BBC podcaster Deborah James hits back at critics who accused her of 'sexualising cancer'

Pictures from Deborah James' Instagram
A BBC podcast host living with terminal bowel cancer has struck back at critics who claim she "sexualises" the disease on social media. Photo credit: Deborah james / @bowelbabe / Instagram

A BBC podcast host living with terminal bowel cancer has struck back at critics who claim she "sexualises" the disease on social media. 

Deborah James, a London-based host of the popular British podcast You, Me and the Big C, has cultivated a loyal fanbase with her frank discussions about the realities of cancer and candid posts documenting her battle with the disease. 

The 40-year-old mum-of-two has been living with bowel cancer for nearly six years, outliving her initial prognosis. 

Despite her ongoing ordeal with the disease, James will often share tongue-in-cheek posts to her social media, with her humour and upbeat demeanour applauded by her supporters. But her positive outlook isn't always well-received, with cruel comments frequently plaguing her platforms. In a recent column for The Sun, James revealed that trolls often take issue with her "revealing" outfits and style of dress, claiming she "sexualises" cancer. 

In the column, James clapped back at the criticism and said she remains unapologetic for how she chooses to portray her life on social media. 

"I share the highs and lows of my life with cancer. I've dressed as a poo emoji to raise awareness of a disease people refuse to talk about because it's embarrassing. And I've posted photos of hideous skin rashes after treatment," she wrote.

"Yet I've been accused of sexualising cancer, of pouting too much and acting like a teenager."

James said people take it upon themselves to tell her how she should and shouldn't dress as a cancer patient, criticising her short skirts and "plunging necklines", or will become outraged by "offensive" clips of her dancing while hooked to an IV. Some have even aimed their ire at James' parenting, accusing her of "embarrassing" her two children, 12-year-old Eloise and 14-year-old Hugo.

But the presenter said she "makes no excuse" for who she is and loves to dance, wear fun clothes and "pout", adding that everyone should have the "freedom to choose what is right" for themselves. 

"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 continued.

The cancer campaigner, who was formerly a deputy head teacher, said she wants women of all ages to feel comfortable celebrating their bodies, adding that taking pride in how she looks plays a significant role in how she maintains her positive attitude during treatment. She explained that doing her makeup and hair before undergoing chemotherapy helps her to face the day, acting as a coping mechanism. 

The 40-year-old was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer in 2016 and has had as many as 17 tumours, according to local media. 

In January, the star was hospitalised and underwent urgent surgery after an internal bleed nearly proved fatal.

Doctors declared that James was cancer-free in January 2020, but later discovered that the disease had returned. She underwent an operation on her 17th tumour that November. 

In 2018, James became one of three presenters on Radio 5 Live's You, Me and the Big C, a podcast conceived by her late co-host, Rachael Bland. The podcast, hosted by former or current cancer patients, aims to provide a candid look at cancer by discussing their respective journeys and what it's like to live with the often deadly disease.