of-life care, James continued to provide honest updates on her condition on social media.
On Instagram, she revealed she was “less and less able to leave the house, or bed” and felt “down”, but still continued to make memories with her loved ones.
Despite sharing the more difficult times, James continued to celebrate her successes.
Last month, she revealed she completed her second book, How To Live When You Could Be Dead, which topped the Amazon bestsellers’ list and rose to number one through pre-orders.
Since sharing her end-of-life care update, charities have also noted a surge in people seeking bowel cancer information.
Inspired by her efforts to raise awareness of bowel cancer, Marks and Spencer also recently announced it would add information about the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer to its toilet roll packaging.
Days after smashing her fundraising target, Prince William made James a dame, visiting her at her parents’ home in Woking to personally hand over the honour.
She said she was “utterly honoured” that the royal had joined her family for afternoon tea but admitted her “cleaning antics and preparation went off the scale” as she got ready for his visit.
James was diagnosed with the condition in 2016 and since then has kept her nearly 700,000 Instagram followers and her podcast listeners up-to-date with her treatments, with unreserved details about her progress and diagnosis.
‘Thank you for being so strong’
Following the announcement of her death, tributes poured in for James.
Her mother Heather, whose handle on Instagram is Bowelgran, shared a series of photos of Dame Deborah and wrote: “My heart is broken. Love you forever.”
Adele Roberts, who is a presenter at BBC Radio 1 and this week announced that she is cancer-free, shared a picture of James on social media along with the caption: “My heart hurts. Thank you for everything Deborah.
“Thank you for being so strong for so long and helping others when you were in so much pain yourself. You are the best of us.
“Thinking of your family and friends and I am forever grateful to you for helping me and my family.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I’m terribly saddened to hear that Dame Deborah James has died. What an inspiration she was to so many.
“The awareness she brought to bowel cancer and the research her campaigning has funded will be her enduring legacy. Because of her, many many lives will be saved.”
BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Stark wrote: “You inspired so man and did everything to the fullest. No one can do more than that. I hope we can have a gin wherever this all leads.
“Rest in peace Debs x.”
That bizarre costume
Her ‘poo costume’ post – where she recorded a reel (short video) of herself dressed as a poo to the tune of Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy – became famous.
After first posting it five years ago, she repeated it every year to remind people to check their stools for signs of cancer.
This year, she posted: “Please do share. The fact that I currently have a poo costume in my hospital room five years later (just for s**** and giggles!), says it all about my love affair with the poo costume!”
James told the BBC she had gone to her parents’ home to die because this meant her family home in London could remain home for her children without the “medical equipment scars” in their memories.
Asked what hosting the podcast meant to her, James told the BBC it had given purpose back to her life after being diagnosed, adding the show had made her realise the influence she could have “saving another life or making someone not feel alone”.
‘I will not see my kids’ weddings’
The former deputy headteacher said she did not know how long she has left, and that while the previous six months had been “heartbreaking” to go through, she had been surrounded by “so much love” and had “no regrets”.
And a column for The Sun newspaper, she had said the “unrelenting medicalisation” of her body has been “heartbreaking”.
James hopes the Bowelbabe Fund will continue working on some of the things that helped her life, such as innovative drug studies.
“Ultimately, what I really want to happen is, I don’t want any other Deborahs to have to go through this.”
She added: “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.”
James is survived by two children, Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, and her husband Sebastian Bowen.