How to live when you’re dying

A 40-year-old English woman showed the world why it is good to face death with a smile

In 2016, Deborah James heard the grave diagnosis that she was suffering from bowel cancer. She was then only 35 years old, a wife, mother of two children and a teacher of dozens of others. Doctors are not optimistic that she can be cured, but the fighting Englishwoman is determined to try everything to disprove them.

It undergoes traditional and experimental therapies. Some help, some don’t. He began to read a lot and became interested in the psychological aspects of fighting cancer, and also shared his own experiences on social media. That’s how he ended up as a participant in a BBC podcast for cancer patients, hosted by journalists Rachel Bland and Lauren Mahon. Both are also battling cancer. Bland was diagnosed with breast cancer the same year that Deborah James heard her terrible diagnosis. However, the two met later.

Rachel interviews Deborah for her podcast and they quickly realize that they must continue their fight together for more cancer awareness. This is how the trio Rachel, Lauren and Deborah are formed, who want to break the taboos of dealing with the disease or as they like to say: “Facing death with humor”. Thanks to their work, donations to organizations supporting oncological patients and people who attend preventive examinations are increasing sharply.

“We put cancer in prime time. I am very proud of what we have done”, says Deborah James in one of her interviews.

In 2018, Rachel Bland lost her battle with the disease at the age of 40, but until the end she contacted her followers on the Internet and wrote a book. She dedicates it to her infant son Freddie, hoping that through her he will truly get to know her when he grows up.

So does Deborah. In her final days in June, she finished her memoir, How to Live When You Might Be Dead. In them, he emphasizes hope and positive thinking. He takes stock of his life and advises his two children to take risks and “fly off the runway” because it’s more exciting that way. According to her, people mistakenly believe that patients should fight the tumor by devoting all their time to it, instead of continuing to live with the diagnosis. “The way we learn to react to a given situation empowers us or destroys us. It makes or breaks us. That’s why I want to encourage you to question your life like there’s no tomorrow and live it the way you want today,” advises Deborah James. She reveals that she has experienced anxiety for most of her life. She had crippling panic attacks that even prevented her from driving her car or walking down a busy street.

The strangest and most unexpected thing is that her anxiety drops sharply when she learns her terrible diagnosis. Then she realizes that she should be grateful for everything she had, not afraid of it. She admits that she actually took her loved ones for granted, missed her children’s school plays because she was busy with her teaching job, didn’t appreciate her husband enough.

Realizing that she doesn’t have long to live, she learns to appreciate the little things. He quit his teaching job because he realized that it would be difficult to reconcile it with the difficult treatment, and devoted himself to popularizing the difficulties that cancer patients go through.

Wipe away your tears and keep doing your job is one of the most valuable pieces of advice she gets from Rachel Bland. That’s exactly what it does. Deborah faces her diagnosis with positivity and agency rather than letting her fears guide her. She tells in amazing detail what she went through and what were the early signs of the disease, which she fatally missed in order to have a chance at treatment. As a result, thousands of people are starting to monitor their stools and seek medical advice if they think something is wrong with them. Hundreds have been saved just because they listened to what Deborah James wrote and spoke.

So when she told her millions of internet followers in May that she had days left to live, a wave of sympathy from around the world came her way. In 24 hours, £1.6 million was raised for a fund she founded to support bowel cancer research. A number of initiatives have been organized for her, including the christening of a new kind of rose. She was awarded the title of Dame by the Queen, with Prince William personally arriving at her parents’ home to present it to her.

In the last days of her life, Deborah James chooses to return to her childhood home. In this way, she wants to protect her 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter from impending death and leave only good memories in the family home so that her husband and children can more easily move on without her. The doctors only gave her a few days to live, but she lasted another 7 weeks, during which she did things she had dreamed of all her life, like having girls’ sleepovers at home and watching the Ascot horse races, Britain’s most famous. No matter how much effort it costs her, everywhere she posts pictures of how she is enjoying these latest experiences of hers.

“People who didn’t know her could see that she was getting weaker every day, but mentally it was the opposite. I have never loved her more. I knew what was happening to her and yet I was able to find these magical moments,” said her husband Sebastian Bowen after her death.

He remembers that the last thing he managed to say to her was how proud he was of her and that he would take care of the children. “Then she ran away. It was an incredibly peaceful death,” Sebastian told The Sun.

Deborah James died at just 40, but the way she did it, with her head held high, her sense of humor and candor, charted a whole new approach to dealing with cancer. In the final days of her life, she managed to raise nearly £7 million to test experimental bowel cancer drugs and influence thousands of people to go for screening.

Widowers should not feel guilty when they find love again

The widower of BBC journalist Rachel Bland, who was the first to speak publicly about her battle with cancer, has found new love a year after her death. Steve Bland continued his wife’s cause by agreeing to host the podcast she created for cancer patients with her colleagues Lauren Mahon and Deborah James. It represented the perspective of people who lose loved ones to cancer.

Steve meets his new love Amy, who is a nurse and bears a striking resemblance to Rachel, at a conference about the challenges of living with a tumor. He decides not to keep silent and repress his feelings for her because he realizes that hundreds of other people are probably going through similar moments after losing their spouses too soon. He starts talking publicly about why he doesn’t feel guilty about wanting to try to move on with his life with another person and how much he’s learned from Rachel about it. How he had promised to find her a wife who would take care of their son Freddie.

After a 3-year relationship, Steve and Amy tied the knot in August, with their 7-year-old boy as best man. “Rachel wanted me to be happy and she wanted Freddie to be happy. We need to break the taboo and stop worrying about being judged for it and try to be happy and make the most of life,” commented Steve Bland.


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