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Deborah James said in her last letter to the family that children’s lives don’t always go according to plan and urged them to marry for love

BEFORE her tragic death in June, Dame Deborah James wrote down everything she had learned about staying positive in the face of adversity.

The inspirational Sun columnist and podcaster was determined to share her life lessons in her new book, How To Live When You Could Be Dead.

Dame Debs wrote down everything she learned about staying positive in the face of adversity before she tragically passed away in June

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Dame Debs wrote down everything she learned about staying positive in the face of adversity before she tragically passed away in JuneCredit: Bowelbabe/Instagram
Prince William bestowed her damehood on the inspirational activist in May

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Prince William bestowed her damehood on the inspirational activist in MayPhoto credit: Graham Prentice

Here, in an exclusive excerpt, Emily Fairbairn shares Deborah’s beautiful final letter to husband Sebastien, son Hugo, 14, and daughter Eloise, 12.


“I’m just sitting here with the love of my life, Sebastien.

I never knew for sure if you could really have the love of your life, but now I know what’s at the heart of unquestioned love between two people.

I have always loved my husband.

I liked him when I first met him and I knew I would marry him after our third date.

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I knew that while he wasn’t perfect, there was something about him that suited me.

He respected me and never let me step on him or wrap him around my little finger.

He was and always will be the only person who can come in at 3am and make everything better. He makes me feel safe.

If I look around any room 18 years later I still find him the most attractive man there.

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He had to be softened like fine wine because he has a stubborn side that makes the three year old in me throw all my toys out of the stroller.

He loves a lively debate and loves to joke – sometimes I just prefer a movie and a glass of wine.

As I look back on our relationship and marriage, I realize it wasn’t easy going without work.

The complexities of daily life sometimes got in the way.

It’s easy to forget that the loved one is still there when things are clouded by the hassles of childcare logistics, the pressure of money, and living like ships in the night.

I wish I had learned from a young age that marital work time should be as much a part of your schedule as going to the gym or brushing your teeth.

It’s important that you don’t allow big arguments to build up when you really just want to forget everything and cuddle with the one person you love.

As cancer ends my life, I have this cruel realization that I cannot be fully myself with the one person I have loved and needed more than anyone in my life.

Learn to live in the now and balance being present in the moment with your plans for the future (although this may be the hardest lesson of all).

Mrs Deborah James

I feel robbed of the freedom of a pain-free kissable body, the freedom to make whimsical plans for our future and retirement together.

Our goals and dreams had to be adjusted week by week and day by day depending on my cancer.

My husband has always been my rock. He holds me up when I can’t hold myself and wipes away my tears.

And yet every day I wondered how it must have felt for him as the fairytale marriage he signed up for turned into a daily struggle for survival and a struggle for an extra moment of life.

I wondered how he felt when he knew he was going to be a widower.

I’ve wondered how he’ll remember me and I’ve wondered if he’ll be okay.

To Hugo and Eloise, I can’t even talk about you without crying. You’re my World.

I have learned that there are many ways to become a parent – nothing is right or wrong as long as there is love.

We have 86,400 seconds available every day, and each of us chooses how to use them.

Mrs Deborah James

I also learned that children are more resilient than we think.

There are mental snapshots of parenting that will never leave you.

But the beautifully etched memories that will come to mind when you die are not necessarily what you might expect.

One of my first is from Hugo when he was four days old.

He was lying next to me in our double bed in our shared apartment and was looking for my breast to eat – he was yellow and had a large cone head.

I remember looking at that little 6 pound ball being pressed against my stomach and thinking that it was only at that point that I had begun to understand what love is.

I am now looking at the same 14 year old boy who still takes his time to snuggle up on the sofa next to me and I would give anything to be able to continue to protect him the way I did when I was four days old old.

I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, I believe in rebellious hope, and I believe that when I die, my children will be fine.

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

Mrs Deborah James

Because if I tell them they won’t be, maybe they won’t be.

I want them to realize that life doesn’t always go according to plan.

You can make plans and have goals, but you have to be prepared that sometimes life is more interesting when you go off-piste – so be brave.

Take the chance and support 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 live in the now and balance being present in the moment with your plans for the future (although this may be the hardest lesson of all).

Marry only for love.

Take the chance and support yourself. Remember to be your number one cheerleader.

Buy a dog – I bought Winston at one of the lowest points in my life and he has made me so happy. Nature and animals make me happy.

It wasn’t until towards the end of my life that I really began to appreciate nature.

Take a break. Relaxing isn’t an indulgence — it’s a way of replenishing ourselves. None of us can drink from empty cups.

Do things every day that make you happy – build them into your life and never criticize others for the things that make them happy.

Every day we wake up not knowing if we’re going to see the full 24 hours of the day, so we should feel blessed when the sun rises on a new day.

We have 86,400 seconds available every day, and each of us chooses how to use them.

It’s only when they begin to slip away from us that we understand the value of each and every one of those seconds.

So my biggest advice to you is that you can do whatever you want with those seconds. You can use them however you like.

The choice is yours, but the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Do you believe in yours?”

  • EXCERPT from How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99) released 18 Aug 2022 © Deborah James.
  • £3 from every UK sale is paid to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK.
  • Cancer Research UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1089464) and Scotland (SC041666).
  • Dame Debs created this year’s Who Cares Wins Awards and was a celebrity judge at The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes.

EXCERPT from How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99) released 18 Aug 2022 © Deborah James. £3 from every UK sale is paid to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1089464) and Scotland (SC041666). Dame Debs created this year’s Who Cares Wins Awards and was a celebrity judge at The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating our heroes in healthcare.

Debs, pictured with husband Sebastien, said:

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Debs, pictured with husband Sebastien, said: “I liked him when I first met him and I knew I would marry him after our third date.”Photo credit: Instagram
Debs with children Eloise and Hugo

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Debs with children Eloise and HugoPhoto credit: Instagram
How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99) is out 18 August 2022

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How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99) is out 18 August 2022
Dame Debs created this year's Who Cares Wins Awards and was a celebrity judge at The Sun's 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes

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Dame Debs created this year’s Who Cares Wins Awards and was a celebrity judge at The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes

https://www.the-sun.com/health/5945768/deborah-james-final-letter-family-advice/ Deborah James said in her last letter to the family that children’s lives don’t always go according to plan and urged them to marry for love

Sarah Y. Kim

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