Dame Deborah James' 'inspirational' legacy raises millions and 'will save lives'

Dame Deborah James leaves behind a legacy that will inspire and support many, as Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports

Charities have said Dame Deborah James' efforts to fundraise and spread awareness for bowel cancer will save lives and give people "precious time with their loved ones".

Campaigner and podcast host Dame Deborah, who raised millions of pounds for cancer research, died from the disease aged 40 on Tuesday, her family said in a statement.

The former headteacher was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 when she was 35 and kept her more than 500,000 Instagram followers up to date with her treatments. 

She became famous for her podcasting and journalism detailing what life with cancer was like and raising awareness of the symptoms. 

Her efforts have placed her as a figurehead of a condition that many people shy away from.

Speaking to ITV News, chief executive of Bowel Cancer Awareness, Lynn Dunn said: "She was such a warm and inspiring person, her efforts have been amazing for bowel cancer awareness.

"We ran a survey earlier in the year which found that nearly 18% of people were too scared of their symptoms to see go to the GP to check if they had bowel cancer.

"It is those conversations we need to be having, the earlier you get seen the earlier help can be made available - she has opened up conversations and that is only a good thing."

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK - but many are often too embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, as Health Editor Emily Morgan explains

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, added: “The BowelBabe Fund was set up by Deborah and her family to fund causes and projects she really cared about, including research for new treatments and raising awareness of bowel cancer.

"Her wish that many more people will benefit from new treatments and have more precious time with their loved ones is at the heart of her lasting legacy.”

By using humour to de-stigmatise bowel cancer she and her podcast co-hosts Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland won acclaim for supporting others battling the disease. 

Dame Deborah James was “an inspiration to so many people and her impact will be felt for years to come”, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK said.

Through busting taboos surrounding bowel cancer, Dame Deborah has shone a light on its impact and helped advocate for early diagnosis, Michelle Mitchell said.

She added: "The overwhelming support the fund has received so far is a testament to how many people Deborah touched with her warmth, energy and sense of fun.

"She was a wonderful person and will be greatly missed by so many people. We are thinking of her loved ones during this difficult time.”

On May 9 Dame Deborah announced that she had “tried everything” but her “body simply isn’t playing ball” and said her active care had stopped and she was receiving end of life care at home.

How common is bowel cancer?

Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer, affecting both men and women.

"Every 15 minutes someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer, which is nearly 43,000 people every year.”

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.