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MARY-JANE DUNCAN: Thank you for everything, Deborah James

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‘The message I never wanted to write’.  This is how Deborah James, sorry Dame Deborah James as she is now, started her message.

For those who don’t recognise the name, and I can only imagine very few of you, Deborah James is sometimes better known as Bowelbabe. 

And what a mighty force she is.  Having been diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer, Deborah decided to negate the sob stories to become a force of nature instead, wearing her illness with grace, strength, and dignity since the onset.

Choosing to shout. To share. To educate.

Choosing to shout.  To share.  To live, educate and raise awareness.  Campaigning tirelessly by becoming a newspaper columnist, blogger, podcaster, and author.

A list that would tire me out just by reading, never mind undertaking it all during cancer treatment.

Deborah James (left) and Steve Bland with the award for Best Podcast for the show You, Me and the Big C at the TRIC Awards in 2019.

After accepting no viable active treatments remained, she moved to hospice care at home.

Time to rest.  Time to spend precious moments with her family, safe in the knowledge that everything that could have been done, had been done.

As she said – no stone left unturned.

Using the real words

Deborah’s running theme throughout has been centred round her rebellious streak.

She, thankfully, stays away from words more commonly flung about when describing cancer patients.

No talk of fighting or losing a battle here.  And for that alone I adore her.

Having worried she wouldn’t see her 40th birthday or get to watch her children go to high school, she’s ticked those off alongside a host of other wonderful achievements.

I feel guilty for having cancer

I often feel like a bad wife and mother for having cancer.  I regularly wish my gang had a mum who didn’t have cancer – they all deserve better.

I’ve always thought of myself as a lazy person who’s never lived up to their full potential.

Looking at that sentence more objectively, I think I may need to readdress my self-perception and become less anxious.

I tire of worrying about everything but also worry no one will worry as well as me about all the things needing worried about.

Deborah James gave me permission

Through her campaigning, Deborah has helped me remove my guilt, almost an unintentional ‘pass’ giving me permission to both live AND rest.

How can my words rationalise the extent of the thanks and admiration Dame Deborah deserves whilst also forgiving myself by acknowledging not everyone is in the position to do the same?

Cancer isn’t a great leveller.  Cancer poverty is a real thing.  Many cannot afford to give up work or undertake a dramatic change in direction.

Sometimes simple choices are removed or even made FOR you.

Screengrab from the Instagram feed of Deborah James/bowelbabe of the Duke of Cambridge at Deborah’s family home to honour her with a damehood.

This has been an incredibly difficult column to write.  As a cancer patient who lost her mother to bowel cancer, difficult memories remind me time is of the essence.

I’m not in a panic, I just need to make some difficult choices.  As a creature that wrestles indecision daily, this isn’t going to be my moment of glory.

I’ve tried to be brave and put out some feelers to sell the café.  Do I want to?  Absolutely not BUT having weathered cancer and Covid, it’s time to at least ask the question.

Buy her a drink on her way out

Dame Deborah’s final two fingers up at the Big C was to launch a fundraiser for Cancer Research UK and the Royal Marsden.

Currently over £6 million  has been pledged, all by Deborah asking for people to ‘buy her a drink on her way out’.

So many people have raised their glass and said ‘cheers’.  Including Prince William, who happened to pop round for tea in the garden and to bestow on her a Damehood while he was there.

What a legacy to leave

Whether a royalist or not and regardless of where you stand re peerages and titles, you must admit this was a classy move and for once, I don’t find myself questioning WHY someone has been recognized.

What a thing to be remembered for. What a legacy to leave, one which will benefit SO many people coping and living with cancer in the future, not just her loved ones.

What an achievement to bring strength through what will undoubtedly be a difficult time for those around her.

She has left a spark of herself to live on even after she has gone and I, for one, am truly grateful to have been shown the way forward by Dame Deborah.

Bowelbabe Fund – bowelbabe.org

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