Deborah James: Husband of cancer campaigner says pair found ‘moments of joy’ in final weeks

·3 min read
Deborah James: Husband of cancer campaigner says pair found ‘moments of joy’ in final weeks

Dame Deborah James’s husband has revealed how the pair still found “moments of joy” in her final weeks.

The podcast host, campaigner, and mother-of-two died at the age of 40 in June following her battle with bowel cancer.

Her husband, Sebastien Bowen, 42, said her “inner strength” led to the pair experiencing “some of the most mind-blowing, magical days of both our lives”.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Bowen said: “More than anyone I know she loved life, even more so when it became so short and each minute counted. It forced us to be grateful, to feel blessed for small things.

“We went out in the rain in the garden because she didn’t know whether it would be the last time she’d feel raindrops on her head. She wanted to feel the sun on her cheeks and smell the grass.”

He said the ordeal has “changed all our experiences on life”, adding: “It was like extra stolen time. If she had been run over or died suddenly during some of her earlier treatments, we’d never have been given that luxury.”

In his wife’s final months, he said the couple managed to have moments of enjoyment and laughter.

“Even through the darkest times when she wasn’t able to walk, wash or go to the toilet, she’d woken up terrified in the night or I would be pushing her around in her wheelchair, we could still find moments of joy and escape to RHS Wisley at the crack of dawn to buy trees for the children and family to plant in her memory; just to be together and forget about the awfulness of the situation and lose ourselves for an hour,” he said.

They watched their favourite films, read poetry and even went to the Chelsea Flower Show together.

“She was making the most of every last moment. But that was her. That is how I will always remember Deborah – the ability in the worst of times to embrace life. More than anyone I know she loved life, even more so when it became so short and each minute counted,” he told the paper.

When the family were told she might have just days to live, “somehow she found this inner strength and managed another eight weeks”, Mr Bowen said. “They were some of the most mind-blowing, magical days of both our lives.

“I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It was a new experience for all of us and we had to find our feet, but it also brought us closer to her and to each other as Hugo [14] brushed her hair or Eloise [12] fetched her drinks. All the barriers broke down. We were our raw selves. There was complete honesty.”

It comes as record numbers of people have come forward for bowel cancer checks following a campaign by Dame Deborah.

James, who was also known by her social media handle, Bowel Babe, had been raising awareness about the disease until her death on June 28.

According to the NHS, between May and July, 170,500 people were referred for checks for suspected lower gastrointestinal cancers.

It is a rise of 30,000 on last year and nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago, when checks fell in the wake of the first lockdown.

Health officials said the most recent statistics show the direct impact of James’s campaigns, with a 60 per cent rise in referrals in the weeks after she died.

The disease is England’s fourth most common cancer, with around 37,000 new cases diagnosed each year.