BBC Podcast Presenter Deborah James Dies Aged 40 after Five-Year-Long Battle with Bowel Cancer

James, a former deputy head teacher, who turned cancer activist, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2016 and was told that she might not survive beyond five years.

  • Updated

BBC podcast presenter and campaigner Dame Deborah James has died at the age of 40, her family confirmed. News of her death was confirmed on Tuesday by a touching tribute posted to James' official Instagram account. She was initially diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, and after a protracted battle, she passed away on Tuesday morning.

James, the host of the BBC podcast You, Me, and the Big C, raised $7.5 million for research during her final weeks and was appointed a dame for her "tireless" efforts to raise awareness of the condition. Her fundraiser has now exceeded $8.5 million since the news of her death broke.

End of a Tough Fight

Deborah James
Deborah James Twitter

Sharing the news of James' death, her family in an Instagram post wrote: "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 message continued.

Deborah James
Deborah James Twitter

"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.

"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)," the post ended.

On May 10, James posted a message "I never wanted to write" to her Instagram account, announcing her decision to undergo hospice care.

Deborah James
Deborah James Twitter

"We have tried everything, but my body simply isn't playing ball," she wrote.

Around the same time, she gave an interview to BBC where she said that she was "mind blown" to have raised more than $1,233,00 or (1 million pounds) in 24 hours for her Bowelbabe Fund.

James, a west London resident and a former deputy head teacher, who turned cancer activist, was given a diagnosis of bowel cancer in December 2016 and was told early on that she might not survive beyond five years. This timeframe passed in the autumn of 2021. However, she lived only a few months more.

True Inspiration

Deborah James
Deborah James Twitter

In her last days, James got weaker but didn't stop campaigning. In her last interview to BBC, she said, "I just cannot thank people enough for their generosity. It just means so much to me. It makes me feel utterly loved. But it makes me feel like we're all kind of in it at the end together and we all want to make a difference and say, 'You know what? Screw you cancer.' You know, we can do better."

James had two children, Hugo and Eloise, with financier Sebastien Bowen, her husband of 13 years. Following her diagnosis, she resigned from her position as deputy headteacher and started writing a blog, which later evolved into her award-winning, weekly column "Things Cancer Made Me Say" in The Sun online.

Deborah James with Princes William
Deborah James with Princes William Twitter

She then gained popularity when she joined Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland as one of the presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C, in which the three of them examined the specifics of coping with a cancer diagnosis.

James also established the Bowelbabe Fund for cancer research, which has garnered more than £6.7 million in contributions. Deborah stated that she had "left no stone unturned" in her pursuit of a "magic medicine miracle."

Deborah James Prince William
Deborah James with her family after being presented with damehood by Prince William Twitter

The Duke of Cambridge presented her with a damehood at her family's residence, thanking her for "going above and beyond to make a very special memory." Later, he referred to her as "incredible," addressing the Royal Marsden personnel who had cared for her that "she is a brave and inspirational woman."

James underwent numerous surgeries, rounds of chemotherapy, and radiotherapy as a patient at the Royal Marsden hospital. Additionally, she underwent cutting-edge cancer treatment.

She purchased a poo costume online after one operation while still feeling the effects of an anesthetic. Although it was made for a six-year-old, she wore it while recording her podcast and posting on social media to spread the word about bowel cancer.