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We’re calling on the UK Government to drive change. For Deborah

Alistair James
by Alistair James | Opinion

25 April 2024

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Dame Deborah James with her father, Alistair, at Wimbledon
Alistair at Wimbledon with Deborah


If you didn’t know, April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. 

I’ll forgive you if you didn’t. For many years, April came and went without me giving cancer a second thought. 

But that all changed when my daughter Deborah, otherwise known as Bowelbabe, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016. 

I remember, after her diagnosis, she told us over dinner “I’m going to share my story”, and knowing Deborah as we did, we knew that nothing was going to stop her. 

She was never embarrassed, wasn’t afraid to talk about poo – or dress up as one! She would say “If I do that, that will get a story. If I do that plus that I might get the front page. So, that’s what we’re going to do.” Because how many times had bowel cancer made the front page of the newspapers? 

She made those decisions not for herself, but for others. Her message was clear. If you’ve got something you’re worried about, get it checked. Do it quickly, and don’t find an excuse not to do it.   

Her legacy will continue to inspire people across the country for years to come, and I am incredibly proud of what she achieved. But with that pride comes the sadness that this ever had to happen. 

Deborah’s cancer was diagnosed at a late stage. Unfortunately, that’s something too many people in the UK face. 

We want to see a world where people live longer, better lives free from the fear of cancer. To get there, we need to see real improvement in diagnosing more people with cancer at an early stage. 

But campaigners like Deborah can only do so much.  

There’s only one group of people with the power to make this vision a reality: the UK Government. 

That’s why, in the lead up to a general election, my family and I are taking action.  

Today, we’ve published a letter calling on political parties to back Cancer Research UK’s manifesto, Longer, better lives, and make the upcoming general election a landmark moment for people affected by cancer. 

Whoever wins the election has an opportunity to transform cancer care in the UK by committing to a long-term cancer strategy for England. And they need to do it quickly. 

Earlier diagnosis must be at the heart of that plan. It can be the difference between life and death. 

To put it into perspective, if bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than 9 in 10 people will survive their disease for 5 years or more. This falls to just 1 in 10 when diagnosed at the latest stage. 

Those aren’t just numbers. They’re people. People like Deborah. 

By publishing our letter, we want to continue what she started, raising awareness and creating the change that people affected by cancer deserve. And you can join us. 

We’d like all of the fantastic Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK supporters to get behind the manifesto too, by signing Cancer Research UK’s open letter to party leaders. 

Adding your name only takes a minute or two, but if Deborah taught us anything, it’s that the actions of one person can make a massive difference. 

Deborah won’t get to see the future she campaigned for, where more people have more years of healthy life, and more precious moments with their loved ones. But her children will – if the UK Government acts. If we act. 

I want to see a day where Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is commemorated with hope, rebellious hope, that we’re catching not just bowel cancer, but all types of cancer, as early as possible. 

A day free from the fear of cancer, for Deborah. 

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