Dame Deborah James' husband says he is 'so proud' of her

Dame Deborah James’s husband Sebastien says he is ‘so proud’ of his late wife and is ‘in awe’ of her legacy – after she sparked a record numbers of bowel cancer check-ups

  • Sebastian James spoke of pride for Deborah and said he is ‘in awe’ of her legacy
  • Dame Deborah James died in June this year after a battle with bowel cancer
  • Throughout her final years, she raised awareness and money to fight the illness
  • Comes as NHS England said the ‘Deborah James effect’ has driven more people than ever before to have the life-saving tests 

Dame Deborah James’ husband has said he is ‘so proud’ of her after she inspired record numbers of people to get tested for bowel cancer.  

Sebastian Bowen said he was ‘in awe of everything [Deborah] did’ after she spent five years tirelessly campaigning to raise awareness of bowel cancer following her own diagnosis and also raised £7 million for Cancer Research UK in her final weeks.

On Thursday, NHS figures revealed a record 30,000 more people went for referrals between May and July in 2021. Figures also showed 170,500 people were referred for checks for checks for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers between the months of May and July, which is nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago. 

Dame Deborah James (pictured) campaigned tirelessly over the final years of her life to raise awareness about bowel cancer. She also raised more than £7million for the cause

Dame Deborah James’ husband Sebastian (pictured in 2019) has said he is proud of what the inspirational former deputy headteacher achieved

Speaking to The Sun, the late campaigner’s husband said: ‘I’m so proud of her. I’m in awe of everything she did to raise awareness, and the legacy she has left behind.’ 

After her diagnosis, the former headteacher became a co-host of the BBC’s You, Me and The Big C podcast, and used her social media platforms to educate people about the symptoms of bowel cancer under her nickname, The Bowel Babe. 

Just weeks ago the family accepted an honorary degree on Dame Deborah’s behalf from the Institute of Cancer Research.

They were accompanied by Dame Deborah’s You, Me & The Big C co-hosts, Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland, who also received degrees for their outstanding contribution to raising awareness of living with cancer.

Posting photos of the graduation ceremony on Instagram, Heather wrote: ‘Today was a bittersweet day. 

‘Deborah and her colleagues Lauren and Steve from You, Me & The Big C were awarded honorary degrees by The Institute of Cancer Research for their outstanding contributions to raising awareness of living with cancer and the importance of cancer research.

Deborah is pictured in hospital during her final hours where smiles and holds her thumb up in a final farewell from hospital, maintaining her positive spirit until the end

‘We were proud to accept the award on Deborah’s behalf in the most beautiful setting of the Guild Hall City of London.’

Heather was accompanied by Deborah’s father Alistair, her brother Benjamin and her sister Sarah in the grand building as they picked up the degree.

On her Instagram story Heather posted a clip of Alistair addressing the crowd as he accepted the degree on Dame Deborah’s behalf.

He said: ‘When Deborah was invited to accept today’s degree, she was honoured and proud. 

‘But this was mixed with a sense of sadness as she realised it was one of the first entries in her diary that she was unlikely to fulfil. 

‘However in recognition of what this award meant to her, Deborah was clear in her wishes it was her family who should be here today on her behalf and to give thanks to the Institute and its staff for its work.’ 

It comes as the NHS said record numbers of people were having bowel cancer checks after the death of campaigner Dame Deborah James. 

Since the amazing Bowel Babe campaigner, who inspired a nation with her podcast chronicling her struggles with the disease, a record 30,000 more people went for referrals between May and July in 2021. 

According to the NHS, between the months of May and July, 170,500 people referred for checks for checks for suspected lower gastrointestinal cancers, which is also nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.

Figures also showed referrals for bowel cancer hit an all-time high in the second week of July, shortly after Dame Deborah’s death, up 60 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. 

She had been raising awareness about the disease until her death on June 28 at the age of 40 after a five-year battle with bowel cancer during which time she raised more than £7million for charity. 

National cancer director Dame Cally Palmer said: ‘Thanks to the brave and relentless campaigning of Dame Deborah James, bowel cancer has come to the forefront of a national conversation on catching cancer as early as possible.

‘The fact that we have seen record numbers of people coming forward for bowel cancer checks shows people are taking the illness seriously and speaking to their GPs about it.

‘It is so important that we continue the work of Dame Deborah to raise awareness of bowel cancer and save more lives, so to anyone who has noticed symptoms, please do come forward.’

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: ‘People visiting bowelcanceruk.org.uk has never been higher, with tens of thousands more people seeking information about the symptoms of the disease since Dame Deborah James’ tragic death.

‘There was also a spike in people affected by bowel cancer posting on our forum, contacting our Ask the Nurse service and we know that people have visited their GP as a result of hearing her story.’

Deborah knew she would marry her husband after their third date, she said, telling her children she fancied Sebastien from the day they first met

In early May, Dame Deborah revealed she had stopped active treatment and was receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ home in Woking, Surrey, with her husband and their two children on hand.

The podcaster was diagnosed in 2016 and kept her one million Instagram followers up to date with her treatments.

Her candid posts about her progress and diagnosis, including videos of her dancing her way through treatment, won praise from the public and media alike.

Alongside Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland, she launched the You, Me And The Big C podcast in 2018.

According to the NHS, between the months of May and July, 170,500 people referred for checks for suspected lower gastro-intestinal cancers

Dame Deborah, also known by her social media handle Bowel Babe, had been raising awareness about the disease until her death on June 28 at the age of 40

Dame Deborah James told her children telling them to ‘take a chance and back yourself’ and asked them to experience life now instead of waiting until they were older, in a final piece of advice written in the upcoming book How To Live When You Could Be Dead

In the months leading up to her death, Deborah had Prince William over for tea, who made her a Dame.

Living life on her own terms despite her illness, she designed Charity T-shirts a clothing line to raise millions more for her Bowelbabe fund.

The Dame also wrote and published her second book How to Live When You Should Be Dead, while suffering from cancer, detailing how developing a positive mindset was key to enabling her to cope with her diagnosis.

She told her children to ‘take chances and experience life now’ and to marry for love in a heartbreaking final letter. 


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:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

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

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

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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