Dame Deborah James dies aged 40 following five-year battle with bowel cancer

Dame Deborah James, BBC podcast presenter, campaigner and blogger known as ‘Bowel Babe’ has died aged 40.

James had been diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in December 2016 and was told early on that she may not live beyond five years.

She had charted her cancer journey on her Instagram account as well as her podcast; You, Me and the Big C alongside Steve Bland and Lauren Mahon.

A post shared to James’ Instagram confirmed the news of her death. It read: ‘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.

‘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.

‘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.’


James had undergone many operations and treatments, including experimental drugs, throughout her bowel cancer battle, including a stay in hospital in July 2021 after finding out an aggressive new tumour near her liver had wrapped itself around her bile duct, causing an infection.

In May, James moved into end-of-life hospice care. During the final months of her life, she launched the Bowelbabe fund for Cancer Research UK, which has so far raised more than £6million.

In recognition of her incredible efforts, she received a Damehood, and received a visit from Prince William who heaped praise on the star.

James was first diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in December 2016 and was declared cancer-free in January 2020, but later found the disease had returned and would require surgery, which saw her undergo an operation on her 17th tumour last November.

She also spoke out after the death of Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding to encourage people to get themselves checked by a doctor if they spot anything unusual about their own bodies.

James explained: ‘I live with incurable bowel cancer and I put off my own diagnosis with bowel cancer. You assume at that age you’re too young to be diagnosed. By the time I was, I had late stage bowel cancer.

‘I’m very grateful to be approaching five years, but I know that I’m smashing every statistic to do that.

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‘The key message is actually cancer is survivable. More people will strive 10 years after they are diagnosed with cancer then die from it, but that’s because of where we’re moving in terms of catching things early.

‘The first step in doing that is for people sat at home is to recognise it has to start with them and we have to come forward. It’s not putting the blame back, I’ve personally beaten myself up about regretting not getting to the GP earlier.

‘But I think if you’re one of those people who is a little bit concerned, it’s knowing, it’s scarier the longer we leave it rather than getting it sorted straight away.’

James is survived by her husband Sebastien Bowen and their two children, Hugo and Eloise.

Macmillan cancer support

If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with cancer, Macmillan can offer support and information.

You can contact their helpline on 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week from 8am to 8pm), use their webchat service, or visit their site for more information.

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