Dame Deborah's husband reveals her final days

Dame Deborah’s final days: Cancer campaigner was ‘paralysed from the waist down’, her children, 14 and 12, helped her dress and brushed her hair – and her husband held her hand while she slept before dying

  • Dame Deborah James’ husband Sebastien has spoken about her final moments 
  • The British broadcaster and cancer campaigner died in June at the age of 40 
  • Father-of-two has now explained she ‘deteriorated’ very quickly at the end 
  • Said she was ‘paralysed from the waist down’ and children helped with her care
  • Revealed how she spoke to Hugo, 14, and got dressed before ‘slipping away’
  • Slept for days while Sebastien held her hand  and died with family around her

Dame Deborah James’ husband Sebastien has revealed how she was ‘paralysed from the waist down’ in the final days of her life – before she ‘deteriorated’ very quickly and ‘slipped away.’

 The British broadcaster, who died in June at the age of 40 after a five-year battle with stage four bowel cancer, raised more than £7million through her fundraising efforts. 

In a touching interview with The Times, her widower Sebastien Bowen, 42, explained how he and his children Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, took on the care for Deborah at her parents home of Woking. 

The father-of-two said his wife became ‘so weak’ and ‘frustrated’ because she had been ‘fiercely independent’.

He said on the Sunday, Hugo ‘helped her get dressed’ and they ‘had a good chat’ before the family had lunch, adding: ‘Deborah was being as bossy as ever, telling us what to do. Then at teatime she started to slip away; she was floating in and out of consciousness.’

Dame Deborah James ‘ husband Sebastien has revealed how she was ‘paralysed from the waist down’ in the final days of her life – before she ‘deteriorated’ very quickly and ‘slipped away’

He went on to say the hospice team arrived at the house and administered a syringe driver to help her manage the pain.

Then, Sebastien described how he slept with her for two days as he held her hand, saying she ‘wasn’t really there.’

He said the family surrounded her to tell her how much they ‘adored’ her, continuing: ‘On Tuesday her eyes opened and she came back into the room for a moment, and then she was gone within 15 minutes, with her sister, mother and father also surrounding her.’

Elsewhere, he said Hugo would brush his wife’s hair, while Eloise would help to fetch her drinks.

 The father-of-two (pictured with his family), who shared Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, with Deborah, explained how he stopped working to spend as much time with his wife as possible after she stopped active treatment and started to receive end-of-life care at her parents’ house in Woking

During the interview, Sebastien said it was his late wife’s ‘inner strength’ during her final eight weeks that resulted in the couple being able to still experience ‘some of the most mind-blowing, magical days of both our lives’.

The father-of-two, who shared Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, with Deborah, explained how he stopped working to spend as much time with his wife as possible after she stopped active treatment and started to receive end-of-life care at her parents’ house in Woking.

Sebastien, a banker, acted as her carer, with support from her parents, brother and sister, and the two of them spent their final weeks together reading poetry, watching their favourite films and enjoying days out, including to the Chelsea Flower Show.

He added that watching his wife enjoy her last few experiences ‘changed all our perspectives on life.’

The British broadcaster and campaigner (pictured left), who died in June at the age of 40 after a five-year battle with stage four bowel cancer, raised more than £7million through her fundraising efforts

Following Deborah’s funeral, Sebastien and his two children, who also helped care for their mother by brushing her hair and fetching her drinks, went to France. It’s unclear if the family have returned to London or still remain abroad.

Deborah, a former deputy headteacher, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, before launching a podcast You, Me and the Big C, to raise awareness about the illness.

She raised more than £7million for her Bowelbabe fund, set up to fund clinical trials, through various collaborations, including a clothing range, a rose named after her and her book How to Live When You Could Be Dead.

Sebastien (pictured with Deborah in 2019), a banker, acted as her carer, with support from her parents, brother and sister, and the two of them spent their final weeks together reading poetry, watching their favourite films and enjoying days out, including to the Chelsea Flower Show 

After inspiring the nation, the mother-of-two was presented with a damehood by Prince William shortly after announcing she was receiving end-of-life care. 

The Duke of Cambridge, 40, who lost his own mother, Princess Diana, when he was aged just 15, gave Deborah’s two children ‘powerful advice’ about dealing with grief, according to Sebastien.

Sebastien also explained how Deborah dictated the final chapter of her book to him, because she was too weak to write at that point. 

He added that he initially wasn’t too keen about his wife’s decision to speak publicly about her illness, but saw how the encouragement from her supporters helped her through her battle.

Dame Deborah James was awarded a damehood from the Queen, which she received at home from Prince William on May 13

Last week, Sebastien revealed he kissed his dying wife on the head and told her he loved her before she died of bowel cancer.

‘I kissed her on the head,’ Sebastien told The Sun. ‘I told her how much I loved her, that I would look after the kids and the last thing I said to her was that I was so proud of her. Then she slipped away.’

Back in May, the mother-of-two was given just days to live – but Deborah fought her way through another two full months, defying the odds to spend her final weeks with her children and husband out of hospital.

BOWEL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE 

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.

She had an incredibly peaceful death, her husband added.

‘People who didn’t know Debs saw her getting weaker and weaker in those final weeks,’ he said. ‘But mentally it was the opposite. 

‘Through battling the fires of adversity she got stronger and in my eyes, it made her more and more radiant with every passing day. I’ve never loved her more/ She knew what was happening to her, yet she was able to still find those magical moments.’

He said he was in awe of what his wife had achieved while dealing with such emotional anguish.

Thinking of what he loved about her, he said her way of finding joy in every moment, even in the darkest of times, was what he will miss the most.

Deborah’s candid posts about her progress and diagnosis, including videos of her dancing her way through treatment, won praise from the public and media alike.

Now, her husband said he feels a responsibility to carry on her positive spirit for their children.

The couple first met in 2005 at Cafe de Paris in London, marrying within three years in France.

Sebastien said lockdown, unlike in other circumstances, had been a blessing for their family – allowing them to spend more time together than they would have found otherwise.

Meanwhile, Deborah told her children to ‘take chances and experience life now’ and to marry for love in a heartbreaking final letter before she died. 

She shared her life lessons in her new book How To Live When You Could Be Dead.

‘Take a chance and back yourself. Remember to be your number one cheerleader,’ she told them in a passage from her book seen by The Sun, set to be released on August 18.

‘Don’t leave the world and all it has to offer until retirement — experience it now.’

She reflected on how one could know true love in the chapter dedicated to her children, explaining that she knew she would marry her husband after their third date and telling her children she fancied Sebastien from the day they first met.

He wasn’t perfect, she told them, but he respected the former deputy head teacher and never let her wrap him around her little finger – and she still thought he was always the most attractive man in the room 18 years later.

She also suggested that the rose named after her, the Dame Deborah James Rose, be added to her daughter’s bouquet when she weds.

She said: ‘What breaks my heart and brings me the most beautiful thought, is that this variety will and can now be grown forever, and maybe one day even Eloise might choose to have it in her wedding bouquet.’

Dame Deborah also told her children to buy a dog, writing that it was one of the best decisions she ever made.

Doing one thing every day that makes you happy is important, she added, and never criticise others for the things that make them happy.  

‘We are given 86,400 seconds every day, and we each choose how to use them,’ she concluded. ‘It is only as they begin to slip away from us that we understand the value of each and every one of those seconds.

‘So, my greatest advice to you is that you can do whatever you want with those seconds. You can use them however you want. The choice is yours, but the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Do you believe in yours?’

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