Deborah James dies aged 40 after bowel cancer battle and heroic £6.7m fundraising

Dame Deborah James has died at the age of 40, after her five-year battle with bowel cancer.

The journalist and broadcaster, who went by the nickname "bowel babe", devastatingly announced on 9 May that she had moved to end-of-life care. She explained that despite all of her treatments, her body just wasn’t “playing ball”, and that she was receiving hospice care at her parents' house.

Since that post, Deborah has raised a staggering £6.7million for cancer research through her JustGiving page and another £1million through her In The Style range. She's also been made a Dame and announced the release of a new book, How to Live When You Could be Dead, which went to number one in the Amazon best sellers list.

Announcing her death, her family said in a statement shared to her Instagram on 28 June: "Dame Deborah James.

"We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy. Deborah passed away peacefully today, surrounded by her family.

"Deborah, who many of you will know as Bowelbabe, was an inspiration and we are incredibly proud of her and her work and commitment to charitable campaigning, fundraising and her endless efforts to raise awareness of cancer that touched so many lives."

The statement continued: "Deborah shared her experience with the world to raise awareness, break down barriers, challenge taboos and change the conversation around cancer. Even in her most challenging moments, her determination to raise money and awareness was inspiring."

Her family thanked Deborah's many fans and friends for their endless support as they shared: "We thank you for giving us time in private as a family, and we look forward to continuing Deborah’s legacy long into the future through the @bowelbabefund Thank you for playing your part in her journey, you are all incredible."

Sharing a brief note from Deborah herself, with her permission, prior to her death, they added: "And a few final things from Deborah…“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.” x (Shared with Deborah’s permission)".

She is survived by her husband, Sebastian Bowen, and their two children, Hugo, 14 and Eloise, 12.

The former schoolteacher and BBC podcast host was first diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35, before the disease sadly went on to become stage four.

After her diagnosis, Deborah created the Bowel Babe platform to bring awareness to the disease and raise money for cancer research. The mum-of-two initially hoped to raise £250,000 but in just a few days, the figure topped £1.5m. In less than a week, the total raised hit a whooping £6.7m.

Using her Instagram account @bowelbabe, she candidly shared her journey as she courageously battled her cancer, speaking about everything from her treatment and updates on her health, to appreciating life’s simple moments spent with her children and family.

Writing about her symptoms and hospital visits before receiving the devastating diagnosis in December 2016, Deborah said: "I was blind-sided at 7pm on Thursday 15 December 2016, when having refused the sedative and having researched what cancerous tumours would appear like in a colonoscopy (total hypochondriac geek alert!), I stared my ugly 5.5cm cancerous, ulcerated stage 3 tumour in the face and everything went silent.

"On that idle Thursday however, I came back sobbing to the day ward (maybe it was the gas and air!) proclaiming that I know 'he' found something – I mean I saw it too. You know there is an issue when the consultant asks 'is someone here with you?'. Calmly the fantastic consultant comes in and confirms my worst fear. That he had found a large tumour that I will need to have removed via an operation and whilst he can't be 100% certain, it’s likely that it's cancerous.

"There is a sense of disbelief that happens when you are told you 'might' have cancer. A feeling that this is happening to someone else – not you.”

On May 12, Deborah was surprised after being given a Damehood by Buckingham Palace for her heroic fundraising, and Prince William visited Deborah's parents' house, where she spent her final weeks, to personally deliver the award.

Of the Duke of Cambridge's visit, Deborah posted on Instagram: "Prince William actually came to our family house today!! I am utterly honoured that he joined us for afternoon tea and champagne, where he not only spent a generous amount of time talking to my whole family but also honoured me with my Damehood."

Several days later, Deborah revealed on Instagram that she had written her second book, named How to Live when you could be Dead, but said that she was "gutted I won't get to see it in real life".

She told fans: "I wrote another book!! So I’ve got a few things to share with you before I die that I’m gutted I won’t see in real life! But I’ve now been granted permission to share them and I’m really excited!"

"For the last 2 years I’ve been working on my second book How to Live when you could be Dead – oh the irony of the title! I wanted to share all my (hard-won!!) learning on how to have a positive mindset when we are faced with life’s biggest challenges."

Deborah once again received phenomenal support, writing on Instagram just a day later: "I’m blown away and utterly greateful by the response to the book pre-launch and the sheer numbers of you who have kindly ordered it. Not only contributing the @bowelbabefund but also making it number one in the best sellers Amazon list".

Shortly after this, she was made into a Lego character, had a rose named after her at the Chelsea Flower Show, and partnered with Andrex to highlight the symptoms of bowel cancer on loo roll.

Deborah also made her final TV appearance on Embarrassing Bodies on 16 June, where she talked about her heart-breaking bowel cancer diagnosis and shared a life-saving message.

She told viewers that "talk of poo should never be taboo", and that "our favourite celebrities poo" so there is no reason why we shouldn't talk about it more.

Deborah bid an emotional farewell to her brother near the end of June shortly after throwing an engagement party for him and his soon-to-be wife.

Speaking to The Sun, Deborah revealed that she told her brother Ben to go on the trip and to "not come back under any circumstances".

She said: "He’s off on holiday to the US tomorrow. I have told him they have to go, they’ve planned the trip for ages. I also told him he must not come back, under any circumstances."

Deborah's final days were spent in the company of her beloved family – enjoying the sunshine and a few pints here and there.

Sitting next to her mother, who appeared to be drinking a glass of wine, Deborah could be seen drinking a pint by a lake. "A lovely relaxing lunch in the sunshine," her mum captioned the post.


  • ‘Thank you Dame Deborah James, I had stage 3 bowel cancer but you saved my life’

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  • Dame Deborah James enjoys a pint as she breaks two day social media silenc

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  • Andy Murray's wife Kim shows support to Deborah James in charity T-shirt at Wimbledon

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