Until Deborah James took her last breath I thought she would live, says mother

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The mother of Dame Deborah James said “until the minute” the late campaigner “took her last breath” she thought her daughter would survive.

By the time Dame Deborah died aged 40 last June, she had raised millions of pounds for Cancer Research UK and was credited with raising awareness of bowel cancer by the NHS.

On Monday, a new BBC documentary, Bowelbabe: In Her Own Words, will show intimate footage right up to the final weeks of her life.

Heather James told Saturday’s The Daily Telegraph: “To me, Deborah was invincible… Until the minute she took her last breath, I still thought she would survive.

“We never thought she would die. If we’d have known she was going to die at the end of five years, we wouldn’t have had such an enjoyable time. She deteriorated in front of our eyes, but I never prepared for the end.”

Dame Deborah was diagnosed in 2016 and kept her million Instagram followers up to date with her treatment through candid posts, which won praise from the public and media alike, about her progress and diagnosis.

The presenter of You, Me And The Big C – who started the BBC podcast alongside Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland – also started the Bowelbabe fund, which has subsequently raised more than £11.3 million for cancer research.

Heather said her daughter’s “legacy” is “sad” for her as she tries to “continue” raising bowel cancer awareness.

She is set to launch this year’s No Butts campaign next week on Lorraine, the newspaper said.

Dame Deborah twice ran the awareness weeks with the ITV talk show around the month of May.

After the mother-of-two’s death, the NHS said 170,500 people were referred for checks for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers between the months of May and July 2022.

This was up by more than 30,000 compared with the same period in 2021 and nearly 80,000 higher than the same period in 2020.

Dame Deborah’s widower, Sebastien Bowen, has been given the family’s “blessing” to find someone else “when he “feels ready”, Heather also said.

She added: “Deborah would be a hard act to follow but he has our blessing because Deborah wanted him to move on, we want him to move on.”

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