DAME Deborah James spent five years raising awareness of bowel cancer – and she’s not done sharing her wisdom and changing lives.
The campaigner’s new book, How To Live When You Could Be Dead, is out today – two months on from Deborah‘s death from bowel cancer at the age of 40.
In it the campaigner shares her memories and rebellious hope to help others living with cancer.
A powerful read, it’s also about what it’s like to face an incurable disease and still find a way to experience joy – from having a laugh to setting goals – in spite of the pain.
In May The Sun columnist said she was “gutted” she wouldn’t see it on shelves, and added: “It’s all about mindset and how the learnings of a positive mindset might help you even in the darkest moments.”
Now, here are seven life lessons Debs wants you to remember and hopes we’ll all carry with us…
1. DON’T ASK ‘WHY ME?’
Each of us faces challenges [that] are out of our control. What we can change is how we approach the difficulties we face.
Stop focusing on, ‘Why me?’ and realise, ‘Why not me?’ is just as valid a question.
Being positive isn’t keeping me alive, but it’s helping me pick myself up and put myself back together over and over again.
2. REACH FOR HOPE
From the beginning, I’ve flipped the way I view my situation from, ‘You’re going to die’ to, ‘You have a chance of living.’
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I call it rebellious hope because it goes against the statistics about my disease.
I’ve found myself thinking at times that life was not worth living any more.
But those were fleeting, irrational moments. Dying was the last thing I wanted to do.
Hope isn’t something that just happens – it’s something you have to actively reach for.
3. VALUE TODAY – TOMORROW MIGHT NOT COME
My priorities changed completely after cancer – the desire to live well and forge even more meaningful relationships with the people I love was what mattered to me most.
I wish it hadn’t taken this catastrophic situation for me to adopt this perspective.
The realisation that your time is precious is fundamental to living a fuller and more meaningful life now.
4. GOALS ARE VITAL WHEN SH*T HITS THE FAN
When I’ve been at rock bottom, stuck in a hospital bed for weeks on end, having something to work towards has had such a restorative effect.
It would have been easy to stop planning for the future when I found out my cancer was incurable, but continuing to assess my goals and set new ones has given me purpose.
5. WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN, FIND A WAY TO KEEP LIVING
I’ve had allergic reactions to chemotherapy and it became psychologically very difficult to do the treatment that was so necessary to my survival.
It took every ounce of grit I could muster to get it done.
Cancer is godawful, and there’s no way anyone wants the bloody thing, but it’s revealed a level of grit and perseverance I didn’t know I had.
When you’re in a situation like mine and everything is a matter of life or death, it’s easy to lose sight of humour and the lighter side of life, so sometimes you have to lighten the mood.
If you’re s******g yourself every two seconds and have to wear a nappy, without a bit of humour things could get really depressing really quickly.
It’s OK to laugh, even in moments of darkness.
7. SMALL SEEDS CAN GROW INTO BIG TREES
I never thought about what my legacy might be until my medical options ran out.
That’s when my family and I set up the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK.
These funds will help so many more people benefit, like I have, from the amazing work of these causes and maybe, just maybe, we can give one final ‘f*** you’ to cancer!
Deborah’s mum Heather appeared on Lorraine to launch the book.
She said despite Deborah asking her to not read the final heart breaking chapters, she now has.
Heather said: “Two years she’s been writing it, but the last two chapters, which are quite emotional for me to read, were done at our house in the last few weeks of her life.
“Not the ending she expected when she started the book two years ago, but she didn’t know how long she would have and she had two extra years, which was amazing.”
- EXTRACTED from How To Live When You Could Be Dead, by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99), out on August 18, 2022 © Deborah James.
- £3 from each UK sale will be paid to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK.
- Cancer Research UK is a charity registered in England and Wales (1089464) and Scotland (SC041666).
Dame Debs launched this year’s Who Cares Wins awards and was a celebrity judge for The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes.
Donate here to keep raising money for Deborah’s BowelBabe fund