Deborah James' story shows sickness can be chronicled in a way that demystifies a journey all of us will face, says Colin Brazier

Dame Deborah's work would’ve been impossible in the pre-internet age

Published

Three very different stories of sickness from this week’s news. Of illnesses. Shared with millions in a way that, until fairly recently, would have been impossible.

They concern three very different people, in possession of three very different moral compasses. Let’s call them the good, the bad and the ugly.

The ugly?

Step forward holidaymaker Wolf Jenkins. He posted a video of himself on TikTok – now viewed over a million times – in which the 28-year-old student boasted of how he faked having a foot injury to beat the queues at Bodrum airport in Turkey.

He abused a system reserved for genuinely unwell or disabled passengers to secure himself a wheelchair and a row of empty seats on the plane back to Bristol.

What about the bad? Well, another fake illness. This one wasn’t the subject of online boasting, but without the internet it couldn’t have happened in the way it did.

It’s the case of a 44-year-old former Harrods fashion consultant. Nicole Elke-abbas, set up a GoFundMe page and told strangers she needed to raise money urgently for private ovarian cancer treatment. People were moved by her plight – and pictures of her in a hospital bed.

But in reality it was all an ugly con. Elke-abbas didn’t have cancer. That picture on the wards? It was from a previous hospital visit for routine surgery on her gallbladder. What gall indeed? Her GoFundMe page raised £45,000 from well-wishers, which she blew on holidays and high-living. This week a judge at Canterbury Crown Court jailed her for two years for fraud and deception.

And finally, the good? Again, a story that would’ve been impossible in the pre-internet age. The remarkable example set by cancer campaigner, blogger and former teacher Dame Deborah James, who’s died at the age of 40.

She used the audience the internet allowed her to reach with her podcasts and Instagram posts, to raise awareness of a type of cancer that is sometimes pushed into the shadows. She raised millions of pounds for the relevant charities.

Hers is a tale to reaffirm our sometimes faltering faith in human nature.

Online charities will always be vulnerable to the schemes of venal manipulators like the fake cancer-patient Nicole Elke-abbas.

Systems designed to help the vulnerable can be abused by selfish queue-jumpers, like our student from Bristol who boasted of his ruse on TikTok.

But the internet has also done far more good than harm, when it comes to raising money for good causes and starting conversations about diseases that need to be discussed openly.

The example set by Dame Deborah James is a reminder that, for those who want to, sickness can be chronicled online in a way that can demystify a journey that all of us will one day face.

That’s the Brazier Angle.