'The grief will never go': Dame Deborah James' parents on continuing her legacy

Two years since her death from bowel cancer, the fund started by the Dame Deborah James for Cancer Research UK has so far raised £16 million. Health Correspondent, Rebecca Barry speaks to her parents who are carrying on their daughter's work

“It doesn’t get any easier,” the mother of Dame Deborah James has told ITV News, on the second anniversary of her daughter’s death.

Dame Deborah James used her terminal cancer diagnosis to inspire others and raise millions of pounds for charity.

Her funny social media videos helped to spread awareness and challenge taboos about bowel cancer.

She died on the 28 June 2022. She was 40 years old.

Deborah James and her husband Sebastien Bowen. Credit: PA

Two years after her death, I met her parents Heather and Alistair James.

“It doesn’t get any easier, the grief will never go, it’s just a new way of life,” Heather told me.

“You’ll find this difficult when I say - it was a relief when she actually took her last breath because then I knew she was in no more pain because Deborah would hide her pain. For five years she hid her pain.”

The Bowelbabe Fund which Dame Deborah set up for Cancer Research UK has so far raised £16 million.

Shortly before she died she received a Damehood for services to charity and cancer awareness. Prince William even visited her at home as she was receiving end-of-life care.

Prince William personally gaves Deborah James a damehood. Credit: X via Deborah James

Dame Deborah's parents say the greatest sadness is for their grandchildren, now growing up “without their mummy”.

“The last weekend she told them 'you must live a full life and don’t use me as an excuse and enjoy life'.”

Heather says her daughter' s attitude has changed her outlook.

“I think of her all the time and I miss her all the time, but she’s given me the passion of life, to go out and live.”

Her parents now continue raising awareness and have called on the next government to commit to a long-term cancer strategy for England.

Deborah's parents continue to raise awareness for bowel cancer and have called on the next government to commit to a long-term strategy. Credit: ITV News

“We are doing this because we lost a dearly loved daughter, but we wish the reason for doing it wasn’t there,” says Alistair.

When I ask him about his daughter’s legacy he replies instantly with a smile, “don’t forget to check your poo, love deeply, live a life worth living and have no regrets.”

It’s clear they are immensely proud of their daughter, matched only by their immense sadness that it has come to this.

In the words of her mother, “you don’t have grief without love”.

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