DAME Deborah James’ mum has defied her daughter’s wishes and read the final two chapters of her book, two months after she died.
Heather said the “emotional” last pages were written at her home in Woking, Surrey, where Deborah spent the last eight weeks of her life.
How To Live When You Could Be Dead is out todayCredit: Eroteme
Heather appeared on Lorraine, where she had previously sat with her daughter, DeborahCredit: Rex
How To Live When You Could Be Dead – a memoir and book filled with Deborah’s fighting spirit – has been launched today.
It comes two months after Deborah, a Sun columnist, died of incurable bowel cancer, aged 40, having spent five years of her life raising awareness of the disease after a shocking diagnosis.
Heather appeared on ITV’s Lorraine this morning to proudly speak about the book, having previously sat on the sofa with her daughter.
Presenter Christine Lampard asked Heather if she had read the last chapters of Deborah’s book, which the Dame had asked her not to.
Heather replied: “I've read the last chapters now, and they are very emotional.
“But very, very good advice to the children as well.”
The Sun exclusively published extracts of the book, which included a poignant letter to her two teenage children, Hugo and Eloise, and husband, Sebastien.
Heather revealed these were written by Debs when she was close to death, at which point she was no longer able to walk.
The book publication was brought forward, originally due to be released next year.
But Debs said in May she was “gutted” she wouldn't see it on shelves, adding: “It’s all about mindset and how the learnings of a positive mindset might help you even in the darkest moments.”
Heather said: “Two years she's been writing it, but the last two chapters, which are quite emotional for me to read, were done at our house in the last few weeks of her life.
“Not the ending she expected when she started the book two years ago, but she didn't know how long she would have and she had two extra years, which was amazing.”
Asked how she was coping, mum-of-three Heather said she was finding it harder as the days went on – but that she would continue to raise awareness about cancer without Deborah by her side.
Heather said: “I actually find it harder now, as the weeks go on, because it's been longer since I have spoken to her.
“She should be here doing this, but I'll do it for her, and I know she's with me in spirit, looking down on me and saying ‘mum you can do this’.”
Determined to her last breath
From the moment the ex-deputy head teacher was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, she put all her energy into raising awareness of cancer – with statistics proving the sheer impact she had.
In true Deborah style, the cancer campaigner refused to slow down toward the end of her life, as Heather said she was “full of energy right up to the last breath she took”.
She finished her book, launched a clothing line and had a rose named after her – with proceedings going towards charity.
Heather said Deborah refused to die without seeing the Bowelbabe fund launched, despite her family promising to do it for her.
The podcaster launched the fund while announcing that she was stopping cancer treatment in May, and within a matter of weeks, it reached £million.
Heather said: “It seems surreal that all this happened in the last seven weeks of her life.
“She would just sort of say I want to do this, and we'd sort of look at her, and we'd think ‘okay’.
“She was still bossing us at the end. And we would make this happen. She was so determined to live every last minute.
“When she said she wanted to leave a legacy, we didn't think she had many days left.
“But we said we promise we'll do it after you die. And she said ‘I want to see it before I die, I want to set it up before I die’.
“She wanted so passionately to make a difference to people’s lives, and I think she has.”
The Sun exclusively published heartbreaking extracts of the book before its release, including the letter left Debs left for her husband and two children.
Deb said she couldn’t even speak to Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12, without crying.
“I want them to realise that life does not always go according to plan,” she said.
“You can make plans, and you can have goals, but you have to be prepared for the fact that sometimes life is more interesting when you go off-piste — so be brave.
“Take a chance and back yourself.
“Remember to be your number one cheerleader.
“Don’t leave the world and all it has to offer until retirement — experience it now.
“Learn to balance living in the now and being present in the moment with your plans for the future (although this may be the hardest lesson of all).
“Marry only for love.”
Addressing Sebastien, Deb wrote: “I fancied him from when I first met him, and I knew I would marry him after our third date.
“If I look across any room 18 years later, I still find him the most attractive man there.
“As cancer brings my life to an end, I feel this cruel realisation that I’m not fully able to be myself with the one person I have adored and needed in my life more than anyone else.
“My husband has always been my rock. He holds me up when I can’t hold myself and wipes away my tears.
“And yet I’ve wondered every day how it must have felt for him when the fairytale marriage he signed up for became a daily struggle to survive and fight for an extra moment of living.
“I’ve wondered how he’s felt knowing he is about to become a widower.
“I’ve wondered how he’ll remember me, and I’ve wondered if he will be OK.”
Seb’s voice was the last Deb heard before she died. She described her husband as “her rock”.
Seb told The Sun: “I kissed her on the head. 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.
“She had an incredibly peaceful death, if there was a way to die well, then she managed it.
“At the very end, it was quite spiritual.”
- EXTRACTED from How To Live When You Could Be Dead, by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99), out on August 18, 2022 © Deborah James.
- £3 from each UK sale will be paid to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK.
- Cancer Research UK is a charity registered in England and Wales (1089464) and Scotland (SC041666).
Dame Debs launched this year’s Who Cares Wins awards and was a celebrity judge for The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes.