Deborah James had a ‘special gift’ to connect with the public, says charity boss

Campaigner and podcast host Dame Deborah James. Credit: Instagram

Dame Deborah James had a “special gift” which allowed her to have “difficult conversations” with the public that would ultimately save “countless lives”, a charity boss has said.

The podcaster, who died on Tuesday, became a patron for Bowel Cancer UK following her diagnosis in 2016 and worked to raise money for and awareness of the charity.

Its chief executive Genevieve Edwards said her legacy would live on through her campaigning work.

She said: “Deborah has been an incredible force for good, for our charity and others. Since the day of her diagnosis she has shone a bright light on bowel cancer.

“She hasn’t stopped in her tireless attempts to raise awareness. She has raised thousands and thousands of pounds for the causes close to her heart and even in the most difficult days personally for her she has never stopped helping others."

Ms Edwards described Dame Deborah’s legacy as “huge” and said she had never seen so many conversations about bowel cancer taking place.

“That has been her special gift – to connect with others and to have those difficult conversations.

“And in doing so prompt people to take action, and she has saved countless lives.”

Ms Edwards encouraged the public to heed Dame Deborah’s advice when she encouraged them to “Check your poo”.

She said: “It is one of the key symptoms of bowel cancer, when something doesn’t feel right for you."

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

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.

However, the NHS recommends seeing your GP if you have had any of these symptoms for three weeks or more.

As well as Dame Deborah, Bowel Cancer UK counts Baroness Floella Benjamin, ITN presenter Charlene White and Hollywood star Tom Hardy among its patrons.

Dame Deborah became famous for her podcasting and journalism detailing what life with cancer was like, as well as raising awareness of the symptoms.

On May 9, she announced that her body wasn't "playing ball” and she did not know how much time she had left.

Following her death on Tuesday, her family said they were "deeply saddened". In a statement posted on Instagram, they praised "the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy".

Dame Deborah James' courage inspired and reassured so many and her fundraising will continue to save lives long after her death, as Ian Woods reports

Dame Deborah's mother Heather shared a series of photos of her daughter and wrote: “My heart is broken. Love you forever.”

As well as loved ones, figures from the worlds of broadcasting, politics and healthcare paid tribute to Dame Deborah.

Boris Johnson said “many many lives will be saved” because of her. Presenter Carol Vorderman, BBC director-general Tim Davie and comedian Mark Watson were among others who hailed Dame Deborah's fundraising efforts,

Tributes also came from cancer support charity Maggie’s.

Its chief executive, Dame Laura Lee, said: “We are all deeply saddened by the death of Deborah James.

“Deborah did so much to shine a light on what has always been a difficult and embarrassing cancer for people to talk about.

“Her legacy will be that many more people discuss concerns and symptoms with their GP, and we are already seeing people in our centres who have received a diagnosis thanks to her campaigning.”