The mother of cancer campaigner Dame Deborah James has spoken for the first time about her final days, revealing she said she “didn’t want to die”.
Heather James was her daughter’s main carer from early May when she moved to her house in Woking, Surrey for hospice at-home care until her death on 28 June.
In those final eight weeks, Ms James was personally awarded a damehood by Prince William and witnessed her Bowel Babe fund raise more than £7m for cancer research.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, her mother said that when she first moved they were only given “three to five days” by doctors.
“That eight weeks was probably in one way the best eight weeks we’ve had together as a family, even though she died at the end of it,” she said.
But she added: “I think the hardest thing was knowing she was going to die. My heartache as a mother I couldn’t do anything about that was the hardest for me to cope with.
“She went, ‘I have no regrets’, and I went, ‘That’s brilliant, how many people could say that?’
“But she did say ‘I don’t want to die’. And that’s the hardest, saddest part.”
Heather James said the overwhelming public support in her daughter’s final weeks did ease some of the family’s pain.
Prince William felt like ‘one of my son-in-laws’
Asked about the Duke of Cambridge’s visit, she said he “put them at ease” and it was like he was “just like one of my son-in-laws”.
Earlier this month Dame Deborah’s husband Sebastian Bowen told The Sun he told her how proud he was of her and that he would look after their children in her final moments.
Dame Deborah died at the age of 40 having been diagnosed with bowel cancer five years earlier.
She co-hosted the podcast You Me and the Big C with fellow patients and campaigners Rachael Bland, who died of breast cancer aged 40 in 2018, and Lauren Mahon.
Charities Bowel Cancer UK and Cancer Research UK have described her as a “tireless” campaigner.
Following her death, the NHS has revealed bowel cancer checks are now at an all-time high.
According to its data, between the months of May and July, 170,500 people were referred for checks for suspected lower gastrointestinal cancers.
That number is an increase of more than 30,000 compared to the same period in 2021, and nearly 80,000 higher than the same period two years ago.