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Deborah James’ mother: ‘How can you not love what she did in that eight weeks?’

Heather James, the mother of Dame Deborah James (BBC Breakfast/PA)
Heather James, the mother of Dame Deborah James (BBC Breakfast/PA)

The mother of Dame Deborah James has told how much the support of the public in her daughter’s last weeks has meant to the family.

Podcaster and campaigner Dame Deborah, known by her social media handle Bowelbabe, died on June 28 at the age of 40, after being diagnosed with bowel cancer aged 35.

In the first interview since her daughter’s death, her mother Heather James, whose Instagram handle is Bowelgran, spoke about Dame Deborah’s last few weeks and the outpouring of love and support the family received.

In her final months, the presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C raised almost £7 million for cancer research, with the amount climbing further following her death.

She also launched a clothing range with In The Style and completed her second book, titled How To Live When You Could Be Dead, which is being published on August 18.

Ms James told BBC Breakfast: “I still find that amazing, that she had the love of the people out there and that meant a lot, it’s meant a lot to the family and it still does.”

Asked if it had been a help, she added: “Yes. I think I could not have coped… we were given three to five days, Deborah lived eight weeks.

“That eight weeks was probably in one way the best eight weeks we’ve had together as a family, even though she died at the end of it.

“How can you not love what she did in that eight weeks and it did help knowing other people loved her and wanted to help in any way they could.”

In early May, Dame Deborah revealed she had stopped active treatment and was receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ home in Woking, Surrey, with her husband and their two children on hand.

In Dame Deborah’s final days at her parents’ house, Ms James was her main carer.

She said: “I think the hardest thing was knowing she was going to die. My heartache was knowing as a mother I couldn’t do anything about that and I think that was the hardest for me to cope with…

“We had some good times. I can remember lying in bed, probably just about a week or so before she died and she was quite poorly that night and she went, ‘I do love you’ and I went, ‘I love you’.

“She went ‘I have no regrets’ and I went ‘That’s brilliant’, how many people could say that? But she did say I don’t want to die. And that’s the hardest, saddest part.”

Dame Deborah was honoured with a damehood for her “tireless campaigning” to raise awareness of bowel cancer, with the honour personally conferred by the Duke of Cambridge in May during a surprise visit to her parents’ house.

Ms James said of William: “He put us so much at ease when he came in. You know, it was amazing. And he was just like one of my son-in-laws, he just sat down with us. He was so lovely, I think he is a people’s king.”

Dame Deborah raised awareness of bowel cancer before her death
Dame Deborah raised awareness of bowel cancer before her death (Alamy/PA)

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, told BBC Breakfast: “From the moment Deborah was diagnosed and right until the end of her life, she campaigned tirelessly.

“She was a phenomenal campaigner, and you can just see the impact that she’s had there with people coming forward.

“And if those thousands of people who’ve come forward, the majority of them probably won’t have bowel cancer, but for those that do, that’s lifesaving.

“I’ve spoken to so many people with bowel cancer who’ve felt that they’ve had the confidence to go and tell their own story now because Deborah did so.

“You know, she communicated so well and connected and they felt that they’ve been able to go.

“So it’s all of those little conversations, like ripples in a pond, that will keep going, and that’s really important because bowel cancer is not an easy one to talk about.”