Inspirational podcast host, cancer activist, blogger and author Dame Deborah James posthumously publishes her second book How to live when you could be dead today.
Known as Bowel Babe on social media, the former assistant teacher was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 34. Despite being told she only had two years to live, the extraordinary woman campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for six solid years. In that time she has raised over £7million and encouraged a record number of people to seek bowel cancer research, as well as becoming co-host of BBC Radio 5 Live’s award-winning animated podcast on life with cancer, You, Me and the Big C.
Her mother Heather James told BBC Breakfast that although Dame Deborah lived a full life ‘with no regrets’, she ‘said ‘I don’t want to die’. And that’s the hardest and saddest part As her new book explores how she cultivated her famously rebellious hope in the face of such adversity, we reveal her seven key life lessons.
1. Hope is one of the most powerful human emotions we have
“When we hear stories of people who survived by getting lost in the jungle after a plane crash or adrift in a boat in the middle of the ocean, survivors often say they never gave up hope. – in such dire situations, it can literally be the difference between living and dying, but it applies to all aspects of life.
“Hope isn’t something that happens to you – it’s something you have to actively seek out, cultivate, and stubbornly cling to when you find the slightest hold, even in the darkest of times. I absolutely believe that hope brings strength, the more hope you have, the more likely you are to rise again when the wind cuts your sails.
2. Value today because tomorrow may not come
“We think we can put things off for another day or we can buy more time. But sometimes there is no tomorrow. Each of us has 86,400 seconds every day, and we assume they will keep coming day after day, for many, many years – and for millions of people. But for me and others like me, they will run out much sooner than we thought.
“Some of those 86,400 seconds you get each day have to be spent getting closer to what you want out of life, because once they’re gone, they won’t come back. You can’t ‘hoard’ time. given to you in one day and carry it over to the next, so you might as well start making better use of your days. I really believe that you need to remember to look forward with hope and optimism, but it’s just as important to value the here and now.
3. The road to success is paved with small victories
“People often say to me, ‘How do you spend a day?’ But sometimes you don’t have to make it through the day. You just have to go through the next hour, the next minute, the next few seconds. I understand that this prescriptive approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it really does work for me, and it’s a strategy that keeps me planning my time gives me a sense of accomplishment in two ways: first, I’m more organized, I use my days efficiently and don’t forget anything because my objectives and my commitments are written down.
4. Failure adds fuel to the fire
“The fear of failure is something that holds us back and prevents us from learning. But if we recognize that failure is an integral part of how we learn and grow, then it follows that it is not something to turn away from or be ashamed of. So how best to learn from failure? There is no point in just saying that failure is OK because it is part of life and we learn from our mistakes if we don’t commit to determining what those lessons are
“If you find excuses for what went wrong, you won’t fix it and you’ll have a hard time using it as a driving force, but if you see your failure or the difficulties you’re having as a reason to try stronger, you will have found the tools and the inspiration to continue”,
5. You must have courage
“For me, courage is the categorical refusal to give in, to keep picking yourself up, to always find a way to preserve yourself and carry on, and that’s vital to living as if there were no tomorrow. In her book, Angela Ducksworth describes the formula she invented to describe this kind of grain:
TALENT x EFFORT = SKILL
SKILL x EFFORT = ACHIEVEMENT
“Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort,” says Ducksworth. “Success is what happens when you take your learned skills and use them.” In other words, without effort, your talent is exactly what you could have been capable of if you had tried; skills can only get you where you want to go if you put in the effort.
6. How Laughter Can Heal
“I truly believe it’s okay to laugh, even in times of darkness or grief. Some of my funniest memories come from the saddest times in my life. Like when my parents yelled at me because that I was late to my grandmother’s funeral. I had been out the night before and drank too much, and I ended up following the casket down the aisle of the church because I I was so late and really hungover. But that’s now all I really remember from that funeral, which I think is a positive thing. And it definitely lightened the mood. Some people might be afraid of humor in a setting like this, but laughter is an integral part of life and should be celebrated.
7. There is always something to be thankful for.
“Gratitude is one of the things that helps you get through it. It’s a gift you cling to when you take away so much. Before cancer, I never really appreciated how lucky I was. I had to have my parents, my husband and my children in my life. I loved them, of course, but I didn’t realize how important they were until I realized that my time with them would be cut short. .
“It’s hard when things are going well to step back, but if you can, pause once in a while and think about what it would be like if the people you loved most in the world were taken from you. I have no doubt that you, too, would have those feelings of gratitude that I felt.
Ebury, a division of Penguin Random House, will donate £3 from the sale of ‘How To Live When You Could Be Dead’ by Deborah James in the UK to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1089464), Scotland (SC041666), Isle of Man (1103) and Jersey (247).