Dame Deborah James wanted people to be ‘grateful’ for their bodies, no matter what they look like

·2 min read

Dame Deborah James wanted everyone to be “grateful for their body and what it can give you” and ignore societal pressures around body image, her mother has said.

James passed away at the end of June, aged 40, six years after being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.

She spent her final months receiving end of life at-home care after her body stopped responding to treatment. In that time, she started the Bowel Babe Fund to raise money for cancer research. Donations to the fund have since surpassed £7.4m.

On Thursday (18 August), James’ posthumous book which she wrote during the last two years, How To Live When You Could Be Dead, was released.

In an appearance on ITV’s Lorraine to promote the book, her mother Heather said James struggled to come to terms with the loss of independence after she lost the ability to carry out every day tasks.

“Towards the end, unfortunately, Deborah lost the ability to walk, and she got very frustrated because she was an independent, fiery person and she couldn’t walk to get a drink,” Heather said.

She recalled a conversation with James during which the campaigner urged her to be “grateful” for her body, after Heather mentioned that she felt unhappy with how she looked.

“I said to her, ‘I feel too fat in this and lines coming as you get older’, and she said, ‘Mum, if your body still helps you to live, be grateful for it’,” Heather explained.

Heather James appeared on ITV’s Lorraine on Thursday (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)
Heather James appeared on ITV’s Lorraine on Thursday (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)

“If it’s fat or thin, flabby, lined or scarred - she had so many scars, but she was so grateful that it helped her live that extra few years with all the scars, so everybody must be grateful for their body for what it can give you.”

Presenter Christine Lampard commented: “What a message in the modern day when we are so image-conscious.”

Opening up about her grief, Heather said she is finding it more difficult as more time passes.

She said: “We knew she’d come home to die, but you still had that bit of hope, ‘Did they get it wrong?’

“She lived longer than the first time we were given. I actually find it harder now since the weeks go on because it’s been longer since I’ve spoken to her and, like this, she should be here doing this.”

Earlier this week, Heather revealed that James was initially only given three to five days to live when she first moved to at-home care.

“She was such a positive person, full of energy, right up to the last breath she took,” Heather told ITV.

“She wanted life and loved life so much and she wanted everyone else to experience the positivity of life – what a great way to lead your life, and if we could all just take a little bit of that hope and positivity and mindset – that is hopefully what the book will help you achieve.”