Deborah James says trolls have accused her of 'sexualising cancer'

BBC podcast host with incurable cancer Deborah James, 40, hits back at trolls who accuse her of ‘sexualising’ the disease because of her ‘short dresses, plunging necklines and pouting too much’

  • Deborah James, 40, has hit back at trolls accusing her of ‘sexualising cancer’ 
  • The mother-of-two from west London lives with terminal bowel cancer  
  • Said been called out for wearing short skirts and ‘pouting too much’ in snaps 

BBC podcast host Deborah James has hit back at critics who’ve accused her of ‘sexualising cancer’ with short skirts and ‘pouting too much.’

Deborah, 40, from London, who has been living with incurable bowel cancer for five years, has documented the journey on the BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C and by sharing updates and pictures on her Instagram account. 

The mother-of-two has been plagued by messages from cruel trolls who’ve criticised her clothing choices, saying she was ‘acting like a teenager,’ she revealed in The Sun. 

The former deputy head teacher turned cancer campaigner said she wants women of all ages to be able to celebrate their bodies, and added looking in the mirror and feeling good is a big part of her treatment.  

Deborah James, 40, lives in West London and has been living with incurable bowel cancer since she was diagnosed in 2015. Speaking in the Sun this week, she called out people who have criticised her for ‘sexualising’ her condition 

The mother-of-two said putting on makeup, doing her hair and wearing short skirts help her face her treatment 

‘I’ve been accused of sexualising cancer, of pouting too much and acting like a teenager,’ Deborah wrote. 

Deborah added some people have questioned her choice of clothes, criticising the short skirts and ‘plunging necklines’ she decided on wearing.   

‘I haven’t spent the past five years desperately trying to live to old age to be told how I should behave, if I have the luxury of making it that far,’ she said. 

She went on to say that people have commented on how embarrassed her children – Eloise, 12 and Hugo, 14 – must be of her, in spite of knowing neither her nor her kids. 

The mother-of-two said taking pride in how she looks is a coping mechanism she uses in her fight against cancer  

She also pointed out how some people have called her out for loving herself.


Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The mother-of-two hit back at her critics, saying wearing short skirts, looking after her appearance and dancing are parts of who she is and helps her cope with her condition. 

She added that she has done naked photoshoots in the past and would do it again.  

The campaigner and podcaster, who was rushed to hospital due to an internal bleed that left her on the brink of death in January, said looking good helps her feel better. 

She explained how doing her makeup and hair before heading to the Royal Marsden Hospital in West London for her regular chemo session and other cancer-related treatments helps her face the day. 

And the mother-of-two, who loves to share videos of herself dancing while hooked on an IV, said she uses it as a coping mechanism.  

Deborah, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, went on to say that people who have known her since before her cancer know that she’s always been this way and that she has never taken herself too seriously.

The mother-of-two, who was given five years to live five years ago, said that losing confidence causes her to lose herself, and that she needs to keep a positive mindset while trying to stay alive. 

The campaigner recounted how she recently suffered a bout of colitis which caused her stomach to swell. 

She explained that she wore a mini skirt when her stomach began to go down, and that she instantly felt like another person. 

She asked whether a 40-year-old woman wearing a mini is that offensive, and said there should be no age limit to feeling good.  

TV presenters including Susanna Reid and Holly Willoughby have been criticised for their clothing choices on TV.

This week, presenter Ranvir Singh was called out by viewers for donning a form-fitting dress with a plunging neckline. 

Some felt her attire was too revealing and ‘unprofessional.’ 

Deborah said she feels inspired by women like Willoughby, Reid and Singh, and added she wouldn’t let her own husband pick her clothes, let alone strangers on the internet. 

She revealed she wants her own daughter, who is 12, to be proud of her body and dress how she wants to.   

In the latest episode of her podcast, Deborah spoke of a medical emergency that almost killed her in January

Deborah was live on BBC Radio 5 just before she began to feel unwell, before running to her bathroom to vomit – with a scary sight of large bits of bright red blood coming out – but the ambulance wait time was 30 minutes so husband Seb took matters into his own hands

In her column with The Sun, she explained that she was due an urgent operation to try and unblock her bile duct as blood tests revealed she was suffering from liver failure, stopping her from having further chemotherapy in the new year (pictured receiving cancer treatment)

The BBC podcaster previously told of the trauma of saying goodbye to her children after suffering a medical emergency at the start of the year

The wife and mother of Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, pictured, has been open about the ups and downs of her cancer treatment, both and and out of the hospital

This comes after an emotional time for Deborah, who had to be rushed to hospital by her husband on January 6, where she endured a series of operations to save her life. 

She has since revealed the extent of the traumatic experience, revealing that she has PTSD after the horrifying episode that saw her vomit blood in front of her daughter Eloise, 12, and screaming to her children she loved them before leaving for the hospital, not knowing if she’d ever see them again.  

In the show’s latest episode, the mother-of-two shared heart-breaking voice notes recorded five days after the emergency, in which she admitted she was scared of sleeping, eating or even coughing. 


In 2018, Deborah (left) joined Lauren Mahon (front) and Rachael Bland (right) to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live. Bland tragically died of breast cancer on September 5th that year; her husband Steve Bland now co-presents the show

  • In December 2016, the West London mother-of-two, a deputy head, was diagnosed ‘late’ with incurable bowel cancer
  • After sharing her experiences on living with the disease on social media, Deborah became known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ 
  • In 2018, she became one of three presenters on Radio 5 Live’s You, Me and the Big C, which was conceived by her late co-host Rachael Bland 
  • On September 5th 2018, Welsh journalist and presenter Bland, diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, died at the age of 40
  • Deborah and her co-host Lauren Mahon continue to present the show, with Steve Bland, Rachael’s husband, joining the duo
  • On social media and in her column for the Sun newspaper, Deborah has documented the many chemo, radiotherapy sessions and surgery she’s had since

Last week, Deborah told followers on Instagram ‘By my general lack of being on here (dancing!), that Things have moved (in the wrong direction) very quickly cancer wise.’ Pictured: Deborah James undergoing a scan at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London

  • In 2019, she had a procedure known as CyberKnife, a highly targeted form of radiotherapy to attack an inoperable lymph node close to her liver
  •  The pandemic’s impact on cancer services saw her campaign for care to continue as normal and, earlier this year, she launched the ITV’s Lorraine’s ‘No Butts’ campaign, raising awareness on bowel cancer symptoms 
  • Since last year, she has been taking new experimental drugs as part of a trial after her oncology team gave her the green light to do so
  • August, Deborah revealed that scans she’s had in recent days have revealed her cancer has gone in the ‘wrong direction very quickly’  
  • She told followers she would be taking a break on social media over the weekend to ‘snuggle’ with her family ahead of more scans
  • The mother-of-two said a new ‘rapidly-growing’ tumour near her liver had wrapped itself around her bowel 
  • On October 1, Deborah celebrates her 40th birthday 
  • By October 18, the mother-of-two told her followers her chemotherapy is working
  • Days later, she was rushed to A&E with ‘spiking 40 degree temperatures’  

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