Her family said Ms Deborah James, the school principal turned podcaster, who raised millions of pounds for charity with her bowel cancer awareness campaign, has died.
James, who was in his 40s, left his career as a vice principal and began blogging about her diagnosis under the name Bowelbabe in 2017. She became a columnist for the Sun and released a book called F***You Cancer: How to Face the Big C, Live Your Life And be yourself.
She is best known for sharing her six-year battle with definitive bowel cancer on the popular BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C, which she began co-presenting in 2018. Alongside Lauren Mahon and BBC Radio 5’s live news anchor, Rachel Bland, James created a show that won praise for its intimate, candid, and lively discussion of cancer.
When Bland died of breast cancer six months after the show’s release, James formed a presentation duo with Mahone, talking to celebrity guests, addressing practical matters like hair loss, and trying to raise awareness of his signature sense of humor. During Bowel Cancer Awareness Week in 2018, James attempted to destigmatize the condition by wearing a “stool suit” – an emoji fancy dress that matches the size of a six-year-old.
In a statement posted on Instagram, her family said: “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Mrs. Deborah James. The most wonderful wife, daughter, sister, mummy.
Deborah passed away peacefully today, surrounded by her family.
“Deborah, who many of you know as Bowelbabe, has been an inspiration and we are so proud of her and her work and commitment to charitable campaigns and fundraising and her endless efforts to raise awareness of cancer that has impacted the lives of so many.
“Deborah shared her experience with the world to raise awareness, break down barriers, challenge taboos and change the conversation around cancer. “Even in her toughest moments, her determination to raise funds and awareness was inspiring.”
James candidly described her treatments, progress, and diagnosis to her huge following on Instagram, which jumped from 300,000 to 500,000 at the end of her life.
In a post on May 10, she said she never expected to reach her 40th birthday, or see her children go to high school.
She described how her health had deteriorated over the past six months and said she was no longer receiving active care. She had moved to the hospice home, where she slept most days and struggled to walk. She said she left no stone unturned in seeking out the cure, but that even a “new magic hack” wouldn’t make a difference.
She wrote: “The message I didn’t want to write. We’ve tried everything, but my body simply doesn’t play ball. My wonderful family [are] All around me and focus on making sure I’m not hurt and spending time with them.”
After announcing she was receiving end-of-life care, she launched a fundraising campaign for cancer research, the Bowelbabe Fund, which has so far raised more than £6m on her JustGiving page.
A few days after her release, she became a lady, with Prince William attending her parents’ home to give her an award for awareness campaigns. A tweet from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s account read: “Every now and then someone grabs the nation’s heart with their enthusiasm for life and their stubborn desire to give back to society. Tweet embed He’s one of those special people.”
James’ second and final book, How to Live When You Might Be Dead, topped the Amazon UK bestseller list in pre-orders alone. The memoir and self-help volume snapped to the top of the charts within a day of James announcing on Instagram that it was possible to reserve a copy. She’s also launched a clothing line, with proceeds going towards her Bowel Babe chest, and said her last goodbyes in the latest crying appearance on You, Me and Big C.
As she and her producer wiped tears away during the episode, titled Deborah James’ Last Dance, she thanked listeners and urged them to watch for signs of bowel cancer — in her own way.
“Thank you guys for everything, for being our partners in crime at the club that you didn’t want to be a part of. I suppose that’s all from me. It’s very sad to say, but I’m glad I got to the point where I can say and we’ll see each other. Some again somewhere, somehow, we’re dancing. Oh, and also: Check your poo. I can’t leave out any more words.”