29 June 2022

Dame Deborah James remembered: ‘Superheroes aren’t supposed to die’

29 June 2022

TV presenter Lorraine Kelly became emotional as she hosted a tribute to Dame Deborah James on her ITV show.

Wearing a pink jacket, a nod to Dame Deborah’s favourite colour, and a T-shirt with the words “Rebellious Hope” on it, which had became Dame Deborah’s slogan, Kelly held back tears as she spoke to Steve Bland.

Dame Deborah, known as Bowelbabe, died on Tuesday aged 40 after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, and had co-hosted the You, Me And The Big C podcast with Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland.

Bland died in September 2018 aged 40 after treatment for breast cancer, and her widower Steve became a regular on the show.

After watching a montage of Dame Deborah, an emotional Kelly, 62, asked Steve how he was doing, saying it “doesn’t feel real”.

He told Lorraine: “No, it doesn’t, last night was very odd, very surreal, very numb and then I was awake at the crack of dawn this morning, and it just hit me, like this moment that, like you say we’ve known for five years that it was coming, five-and-a-half years since she was diagnosed (and) it was already incurable.

“I think that makes what she’s done in those five… five-and-a-half years, what she’s packed in, and the people that she’s helped and the lives that she’s saved all (the) more remarkable.

“This was just never an easy ride for her… she’s done so much and we’re so proud of her.”

After appearing on the programme, he tweeted: “Tough morning. But I want to tell people all about Deb. The real Deb. The one who was the first to call if I was ever having a tough time. The one who was the life and soul of every single party. The one we’re going to miss so so so much. #checkyourpoo.”

Lorraine producer Helen Addis, who worked with Dame Deborah on the show’s No Butts campaign, also remembered the former head teacher and podcast host and the impact she has had on the cancer community.

Addis, whose Instagram handle is The Titty Gritty and who is a breast cancer survivor and campaigner, told Kelly about the origin of the No Butts campaign, which was launched last year to raise awareness about bowel cancer and educate viewers on the signs and symptoms of the disease.

She said: “We were brainstorming and I’d like to say that we were sat in a very stuffy boardroom, you know, coming up with the idea for it, but actually it was in a pub over a glass of wine.

“And she, we, basically said you know, ‘we need to get the nation talking more about poo’. So we got on this No Butts mission…”

Addis added: “It wasn’t just what she’s done for bowel cancer, which is huge. But what she’s done as well for the cancer community has been phenomenal. A cancer journey for anybody is a very lonely, quite scary, daunting process… and she was such an inspiration for me personally.

“And I know for lots of other people in the cancer community that look to her, who is dancing around chemo poles and you know, really living life to the full and it just made everybody think you know what, if Debs can do it, we can get through it.

“And she’s just a complete icon and to be honest, I think our rug has been pulled from underneath us, because to us, she was invincible… superheroes aren’t supposed to die.”

Following the news on Tuesday night, her close friend Mahon wrote in a message on her Instagram stories: “love and thoughts are of course with the hearts of @bowelbabe’s family & friends. espesh the kids. there’s only one deborah james. please give me time.”

Speaking last year when the No Butts campaign was launched, Dame Deborah praised Kelly, saying she “leads by example, she is not embarrassed to talk about stuff”.

“She is like, we all poo, let’s just talk about it. It’s normal. Because she is so open and honest about stuff, people just listen to her,” she added.

Dame Deborah also spoke about her own diagnosis, saying: “I was diagnosed at the end of 2016, aged 35. I had just had about six months of change of bowel habits, going to poo eight times a day. I was bleeding but thought it was haemorrhoids.

“I was really tired, but I was a working mum of two, I was a deputy headteacher, so I put it down to being really busy. I did see a doctor but it took five visits to get diagnosed.

“That was partly me not fighting my own corner, but also being dismissed because of my age.

“I don’t want to put people off going to their GP because they think they will be dismissed, but on those rare occasions where you don’t feel listened to, be persistent.”

In her final days, her campaigning earned her a damehood and her fundraiser for Cancer Research UK passed the £6 million mark.

She continued her campaigning by announcing she had written another book, titled How To Live When You Could Be Dead, documenting what she had learnt about how to have a positive mindset when faced with life’s biggest challenges.

Dame Deborah also released a clothing line with In The Style, with 100% of the profits going towards the charity, with her Rebellious Hope slogan T-shirts a massive hit.

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