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Dame Deborah James’ final words of wisdom

Dame Deborah James has revealed her final words of wisdom and lessons she learnt while living with incurable cancer.

In her book, How to Live When You Could be Dead, which has been published posthumously, the 40-year-old broadcaster talked about living with stage 4 bowel cancer and what she had learnt from it.

Deborah, who passed away in June, five years after her diagnosis, shared her best advice and life lessons – including knowing when to put your phone down and laughing when things are really bad.

Recalling her own experience being told she was going to die, the mother-of-two shared how she managed to make the most of life in her final years.

Dame Deborah James, who passed away in June 2022 at the age of 40, has shared her final words of wisdom 

Dame Deborah, pictured with her husband Seb (left), children Hugo and Eloise and Prince William, was presented with a Damehood in her final weeks

Dame Deborah, pictured with her husband Seb (left), children Hugo and Eloise and Prince William, was presented with a Damehood in her final weeks

1. HAVE REBELLIOUS HOPE

Dame Deborah became known for urging people to have 'rebellious hope' in life - which she turned into a T shirt range with InTheStyle

Dame Deborah became known for urging people to have ‘rebellious hope’ in life – which she turned into a T shirt range with InTheStyle

In her last weeks, Dame Deborah James became known for urging people to live with ‘rebellious hope’. 

She even teamed up with online retailer InTheStyle to design a line of T shirts emblazoned with her mantra, with the proceeds going to charity.

In her book, which she wrote while she was dying, Dame Deborah said there were times in her last months when she had been ‘overwhelmed with pain’ and didn’t have the will to keep going.

However, she found herself holding onto hope to pull herself out of those dark times and argued this is what kept her going. 

In encouraging other people to be optimistic, Deborah admitted ‘hope in isolation’ will not magically make things better, but it will help you to navigate big changes or difficult times in your life.

She said: ‘Ultimately, hope means staying positive and refusing to let yourself be overwhelmed by darkness and defeat.’

2. TAKE THE P*** OUT OF YOURSELF 

Deborah James (pictured with her mother Heather) said she had a 'juvenile' sense of humour that helped her laugh even during the darkest of times

Deborah James (pictured with her mother Heather) said she had a ‘juvenile’ sense of humour that helped her laugh even during the darkest of times

Recalling some of the darkest moments of her life, former headteacher Deborah said she found solace in laughing about her situation.

The day before her ‘role model’, podcast co-host and friend Rachael Bland died, the pair joked about being taken by the Grim Reaper.

Dame Deborah talked about having a ‘juvenile’ sense of humour that caused her to burst out laughing at jokes about farts. 

She said that when life gets serious, as it was for her in her final months, sometimes you can lose the humour in the situation.

The broadcaster also said sometimes people are at risk of taking themselves too seriously, but added it’s important to ‘take the p*** out of yourself’ when things go wrong.

‘Things don’t always go to plan or work out how you expected them to, so you have to laugh along the way,’ she said.

3. MUTE THE TROLLS

While she agreed social media could be a wonderful thing, Dame Deborah said too much exposure to negative content can be seriously damaging.

She wrote about using Instagram as a platform to raise awareness of bowel cancer, but added she was careful with her use of it.

In order to maintain hope in the most difficult times, the mother said ‘doom-scrolling’ through social media is not helpful.

She advised people to ‘filter’ what they were exposing themselves to on their social media feeds by unfollowing accounts that didn’t make them feel good. 

‘Try to find things that inspire you,’ she said. 

Deborah admitted that the world can seem like a ‘scary place’ sometimes – but added it is also ‘beautiful’, ‘interesting’ and ‘full of kind people’.

4. MAKE MEMORIES WITH YOUR LOVED ONES

After making the heartbreaking decision to move to palliative care at her parents’ house in Woking when doctors were unable to treat her further, Dame Deborah described how she made memories for herself and the people she would leave behind.

She recalled one standout memory in particular when her sister, Sarah, suggested having a ‘sleepover’ like they did when they were children.

The family set up tepees in the living room and decorated the space with fairy lights.

Despite feeling exhausted, Deborah lit up when she was wheeled into the room. 

That night, she spent the evening watching Cinderella with her family and felt like she was ‘five years old again’.

Dame Deborah added the events of the evening brought a ‘Cheshire Cat smile’ to her face.

As she faced death and leaving behind her loved ones, the campaigner said that making memories was something everyone should dedicate more time to, as it was the ‘best way’ of making the most of life.

5. FIND YOUR ‘WHY’ 

Deborah became known as the Bowelbabe as she started to document her life with incurable bowel cancer in a blog - which turned into a column in The Sun newspaper

Deborah became known as the Bowelbabe as she started to document her life with incurable bowel cancer in a blog – which turned into a column in The Sun newspaper

When Dame Deborah received her incurable cancer diagnosis and had to give up teaching, she ‘plummeted to the depths of hell’.

The mother-of-two recalled feeling so low she couldn’t get out of bed – and stayed there until her mother, Heather, and a friend, told her to get up and have a shower because she ‘smelled bad’.

After managing to pick herself up, the former teacher realised she needed to find a new purpose beyond just surviving. 

It was at this point she wrote her first post on the Bowelbabe blog.

Recalling her first ever post, Deborah said it was initially ‘a way of finding purpose and getting back on my feet’.

However after starting the blog, she realised that the new purpose she had found through the blog had helped her fill the void left in her life when she gave up teaching. 

As the Bowelbabe blog gained more readers, Deborah found herself thrust into the spotlight with a newspaper column in The Sun, an enormous Instagram following and a hosting spot on the You, Me and The Big C podcast.

Describing how the blog led her to achieve things she never thought she would, Dame Deborah said that finding her ‘why’ helped her take control when she felt she might spiral

7. PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AT DINNER TIME

After she was given five years to live, Dame Deborah made a promise to herself to ‘be more present’ in life.

Reflecting on her cancer journey, the broadcaster said this was one of the most important lessons she had learnt.

To fully immerse herself in time with her loved ones, she stopped getting her phone out at the dinner table and stopped ‘scrolling through social media’ while watching a film with her children.

She wrote: ‘It meant prioritising my family in a way that I didn’t when I was a busy career mum rushing around trying to squeeze everything into my jam-packed schedule.’

8. RELY ON OTHERS

Dame Deborah admitted she had to learn to become resilient when faced with her diagnosis.

But while much of her resilience came from picking herself up when things didn’t go to plan, she stressed the importance of forming close bonds with people who help you find strength.

She advised people to be more ‘sociable, open, gracious and affable’ to create a ‘support network’ of friends.

The mother added that your network doesn’t necessarily have to be large – and if you’d prefer to have a few people around you with whom you are very close, that can be even more powerful.

She added that having empathy and being altruistic helps you form close bonds with people, who will in turn offer you support when you need it most.

9. MARK YOUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY – EVEN IF IT’S NOT A HAPPY OCCASION

Citing research that showed marking milestones helped people achieve more and be more productive, Dame Deborah argued that it in your personal life, it was a great way to realise how far you have come.

The mother said many people these days don’t celebrate milestones like anniversaries or birthdays, but insisted it was important to note them even if you don’t consider them happy occasions.

She wrote: ‘They can be about acknowledging another step away from trauma or something that’s been holding you back.’

Deborah argued that milestones are about helping you realise progress you have made and give you an opportunity to ‘take stock’ and look at what you’ve done right and what you’ve done wrong.

10. ENJOY THE RAIN

In her final message, Dame Deborah stressed the importance of the most basic things, which she had come to appreciate the most in her final days.

While many people have grand ambitions to travel and have outrageous experiences, she argued the ‘simpler, more enduring things’ are what you are most grateful for when faced with death.

The mother said she was ‘blown away’ when the Dame Deborah James Rose was named after her in summer 2022 – so much so that it moved her to tears.

Deborah added we should all take pleasure in having the freedom to move around freely and must enjoy time we spend with our families.

She recalled sitting out in the garden in one of the last days of her life while it was raining so she could ‘feel the rain on [her] face.’ 

She said: ‘You never know when it is going to be the last time you do something.’

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