Credit: Holly Clark
Deborah James, known as ‘Bowelbabe’, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35.
She was a tireless campaigner and fundraiser, sharing her cancer experience with unflinching honesty and tackling many taboos – including encouraging everyone to ‘check their poo’!
In her final weeks, fuelled by her spirit of ‘rebellious hope’ and passion to help others, Deborah worked to establish the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK, to support projects she was passionate about, including working with others such as The Institute of Cancer Research, London, The Royal Marsden and Bowel Cancer UK.
Quickly capturing the nation’s hearts with her warmth, humour and desire to “give one final F*** YOU to cancer!”, her fundraising target of £250k was smashed in a single day.
When Deborah died on 28 June 2022, the Fund had raised nearly £7m.
Funding the future of bowel cancer research
Today, the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK has revealed that it has raised a staggering £11.3 million since it was launched in May 2022.
This incredible amount of money will help give more people more time with the people they love, by funding cutting-edge research into early detection and personalised medicine, and raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
Today the initial projects to receive funding from the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK have been announced.
Collectively totalling around £4 million, these projects make up the first round of funding, with more projects due to be confirmed later this year.
Learn more about the new projects
Laying the foundations for new precision treatment that could stop cancer spread.
Led by Professor Trevor Graham – Director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at The Institute of Cancer Research, London.
Nearly 7 in 10 cancer deaths are due to it spreading around the body, a process called metastasis. This project aims to discover how bowel cancer spreads, by making detailed measurements of tumours and using advanced mathematics to make sense of the data.
It could unlock the next generation of treatments and technologies to detect which bowel cancers will spread, and even prevent this process.
Targeting microbes that might cause bowel cancer
Led by the OPTIMISTICC Cancer Grand Challenge team.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that bowel cancer – the third most common cancer worldwide – is intricately linked to microbes in the gut.
The trillions of different microbes in the body are called the microbiome, and it plays a key role in keeping people healthy.
This team of internationally leading scientists is analysing the microbiome of thousands of people from across the world and transforming our understanding of how the microbiome influences bowel cancer.
They’ve already discovered a type of bacteria that increases the risk of bowel cancer in some people under 50 and are exploring whether it might be possible to target this bacteria to reduce bowel cancer risk.
Using artificial intelligence and blood tests to detect the earliest signs of cancer
Led by Dr Oleg Blyuss – Queen Mary University of London.
Scientists can detect patterns of molecules in blood to diagnose cancer, but our current tests are too slow and inaccurate.
This project is developing AI tools to sort through the huge amount of data in blood, and predict when someone has developed the earliest signs of bowel, pancreatic or lung cancer.
By helping doctors detect these cancers earlier, this technology could help people get treated sooner, giving them the best chance of beating their disease.
New advanced IR X-Ray machine at The Royal Marsden to offer cutting edge treatment.
Interventional radiology (IR) was an important part of Deborah’s treatment at The Royal Marsden. IR uses imaging techniques to treat cancer in a minimally invasive way.
Often used as an alternative to surgery, imaging methods such as real-time X-rays, ultrasound, CT or MRI scanning, are used to guide treatment directly to the cancer site. The precision achieved dramatically reduces side effects and minimises damage to other organs and tissue located near tumours.
The Bowelbabe Fund is pleased to be supporting the installation of a new, advanced IR X-Ray machine at The Royal Marsden, allowing them to continue to offer the most innovative treatment for even more cancer patients. It will also help support research at the hospital to help develop advanced targeted therapies for cancer.
Bowel cancer awareness roadshows and primary care education to make a difference in communities hardest hit by poorer bowel cancer outcomes.
Figures from Bowel Cancer UK show nearly four in ten (38%) people in the UK can’t name a single symptom of bowel cancer. To improve this, Bowel Cancer UK will create and deliver an impactful awareness and education programme.
Bowel Cancer UK will roll out volunteer-led talks and a comprehensive awareness roadshow travelling the length and breadth of the UK, talking about bowel cancer risk, signs, symptoms, and the importance of screening.
The roadshows will prioritise talking to older adults who don’t take part in screening, younger people with symptoms, people living in areas of social deprivation, and areas where people are less likely to survive a diagnosis of bowel cancer.
Alongside the awareness roadshows, funding from the Bowelbabe Fund will help support Bowel Cancer UK in creating e-learning modules, webinars, and face to face learning sessions for GPs and pharmacy staff across the UK to build their knowledge on symptoms and risk factors, allowing them to confidently have conversations with people about bowel cancer.
Continuing Deborah’s legacy
Today’s announcement is just the beginning, and the Fund will continue to raise as much money as possible to keep Deborah’s legacy alive and support projects she cared deeply about.
“I’m immensely proud and humbled to continue the work that Deborah started,” said Sebastien Bowen, Deborah James’ husband.
“As a family, we’ve been overwhelmed by all the support the Fund has received, and to raise £11.3m is just incredible.
“We’ve taken some time to select the first round of funded projects, and are pleased to announce them today. There is some fantastic, cutting-edge bowel cancer research and brilliant awareness activity taking place, and we know that Deborah would be behind this every step of the way.”
To support the Bowelbabe Fund continue its mission donate directly at Bowelbabefund.org
Race for Life for Bowelbabe
This year also marks the launch of a new event: Race for Life for Bowelbabe.
Deborah was a passionate ambassador for Race for Life, taking part for many years and encouraging her followers to sign up as part of Team Bowelbabe.
This year, people are being offered the opportunity to take part in their local Race for Life event, in partnership with Standard Life, in memory of Deborah.
There will also be a special dedication to Deborah at Race for Life’s flagship event on 7 June in Battersea Park, London.
To sign up to Race for Life for Bowelbabe visit raceforlife.org/Bowelbabe.
“Dame Deborah James was a force of nature, doing all she could to raise awareness, fundraise and campaign,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.
“The overwhelming support the Fund has received is a true testament to how many lives she touched.
“We’re deeply honoured to be working with Deborah’s family to continue her legacy through the Bowelbabe Fund and are grateful to everyone who has donated. The Fund will be fuelled by Deborah’s spirit of rebellious hope, and the projects announced today are the first step in continuing Dame Deborah’s legacy to bring hope for a better future for people affected by cancer.”
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Léonie April 20, 2023
Inspirational woman who has already made a difference to people with cancer.
Steven Hearne April 19, 2023
I watched the documentary this week on Deborah`s life and am inspired by the new projects being launched thanks to the Bowelbabe fund.
Naomi April 19, 2023
Interested to hear about research, obvious that education of the public is so important. Deborah raised awareness ,that must carry on.