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Paying tribute to Dame Deborah James

The Cancer Research UK logo
by Cancer Research UK | News

28 June 2023

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Deborah James smiling at the camera while sitting on a sofa in a floral dress
Credit: Holly Clark

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell paid tribute to Dame Deborah James today, marking the first anniversary of the writer, broadcaster, and campaigner’s death.  

Deborah, 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 taboos to change the conversation around cancer.  

Deborah wanted her story to be a positive one. In her final weeks, fuelled by her spirit of ‘rebellious hope’ and her commitment to helping others affected by cancer, she set up the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK to support projects she was passionate about.  

To continue Deborah’s incredible legacy, the Fund will support cutting edge research into early detection and personalised medicine, raise awareness of signs and symptoms and tackle the stigmas around cancer. That work started in April 2023, with the announcement that the Fund would give around £4m to 5 projects close to Deborah’s heart. There’s more to come later this year. 

Dame Deborah’s warmth, humour and spirit are missed every day. She was truly unique – someone who lit up a room and, despite her own devastating cancer diagnosis, did all she could to fundraise, campaign and raise awareness. The impact she had and continues to have cannot be underestimated. She has undoubtedly helped save lives.  

Deborah always wanted to help others. She set up the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK to give those affected by cancer what she felt she’d been given – more precious time with their loved ones. 

The response to the Fund has been incredible. It’s a testament to how many people were inspired by Deborah’s spirit and generosity. We’re deeply honoured to be working with Deborah’s family to continue her legacy through the Fund and bring hope for a better future for people affected by cancer.

- Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive

Deborah campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of bowel cancer, including by encouraging everyone to “Check your poo!”  

The difference she made was remarkable. In August 2022, shortly after her death, NHS England announced that record numbers of people had come forward for bowel cancer checks. Across 2022/23, urgent referrals for suspected bowel cancer were 13% higher than in 2021/22, and 27% above the levels seen before the pandemic.  

We’ve seen it too. Traffic to Cancer Research UK’s bowel cancer webpages in 2022 was 70% higher than in 2021, undoubtedly helped by Deborah 

That awareness is vital. Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.  

That means there’s much more to do.  

Deborah showed us how we can do it.  

Her work brought so much good for so many people. And her inspiring legacy will live on through the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK.