Dame Deborah James has been hailed for the “tremendous legacy” she leaves behind for her tireless campaigning and the spotlight she shone in raising awareness for bowel cancer.
Podcast host and mother of two Dame Deborah, who became known as Bowelbabe, her social media handle, died on Tuesday after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 and has been remembered by charities, celebrities and many whose lives have been affected by cancer.
BBC TV presenter George Alagiah, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2014, said Dame Deborah was “a beacon, lighting the way for us all of us #livingwithcancer”.
He tweeted: “Knowing that @bowelbabe Dame Deborah James was nearing the end of her journey here does not make her passing any easier to accept. She was a beacon, lighting the way for all of us #livingwithcancer. Thank you for your example. Deborah, rest in peace now.”
According to Genevieve Edwards, the chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, Dame Deborah leaves a “tremendous legacy”.
Knowing that @bowelbabe Dame Deborah James was nearing the end of her journey here does not make her passing any easier to accept. She was a beacon, lighting the way for all of us #livingwithcancer. Thank you for your example. Deborah, rest in peace now.
— George Alagiah (@BBCAlagiah) June 28, 2022
Ms Edwards told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “She never stopped raising awareness. Bowel cancer is something people find difficult to talk about often and don’t really … they find it a little bit embarrassing.
“She’s stripped all of that away and shone a powerful light on it.”
Teresa Whitfield, who was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer after seeing Dame Deborah talking about symptoms on TV, told the programme that the podcast host had saved her life.
Asked what she would say to Dame Deborah’s family, Ms Whitfield, who is now cancer-free, said: “I think I actually have only one word which is thank-you.
“Without her, I don’t think I would be here today. Her campaigning is critical and we, as bowel cancer patients, as bowel cancer survivors, and as anybody who thinks they might have bowel cancer, we have to carry on with the legacy that she has.
“We have to carry on campaigning to raise awareness.”
Dame Deborah died on Tuesday after spending her final weeks receiving end-of-life care at home with her husband, Sebastien, and their two children.
In her final weeks, Dame Deborah – a presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C – raised almost £7 million for research and was made a dame for her “tireless” work improving awareness of the disease.
Her damehood was conferred by the the Duke of Cambridge, who joined her family for afternoon tea and champagne at home in a surprise visit.
Dame Deborah revealed in early May that she had stopped active treatment and was seeing out her final days at her parents’ home in Woking.
BBC presenter Adele Roberts, who was being treated for bowel cancer but announced this week she is “free of cancer”, wrote on Instagram: “My heart hurts. Thank you for everything Deborah. Thank you for being so strong for so long and helping others when you were in so much pain yourself.
“You are the best of us. Thinking of your family and friends and I am forever grateful to you for helping me and my family.”
She ended her post quoting a slogan that appeared on a t-shirt which was part of Dame Deborah’s fashion collaboration with In The Style.
Roberts wrote: “Rebellious hope forever.”
The t-shirt was worn by Kim Murray, tennis star Sir Andy Murray’s wife, on Centre Court at Wimbledon at the beginning of the week.
BBC presenter Sophie Raworth also shared a tribute message for her friend writing on Instagram: “Gorgeous girl. Ridiculous that your life was cut so short @bowelbabe.”
Last month, Raworth had organised a surprise visit to the Chelsea Flower Show for the podcaster and her husband to see a rose which bears her name.
Dame Deborah saw the bloom on display during a private tour and had revealed on social media that World of Roses and the Harkness Rose Company had named a rose after her.
She said of her flower: “Roses are my favourite flowers and I hope this one will brighten the smiles for all!”
She said in her Instagram post that “what breaks my heart and brings me the most beautiful thought, is that this variety will and can now be grown forever”, adding that she hoped one day that her daughter, Eloise, may have the rose as part of her wedding bouquet.
The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity also paid tribute to Dame Deborah in a post on their website, saying: “Deborah was an absolute inspiration to so many people with cancer, and a passionate supporter of The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. We are hugely grateful for her support.”
They added: “Behind the scenes, Deborah would take the time to chat to other patients on social media and offer her advice and support.
“For someone who loved to get dressed up and speak publicly, much of what Deborah did for the cancer community was actually quiet, understated, and from the chemo chair or in the middle of the night.
“She will be hugely missed by everyone in The Royal Marsden.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Good Morning Britain: “Her loss at such a young age is clearly tragic, but the work she did to raise awareness of bowel cancer and of course the immense amount of money she raised will make such a difference, and my thoughts are with her family today.”
Her death was announced on Tuesday with a message saying she had passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family.