Deborah James shows off her underwear for Vitality London 10k

‘Running proves I’m not dead yet’: BBC presenter with stage 4 bowel cancer reveals she’s even jogged while ‘nil by mouth’ before surgery – and will run 10K in her knickers to encourage others to get active

  • Mum-of-two Deborah James, aka Bowel Babe, was diagnosed in 2016 
  • She now writes about life with cancer, campaigning for awareness of symptoms 
  • Deputy Head told her 62,000 followers: ‘I run because it makes me feel alive’
  • Stripped to her underwear with fellow Radio 5 Live ‘You, Me and the Big C’ podcast star, Lauren Mahon, to encourage others to get out running
  • Says she even ran before surgery despite being ‘nil by mouth’ and dehydrated 

BBC presenter Deborah James, aka the Bowel Babe, has revealed that she won’t stop jogging despite having stage 4 bowel cancer – because it proves she’s ‘not dead yet’. 

The 37-year-old, from London, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2016 and has undergone countless rounds of gruelling treatment and operations, says she even got out her running shoes just before an operation despite being ‘nil by mouth’ and gagging for water to ‘feel alive’. 

Stripping down to her underwear as part of a new campaign to encourage others to get active and raise money for charity, the deputy head, who’s taking part in the @vitalitylondon10k on May 27th, says she hopes others will see ‘If I can do it, so can they’.  

Deborah James, who was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2016, posing with co-host Lauren Mahon, who’s in remission from breast cancer. The two are inviting people to take part in the London Vitality 10K, which will take place on 27 May. James told her 61,000 followers running helps her ‘feel alive’

Deborah in a picture she shared on Instagram for her 37th birthday back in October 2018. The presenter encouraged people to run the Vitality Run in May. ‘If I can do it when I have stage four cancer, then anyone can do it’

In the picture, James poses in sporty underwear with her fellow Radio Five Live You, Me and the Big C podcast co-host Lauren Mahon, who’s in remission from breast cancer. 

She told her 61,000 followers: ‘I run (when my dodgy ankle allows!) because it makes me feel alive. 

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‘I have even run to have an operation (it’s the whole “not dead yet mentality!”), although that was a bit silly when you are nil by mouth and gagging for water!’ James wrote on Instagram.

She added: ‘You know I have really rubbish days when I don’t want to do anything, but in the days I feel well I try to get my trainers on and do what my body allows me to do – then I push it a bit more and hope I don’t break my ankle again! If I can do it when I have stage four cancer, then anyone can do it!’

The presenter went on to discuss this May’s Vitality London 10k run.

‘On the days I feel well I try to get my trainers on and do what my body allows me to do’: James pictured running a half marathon in October 

Treatment: the 37-year-old shares the regular treatment she’s undergoing to extend her life

Deborah with the late Rachel Bland (left) and their You, Me And The Big C podcast co-host Lauren Mahon (centre). BBC newsreader Bland lost her inspirational two-year battle against breast cancer aged 40 in 2018

Mother-of-two Deborah, from London, included this photo – taken just a week before she received the devastating news of her illness – of her enjoying a glass of wine to show how you can have cancer but still appear well

‘I’m joining an incredible group of women to run the in my underwear. We want to show that if we can run the Vitality London 10,000 then anyone can run it,’ she wrote.  

After the death of her Radio Five Live co-host Rachael Bland, who died age 40 at the beginning of September 2018 from a rare triple negative breast cancer, James vowed to carry on promoting her friend’s legacy. 

In January, inspired by the #10yearslater trend in which people share photos of themselves from a decade age, James showed her looking well and glamorous in the months, days and weeks before her diagnosis. 

One photo was captioned: ‘When I look back at old pictures, I wish I had known the symptoms. Pushed to get a referral.’ 

What is bowel cancer? 

Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer or colorectal cancer, is a form of cancer in the large bowels, which are comprised of the rectum and the colon.

It is usually preceded by the growth of precancerous polyps in the bowels.

Bowel cancer risks include factors such as advanced age, inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and certain hereditary genetic disorders such as familial adenomatous polyposis. Diet and lifestyle are also thought to play a large role in the development of bowel cancer, with risks including the excessive consumption of red and processed meats, smoking, obesity, alcohol usage and limited physical activity.

It is typically diagnosed with a colon biopsy from a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. Regular screenings to prevent bowel cancer are recommended for individuals aged 50 years and older.

Worldwide, it is the third most common form of cancer and is generally more common in the developed world. Bowel cancer is typically found more in men than women.

Symptoms of bowel cancer generally include:

Blood in the stool

Rectal bleeding

Severe abdominal pain


Weight loss without any explanation

A dramatic change in bowel habits lasting three weeks or more

Loss of appetite

Vomiting and nausea


According to Cancer Research UK, all women (100%) and 95 out of 100 men with stage 1 bowel cancer are likely to survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they’re diagnosed.

This drops to 5 out of 100 men and 10 out 100 women when the disease reaches stage 4. 

She added on another shot: ‘My point being in all the pictures I look healthy but I was pooing blood, was tired and had had a change in bowel habits.’  

James writes: ‘I would have had the Stage 4 Bowel Cancer – including the 6.5cm tumour – inside me in all of these.’ 

And in the same month, James shared the news that after a difficult Christmas in which her body responded badly to a new treatment, she was stable again. 

She wrote: ‘STABLE! Every Cancer patient knows that sigh of relief, the permission to breathe again, the new window of hope that starts. Never underestimate the power of one word. 

‘Yes I still have a challenge, yes I still have cancer, but let’s continue to dance through the rain!’ 

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