Profile

Deborah James: tireless cancer campaigner honoured with damehood

Award comes days after podcast host revealed she stopped active treatment

Podcaster and cancer campaigner Deborah James has been honoured with a damehood just days after revealing she is now receiving end-of-life care.

The 40-year-old host of the BBC’s You, Me and the Big C podcast has raised more than £4 million since Monday when she announced she had stopped treatment for bowel cancer in a post shared on Instagram.

She told the BBC that she was “blown away and crying” at the honour. While damehoods are “usually announced as part of the New Year Honours or the Queen’s Birthday Honours”, in “exceptional circumstances” they are given at other points in the year.

Social media star

James, a mother of two and former deputy headteacher, was diagnosed “late” with incurable bowel cancer in December 2016, said the Daily Mail. She then began to share her experiences of living with the disease on social media under the name “Bowel Babe”, before becoming one of the three hosts of Radio 5 Live’s You, Me and the Big C in 2018. 

The hit show was the brainchild of its late co-host Rachael Bland, who died of terminal breast cancer aged 40, just six months after the show’s launch.

James has been praised for her “no-nonsense” approach to discussing cancer on the show, the BBC added, which she continued to co-host after Bland’s death alongside Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland, Rachael’s husband. 

The show, which has featured a string of celebrities, has won plaudits for its “frank discussion” of cancer and how to deal with practical matters such as hair loss, finances and telling loved ones about the illness, said the BBC.

In an interview with The Times, James this week revealed she was receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ bungalow in Woking, where her husband and children, 14-year-old Hugo and 12-year-old Eloise, have come to be with her. 

“I want to die listening to my family, I just want to hear their banter and the normal buzz of life as I go,” she said. 

The Queen led the praise for James, saying she was “pleased” to approve the damehood. Boris Johnson described the honour as “richly deserved”.

“Through her tireless campaigning and by so openly sharing her experience she has not only helped in our fight against this terrible disease, she has ensured countless others with the Big C have not felt alone,” the prime minister said.

Formidable fundraiser

James launched her Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK on Monday as she announced to her Instagram followers that she was receiving at-home hospice care.

She told her followers that it was “the message I never wanted to write” but that despite having “tried everything… 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.”

A huge response meant that James managed to raise “£1m in less than 24 hours”, reported The Guardian. The fund, which will go towards funding clinical research into personalised medicine for cancer patients, has now raised more than £4.4m.

Recommended

What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox virus
Fact file

What is monkeypox?

SIDS, Tasers and Alabaman rights
Ambulances parked outside an NHS hospital in London.
Podcasts

SIDS, Tasers and Alabaman rights

Who are the UK’s richest people?
Sri and Gopi Hinduja pictured in 2007
In Focus

Who are the UK’s richest people?

Why the US is facing a baby milk shortage
Near-empty shelves in a supermarket in Orlando, Florida
Talking point

Why the US is facing a baby milk shortage

Popular articles

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

Inside Adelaide Cottage: the guesthouse tipped to be Prince William and Kate’s new home
William and Kate
In Depth

Inside Adelaide Cottage: the guesthouse tipped to be Prince William and Kate’s new home

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

The Week Footer Banner