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Dame Deborah James’s mother reveals her family ‘proudly’ collected a degree for her late daughter

Dame Deborah James’s family marked a ‘bittersweet’ day as they attended a ceremony to accept an honorary degree on behalf of the late cancer campaigner.

Heather James, who nursed her daughter throughout her bowel cancer journey until her death in June, posted photos on Instagram of the family attending a ceremony at Guildhall in London to accept the degree 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.

Heather James (centre) posted the photo of herself with the family and podcast cohosts at the ceremony at the Guildhall in London. L-R: Alistair, Sarah, Lauren Mahon, Heather, Benjamin, Steve Bland

Dame Deborah James (pictured) passed away at the end of June at the age of 40 after being diagnosed with incurable cancer when she was 35

Dame Deborah James (pictured) passed away at the end of June at the age of 40 after being diagnosed with incurable cancer when she was 35

Gymnastics coach Heather wrote: ‘Today was a bitter sweet 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.

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

She posted photos of herself, Deborah’s father Alistair, her brother Benjamin and her sister Sarah in the grand building as they picked up the degree.

She also showed a photo of the document itself from the Institute of Cancer Research, issued by the University of London. 

Heather posted a photo of the honorary degree her late daughter was awarded for her outstanding contribution to raising awareness of living with cancer

Heather posted a photo of the honorary degree her late daughter was awarded for her outstanding contribution to raising awareness of living with cancer

The James family (L-R: Alistair, Heather, Sarah, Benjamin) attended the Guildhall to collect the degree on Deborah's behalf on a 'bittersweet' day

The James family (L-R: Alistair, Heather, Sarah, Benjamin) attended the Guildhall to collect the degree on Deborah’s behalf on a ‘bittersweet’ day

Heather posted a photo of Deborah's father Alistair shaking hands as he accepted the posthumous honorary degree for the campaigner

Heather posted a photo of Deborah’s father Alistair shaking hands as he accepted the posthumous honorary degree for the campaigner

Lauren Mahon, who is co-host of the podcast, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31. Steve Bland is the widower of Rachael Bland, an original podcast host who passed away from breast cancer in 2018 at the age of 40.

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.’

People commented on the post to share how moved they were to see Deborah receive the honour.

One person wrote: ‘Just amazing, congratulations. She’s dancing with you.’

Deborah’s friend Gaby Roslin, who wrote the foreward to the late campaigner’s book How to Live When You Could be Dead, posted several heart emojis underneath the photos.

Another well-wisher said: ‘What a wonderful achievement. A difficult and melancholy day for sure. I bet you all did her proud though.’

Mother-of-two Deborah James passed away at the age of 40 in June, five years after being diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer.

After receiving her diagnosis, the former headteacher made it her mission to share the details of living with cancer through Instagram and TikTok, often teaming up with her mother Heather to film funny dances.

While she was living with cancer Dame Deborah was nursed by her mother Heather, who spent time with her daughter in hospital

While she was living with cancer Dame Deborah was nursed by her mother Heather, who spent time with her daughter in hospital

When the broadcaster revealed in May she was moving to her parents’ house in Woking to receive palliative care, she opened the BowelBabe Fund to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

By the time she passed away Deborah had raised £7million through the fund – and also achieved wins after encouraging manufacturers to put bowel cancer symptoms on toilet roll packaging.

She also penned two bestselling books during the last five years of her life, including How to Live When You Could be Dead, which became the bestselling non-fiction debut of 2022 when it was released last month.

During her final weeks Dame Deborah lived at Heather and Alistair’s house in Woking where they looked after her, alongside her husband Seb and children Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12.

During her time in Woking the campaigner posted photos on Instagram showing how her family supported her, including a moving snap of her father brushing her hair because she had become too weak to do it herself.

The family also hosted Prince William in their back garden for afternoon tea as he paid them a visit to award the mother-of-two her damehood – during which she joked how much the Duke of Cambridge resembled her brother Benjamin.

When Dame Deborah passed away, the family posted a devastating announcement on Instagram.

They wrote: ‘We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy. Deborah passed away peacefully today, surrounded by her family.

‘Deborah, who many of you will know as Bowelbabe, was an inspiration and we are incredibly proud of her and her work and commitment to charitable campaigning, fundraising and her endless efforts to raise awareness of cancer that touched so many lives.’

They added: ‘A few final things from Deborah…”find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life”.’ 

Professor Kristian Helin, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: ‘It’s a great honour to be able to celebrate and recognise such hugely deserving people with honorary degrees from the ICR.

‘Dame Deborah, Lauren, and Steve have made an incredible impact through their podcast. It’s also important to recognise and remember Rachael’s contribution today. You, Me and the Big C has helped other people living with cancer to feel less alone, find out more about treatment, and been a showcase for advances in cancer research too.

‘We’re extremely sorry that Deborah could not be here, but we are delighted that her family could attend and join us in honouring her amazing legacy, which continues to benefit so many people with cancer.’

BOWEL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE 

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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