Podcaster Deborah James feels 'utterly loved' as bowel cancer fundraiser exceeds £1 million

ITV News Entertainment Reporter Rishi Davda looks at the work Deborah James has done to help others suffering and raise awareness of bowel cancer's symptoms

Podcast host Deborah James has said she feels "utterly loved" after a fundraiser she and her family set up to raise money in aid of cancer research surpassed £1 million.

The Just Giving page has been flooded with donations after the 40-year-old mother revealed she is receiving hospice-at-home care for her bowel cancer, telling her followers: "Nobody knows how long I've got left".

James, who was diagnosed in 2016, said she was "absolutely mind blown" by the response to the BowelBabe Fund in just over 24 hours and “cannot thank people enough for their generosity”.

She broke down in tears as she told the BBC: “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.

"We can do better. We can do better for people. We just need to show it who’s boss.”

James, who has campaigned over the past five years for more awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and funding for research, said she had always wanted to set up a fundraiser.

“I always knew there was one thing that I wanted to do before I died but you don’t quite realise how little time you have to suddenly organise things. Had I actually thought, oh yes, I’m going to die I probably would’ve started organising it six months ago," she said.

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Ms James has decided to have end-of life care surrounded by family at her parent's house.

"All I knew I wanted was to come here and be able to relax knowing that everything was okay," she said.

She went on to say that she is safe in the knowledge that her children will be surrounded by love in the event of her death, describing her husband as the "most wonderful man".

"I know that my kids are going to be more resilient afterward surrounded by love," adding that "my kids are going to be fine.

"But it does not mean that I am not going to miss every chance that I could have had with them."

The popular presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C, has regularly kept her 300,000 followers updated with candid accounts of her treatment.

One of James' fellow podcast hosts, Rachael Bland, died four years ago from breast cancer.

In her final episode of the podcast shared on Tuesday, titled "Deborah James' Last Dance", she said her liver had stopped working over the past six months which she said have been "really rough".

She said doctors told her treatment has now become "fruitless" due to her liver not functioning, but quickly joked: "She says drinking a glass of Champagne."

The podcaster told the BBC she hoped her work would help others who may be suffering, but added: “Ultimately, what I really want to happen - I don’t want any other Deborahs to have to go through this."

In an emotional Instagram post on Monday that she "never wanted to write," James said she has "tried everything" - but her body "simply isn’t playing ball" and "can't continue anymore".

She has urged people to give to her donation page, which echoes her social media handle Bowelbabe, to raise funds for lifesaving cancer research and to support campaigns to raise awareness of bowel cancer.

By Wednesday morning, it had raised more than £2.2 million with more than 130,000 supporters.

Fellow presenters reacted to James' post on Tuesday, with ITV's Lorraine Kelly expressing disbelief at her friend's prognosis.

"She just always bounced back and I always expected her to," Ms Kelly said.

"Recently I went to see her in hospital and although she was very thin, she was Deborah, she was full of life."

The BBC's Victoria Derbyshire celebrated on Twitter as James topped £1,000,000 with her fund, while Good Morning Britain Host Susanna Reid said she was among those who donated.

Ms Reid said the efforts of the podcaster was "really important" and described her as "hugely inspirational and hugely influential".

James described the past six months as “heart-breaking” to go through, but added she had been surrounded by "so much love".

In December 2021, she marked five years since her diagnosis, writing on Instagram: “I’m fully aware I shouldn’t be alive to write this today.”

But in a new post on Monday, she said: “The message I never wanted to write. We have tried everything, but my body simply isn’t playing ball. “My active care has stopped and I am now moved to hospice at home care, with my incredible family all around me and the focus is on making sure I’m not in pain and spending time with them. “Nobody knows how long I’ve got left but I’m not able to walk, I’m sleeping most of the days, and most things I took for granted are pipe dreams.”

She added that she had left “no stone unturned” in search of treatment, but that even a “magic new breakthrough” would not make a difference.

The former deputy headteacher announced in her post that she is setting up the Bowelbabe Fund, and shared links to charities including Cancer Research UK, Bowel Cancer UK and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

According to the NHS, the three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:

  • persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit

  • a persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny

  • persistent lower, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite and weight

However, the NHS says most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms such as a change in diet or haemorrhoids.

The NHS recommends seeing your GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.