Science Museum pays tribute to cancer activist Deborah James - Museums Association

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Science Museum pays tribute to cancer activist Deborah James

James, who died this week, was a key adviser on the Cancer Revolution exhibition
Deborah James with her SMG Fellowship awarded in honour of her work on the advisory board of Cancer Revolution © Science Museum Group

The Science Museum Group (SMG) has paid tribute to cancer awareness campaigner Deborah James following her death at the age of 40.

James, who rose to fame as “bowelbabe” on social media, was a co-host on the BBC podcast You, Me and the Big C and began campaigning to destigmatise the disease after being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in 2016.

She played a key role on the exhibition advisory board of the SMG’s Cancer Revolution exhibition, which is on at London’s Science Museum until January 2023 after a successful run at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester.

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James was awarded a fellowship by the SMG earlier this year “in recognition of her tireless work on social media, along with blogs and articles, which has spread positivity and awareness about cancer research, treatments and the experience of patients, and has highlighted the importance of early diagnosis and research to a wider audience”. 

James said she had wanted the Cancer Revolution exhibition to “open up the conversation of cancer even more—throw down the veil, and educate a new generation to know that prevention is key, science is wonderful, and always to have hope”.

James announced in May that she was receiving palliative care. She raised millions for Cancer Research UK in the weeks before her death, receiving a damehood for her campaigning work.

James recently donated the poo costume she famously danced in for Bowel Cancer Awareness Week to the Science Museum. The costume will now go on display to commemorate her life.

A film featuring James that explores hope for the future of cancer research can also be seen in Cancer Revolution.

SMG chair Mary Archer said: “We’re all deeply saddened by the death of Dame Deborah James, who changed the way we talk about cancer, and our thoughts are with her family. 

“My colleagues across the SMG feel enormously proud to have worked with Deborah on the Cancer Revolution exhibition, currently open at the Science Museum. We want to celebrate Deborah’s dedication to helping us create a frank but hopeful exhibition by challenging our assumptions about what it is truly like to live with cancer and pushing us to represent the diverse experiences of cancer for patients.  

“We have lost our most distinctive SMG Fellow but we feel fortunate to be able to continue the work she cared so deeply about through an exhibition that encourages visitors to have conversations about cancer that they may never have been able to before.”

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