Deborah James’s friend feels inspired by campaigner amid ‘waves of loss’

A friend of Dame Deborah James has said she still feels “waves of sadness and loss” nearly a year after the cancer campaigner’s death but her “overriding feeling” is admiration for her inspiring “spirit”.

Dame Deborah died aged 40 in June last year after being diagnosed with bowel cancer five years earlier, and raising millions of pounds for Cancer Research UK.

A new documentary, Bowelbabe: In Her Own Words, to be released next week, will show intimate footage dating right up until the final weeks of her life.

Her friend Emma Campbell, who met the You, Me And The Big C podcast host in 2017 when they both took part in a cancer charity photoshoot, features in clips from the 80-minute BBC film. The doc will feature video sourced from social media, Deborah's family and voice notes.

Asked on BBC Breakfast if she feels inspired by Dame Deborah, Emma said: “It’s just impossible not to be. Still now, all these months on, I think every time I think of Debs there are the waves of sadness and the waves of loss.

“But the overriding feeling is her spirit and… the essence of her.”

The author, who is living with breast cancer, added: “I remember saying it to her once… she had a huge impact on how I began to find a way of managing my long-term life as a cancer patient.

“As someone who had always struggled so hugely with the emotional aspect… I spent many years living as though I was dying, even though on paper my prognosis has always been fairly positive.

“And with Debs, it was just that sort of realisation that she really is living and that’s one of the incredible messages that comes from the film.”

Dame Deborah, who was also known by her social media handle Bowelbabe, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35.

Through candid posts about her progress and diagnosis, including videos of her dancing her way through treatment, she encouraged people to check for signs of the often deadly disease and won praise from the public and media alike.

Her Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK has raised more than £11 million.

Emma, also known as Limitless_em on Instagram, contributed to the campaigner’s 2018 advice title F*** You Cancer: How To Face The Big C, Live Your Life And Still Be Yourself.

She added of Dame Deborah: “I mean, there was so much to her, and I think it was a privilege to kind of gain access to all of her vibrancy and all of the contrast that made her so special.

“For me, when I go and have my targeted chemotherapy every three weeks I do feel her with me, and seeing the nurses that knew her… walking down those corridors.

“Yeah, she’s always there, she’s very much alive.”

Deborah James: Bowelbabe In Her Own Words airs on BBC Two at 9pm on Monday 17 April.


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