Dame Deborah James has been hailed as an “inspiration” and an “extraordinary campaigner” of “unbelievable tenacity” as tributes poured in for the podcaster and cancer campaigner, who has died at the age of 40.
The mother-of-two had been receiving end-of-life care since May at her parents’ home in Woking, Surrey, after stopping active treatment for the disease. In her final weeks, the presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C raised millions of pounds for research and was made a dame for her “tireless” work improving awareness.
Boris Johnson said that because of James “many many lives will be saved”. The prime minister tweeted: “I’m terribly saddened to hear that Dame Deborah James has died. What an inspiration she was to so many.
“The awareness she brought to bowel cancer and the research her campaigning has funded will be her enduring legacy. Because of her, many many lives will be saved.”
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said James “won the whole nation’s admiration” and she “leaves behind an incredible legacy”.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, described James’s work as “truly inspirational”. He tweeted: “Deeply sad news. Dame Deborah James’ charity work was truly inspirational – even in the most challenging moments, she continued to raise awareness about bowel cancer and impacted so many people’s lives.”
Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, described James as an “extraordinary campaigner”.
The former deputy headteacher was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 and was praised by politicians, charities and celebrities for her Instagram videos about her progress, diagnosis and treatment journey.
In May, the author of F*** You Cancer: How To Face The Big C, Live Your Life And Still Be Yourself set up the Bowelbabe Fund, which raised more than £6m, more than 24 times her original target of £250,000.
James’s mother, Heather, shared a series of photos and wrote: “My heart is broken. Love you forever.”
The NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “On behalf of the whole NHS I would like to offer my condolences to the family and many friends of Deborah James.
“Deborah’s amazing attitude was humbling and a lesson to us all.
“Not only will her fundraising have helped countless other cancer patients but her determination to raise awareness will undoubtedly have saved many lives.”
The comedian Mark Watson said James was “a person of unbelievable tenacity who turned the worst possible situation into an opportunity to inspire and educate. RIP.”
Carol Vorderman also paid tribute to James, tweeting: “Rest in peace Bowelbabe. Your incredible spirit will live on.”
A tweet from Macmillan Cancer Support mentioned James’s “dedication” to standing with people with cancer.
Alongside Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland, all former or current cancer patients, James launched the You, Me And The Big C podcast in 2018.
Bland died in September that year aged 40, two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.