United Kingdom

Bowel cancer campaigner Deborah James 'never expected to make 40th'

BBC podcast presenter Deborah James, who has stage four bowel cancer, has revealed she plans to 'bang on' about her 40th birthday all week - because she was told she wouldn't be here to see it.

The former deputy head turner cancer campaigner from London, a mother-of-two, has been living with stage four bowel cancer since she was diagnosed in December 2016, and was told early on that she might not live beyond five years. 

However, this week, a glamorous-looking James shared a photo on Instagram of herself enjoying a night out at a swish London hotel as she begins a week of celebrations ahead of her big day on October 1st. 

Mother-of-two Deborah James, who has stage 4 bowel cancer, shared a photo to her 220,000 followers on Instagram after a luxurious day at the swish Beaverbrook Town House hotel in central London ahead of her 40th birthday on October 1st

The You, Me and the Big C star, who has been living with bowel cancer since she was diagnosed in December 2016 and has suffered a difficult few months after an aggressive new tumour near her liver had wrapped itself around her bile duct - leaving her requiring life-saving hospital treatment

After a difficult summer, in which she was told she had an aggressive new tumour near her liver that had wrapped itself around her bile duct - requiring a life-saving stay in hospital, James said just hearing the words Happy Birthday 'made me smile'.

On Thursday she told her 222,000 Instagram followers: 'It's not quite my birthday! But last night I got my first "Happy Birthday" and my word it made me smile! 

'I appreciate it's weird to bang on about a birthday, but it’s a milestone one (40) I was told I wouldn’t see.' 

James followed up with: 'So forgive the next week of “omg, I might actually see my 40th” over excitement on the posting front!'   

Earlier this month, James urged people to see a doctor if they felt something wasn't right following the death from breast cancer of Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding. 

She said: 'It's not putting the blame back, I've personally beaten myself up about regretting not getting to the GP earlier.'

BBC podcast presenter Deborah James, 39, from London, has revealed she has 'beaten herself up with regrets' about not going to a GP earlier in her battle with cancer

The social media star has documented her battle with cancer online since being diagnosed and campaigned for better awareness around bowel cancer diagnosis

Sarah passed away on September 5th, just 13 months after confirming her terminal cancer diagnosis. Her death was announced by her devastated family on social media.

Speaking about Sarah's death, James said it was 'hard-hitting', adding: 'It's not just breast cancer, it's knowing our body and understanding the difference between early and late diagnosis.

'It's tragic it takes these kind of headlines to remind us that none of us are exempt from the one in two of us who will get cancer in our lifetime.

'It's not about scaremongering. It's about if you're sat at home right now, you need to know your body and get it checked out sooner rather than later.' 

Sarah Harding, who also modelled and had a starring role in the St Trinian's film series, passed away on Sunday, just 13 months after confirming her terminal cancer diagnosis. Her death was announced by her devastated family on social media

She said she could relate to Sarah's fears about being diagnosed, saying: 'I live with incurable bowel cancer and I put off my own diagnosis with bowel cancer.

'You assume at that age you're too young to be diagnosed. By the time I was, I had late stage bowel cancer.'

She explained: 'I'm very grateful to be approaching five years, but I know that I'm smashing every statistic to do that.

'The key message is actually cancer is survivable. More people will strive 10 years after they are diagnosed with cancer then die from it, but that's because of where we're moving in terms of catching things early.

'The first step in doing that is for people sat at home is to recognise it has to start with them and we have to come forward.

She praised her husband, Sebastien Bowen, for 'keeping the family together', posting a picture of the couple at Queen's tennis tournament in West London in early summer

'It's not putting the blame back, I've personally beaten myself up about regretting not getting to the GP earlier.

'But I think if you're one of those people who is a little bit concerned, it's knowing, it's scarily the longer we leave it rather than getting it sorted straight away.' 

Deborah has been documenting her battle with cancer online since diagnosis, including revealing how her mother, known as @bowelgran on Instagram, had been helping her cope while her family were away on holiday this summer.

Posting on Twitter, she wrote: '[Mum] has literally been nursing me back to life for the last month through liver failure and sepsis. #stayingalive.' 

Posting the clip, she said: 'Chemo dancing whilst hooked up to life saving drugs is on! This cycle, kids are away, so mum has stepped up!' 

Performing a brief chereographed routine to Staying Alive, she added: 'Song couldn’t be more apt! Cancer is still happening!' 

Deborah, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, told her followers earlier this year that scan results had shown: 'Things have moved (in the wrong direction) very quickly'

In August, the cancer campaigner had a liver stunt fitted to allow her to have further chemotherapy.     

She shared a photo of herself with husband Sebastien at the Queen's tennis tournament in West London, saying: 'I think you all know, by my general lack of being on here (dancing!), that things have moved (in the wrong direction) very quickly cancer wise.' 

Deborah praised her 'superman' husband, Sebastien Bowen, for 'keeping the family together' during a 'crazy a** scary week'. She has two children with the French banker, Hugo and Eloise. 

The upbeat presenter added: 'I do have a glimmer of hope and options and am greatful to my team who are currently pulling a "next step" plan together that doesn’t including writing me off just yet!' 

Revealing she'd endured many tests and scans in recent days, Deborah said she'd 'earnt a hell of a lot of brownie points for the amount of time I’ve spent on scanners and having tests this week'. 

She added that: 'Whilst it goes without saying that I’ve felt at rock bottom, I’m not giving up hope just yet.'

The mother-of-two finished the post by saying she was 'taking the weekend to snuggle up with my family so you won’t see me on here, and I urge you to do the same.'

Last year, Deborah began taking new experimental drugs as part of a trial after her oncology team gave her the green light to do so. 

In April, James shared that her cancer, which has been kept at bay by pioneering treatment, was back again and she was forced to endure a 12th operation. 

In the spring, James launched ITV's Lorraine's 'No Butts' campaign, designed to get people talking about the illness's main symptoms, revealed how she recently asked her oncologist whether this was the 'beginning of the end' following her most recent results.

She has frequently said that as a vegetarian runner, she was the last person doctors expected to get the disease.  


In 2018, Deborah (left) joined Lauren Mahon (front) and Rachael Bland (right) to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live. Bland tragically died of breast cancer on September 5th that year; her husband Steve Bland now co-presents the show

  • In December 2016, the West London mother-of-two, a deputy head, was diagnosed 'late' with incurable bowel cancer
  • After sharing her experiences on living with the disease on social media, Deborah became known as the 'Bowel Babe' 
  • In 2018, she became one of three presenters on Radio 5 Live's You, Me and the Big C, which was conceived by her late co-host Rachael Bland 
  • On September 5th 2018, Welsh journalist and presenter Bland, diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, died at the age of 40

Last week, Deborah told followers on Instagram 'By my general lack of being on here (dancing!), that Things have moved (in the wrong direction) very quickly cancer wise.' Pictured: Deborah James undergoing a scan at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London

The surgery was a success and her cancer became inactive. But while Deborah continued undergoing daily targeted drug therapy to keep the cancer at bay, she told how just as lockdown restrictions in the UK started easing, her cancer 'wanted in on the party' and started waking up. 

Deborah, who says that as a stage 4 cancer patient all she wants is 'hope and options,' added that the node is inoperable and that her body is unable to cope with any more radiotherapy in that area.

However, with an oncologist confirming Deborah's cancer is spreading to 'limited sites' in a 'specific way,' local therapies - including a mix of CyberKnife and ablation - have so far had positive outcomes. 

Deborah has also undergone a new type of ablation known as NanoKnife -  an ablation procedure that uses low energy electrical pulses to create defects in cell membranes, resulting in loss of homeostasis and subsequent cell death. 

Campaigner, broadcaster and author Deborah James said protecting cancer care should be a priority (pictured upon leaving hospital after going through an operation to treat her stage four metastatic bowel cancer)

The mother-of-two talks about her cancer on Instagram under her moniker Bowel Babe, and shares glimpses of her treatment (pictured during a treatment session in hospital)


Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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