Dear Debs,

Last night, we received the sad news that Dame Deborah James had passed away. She was an avid supporter of The Eve Appeal and Ambassador for the Get Lippy campaign, as well as a dear friend of the charity. Our CEO Athena writes a tribute to her.

The first time Deborah got in touch with me was in September 2017. She’d noticed the campaign that we were running during Gynae Cancer Awareness Month, highlighting challenging taboos and talking openly about ‘embarrassing’ symptoms and she immediately drew the parallels between the gynae cancers and bowel cancer.

Astute and aware of the charity sector and cancer campaigns from the off – she really thought about what she felt was needed, when she felt that boundaries needed to be pushed, and where the cancer conversation needed to be opened up. That September 5 years ago, she was infuriated by grim TV advertising focused only on end of life from one cancer charity which kept popping up while she was watching X Factor with her kids. She was equally fed up with a celeb led cancer campaign, very slight on awareness messages and very high on glamour. It was backed by a well-known retailer and she raged: where are the trendy t-shirts with ‘fun’ words for poo and bowel cancer in the high street?

She was absolutely right, there weren’t any. Fabulously, and inspired by her, there’s an army of supermarkets now taking on the bowel cancer message. That’s true campaigning in action.

WhatsApp messages and DMs are a great way to document our relationship. Flicking through messages, I can see birthdays come and go, lots of treatment updates, organizing photo shoots, events and campaign activities that Debs took on for Eve. She became an ambassador for Get Lippy Eve’s flagship awareness campaign when it launched in May 2018. Right up Deborah’s street combining serious messages, a clear call to action and a fine helping of glamour and fun to boot.

Messages document the progress of her column in The Sun, the idea for a book, the thought of a podcast with two other women she’d met online.

Debs did so much – not just for bowel cancer – but for cancer. She’s shaped and changed the conversation. The real gem, she really understood and championed investment in medical research. The teacher in her was always learning, always curious and always looking for giant leaps and penny drop moments. It’s inspiring to think about the Deborahs of the future and how their lives will be transformed by the investment in medical research that @bowelbabefund will enable.

Messages from Debs often popped in at odd times of day and night. She hadn’t made it to the launch of Get Lippy at Harvey Nichols this year and I knew how much she loved that event and had been hoping to come along with her gorgeous mum Heather. When my phone flashed at 3am one Friday night in early May I thought one of my ‘adult’ children had forgotten their keys again (deep sigh….). It was a message from Debs: ‘So I suppose this is the text that I never wanted to get to…’ (much, much deeper sigh).

Everyone knows the rest. Debs moved into palliative care at home, launched the Bowel Babe Fund, raised millions, became a Dame, met a Prince, touched so many more hearts and minds. Her final message to me explained what she wanted to achieve with the Bowel Babe Fund which was not to launch a separate charity but to fund the brilliant research and awareness raising that she knew fabulous and expert charities Cancer Research UK and Bowel Cancer UK could carry on as well as support the hospital which had provided her with the most astonishing and innovative care and treatment.

Spot on and strategic until the end Debs.

So much love, Athena x