14.07.2022 | Insight

Bowel babe: The lasting impact of Dame Deborah James’ bowel cancer journey

By Mary Kangley

Since the beginning of her journey, Deborah James (Bowel Babe) posted 7,099 times across Twitter and Instagram and amassed over a million followers, sharing the most intimate details of her bowel cancer diagnosis. She celebrated pockets of joy and vulnerably shared the lowest moments of pain and loss.

MOT graph showing Deborah James' twitter posts since the beginning of her journey with Bowel Cancer

As a beacon of truth for those affected with cancer worldwide, her advocacy and awareness mission has been captured by HCPs who share testimony of her impact.

Graph showing HCP posts about Deborah James/ Bowel Babe

Sharing her journey honestly (Podcast – you me and the big C)

  • “Scan anxiety” and sharing the vulnerable details of her cancer diagnosis and prognosis 
  • Raw podcast with other cancer patients detailing experiences 

Tackling taboo/Destigmatisation

  • In sharing stories and talking openly, it helped others to recognise symptoms and know what to expect 

Increasing diagnosis/early diagnosis

  • Taking part in campaigns with HCPs to discuss the importance of seeking medical advice 

  • She acted as a bridge between health professionals and the public in breaking down barriers and building trust to offer sound advice

  • HCPs have thanked Deborah for the part she played in increasing awareness and diagnosis of bowel cancer 

Advocating for valuing life/cancer patients

  • Notably, in an episode of BBC big questions in January 2021, Deborah had to defend the value of her life, and others with terminal illness, against Lord Sumption who had been quoted saying “I didn’t say your life was not valuable, I said it was less valuable”

  • HCPs came to her defence, stating the necessity of equal care 

Building conversation about dying/palliative care/end of life

  • She was able to share the news of her at home hospice care to her social media followers which was a catalyst to grow the conversation she had already begun about dying.
  • Following this, HCP voices were amplified to highlight the process and place for palliative care

  • This is a continuation of the conversation she began many years ago: in February 2019 she allowed her son, Hugo, to write one of her columns for The Sun, where he talked candidly about his fear of his mum dying

Fundraising (bowel babe fund)

  • At the same time, Deborah launched the bowel babe fund, setting a target of £250K for Cancer Research UK. The fund has now surpassed donations of £6.6M. 
  • HCPs celebrated, dreaming of the possibilities of research with this amount of funding

HCPs and Deborah used social media to bring awareness to Bowel Cancer

In the year preceding Deborah’s announcement of at-home hospice care, HCPs engaged with her content, especially as she shared details of her chemotherapy regime. Central to Deborah’s content was the objective to build awareness around Bowel Cancer, including signs and symptoms to look for. In the Bowel Cancer conversation more widely, HCP conversation in the UK has shown to spike around certain campaigns and awareness events. Both Deborah, from a patient perspective, and HCPs, from a clinical perspective, have recognised the need for more awareness about the disease to improve diagnosis rates and therefore outcomes for prognosis, as reflected in their social media conversations.

Graph showing UK HCP pots about bowel cancer and Bowel Babe

Image Source: Bowel Babe Instagram

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Meet the Author

Mary Kangley

Mary is passionate about telling stories with data from online healthcare conversations. Her work is guided by a background in human and cyber-psychology providing a curiosity to understand what HCPs think.

As a keen music fan, Mary’s greatest pride is her Spotify playlists that are continually growing as she makes new discoveries.

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