One of the hardest things for a parent suffering from a terminal illness is knowing that they won’t be able to watch their child grow up. Rachael Bland could unfortunately attest to that, as she was given just days to live in September 2018. However, just before she passed away from cancer, the newsreader put an ambitious plan in place for her son.
Bland was born in January 1978 to her parents David and Gayna Hodges. She grew up in Creigiau, Wales. During her teenage years, though, the youngster suffered a serious injury in a car accident. Indeed, after being tossed around in the back of the vehicle, she sustained a fractured skull.
In addition to that injury, Bland also needed to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder that followed the accident. “I was terrified to sleep on my own or without the light on,” she recalled on her Big C Little Me blog. However, after overcoming those problems, the Creigiau native started to plan for her future.
Back in 1999 Bland earned a degree in broadcasting, journalism and film at the University of Wales. Following her stint there, the aspiring journalist enrolled at the University of Central Lancashire to study for a postgraduate qualification. As with her undergraduate, she succeeded and picked up another degree in broadcast journalism.
At that point, Bland looked to put her skills to the test, as she started her professional life in journalism in 2001. She scored a job at the BBC Wiltshire radio station during that period, becoming one of the newsreaders. A few years later, though, her life changed forever.
After establishing herself at BBC Wiltshire, Bland made the big switch to BBC London in 2006. Some two years later, she joined the Radio 5 Live team as a late-night newsreader. However, her continued rise at the British Broadcasting Corporation didn’t end there.
Indeed, in 2009 Rachael started work as one of the presenters on the BBC News television channel. This gave the newsreader her first taste of TV. And over the next three years, she became a familiar face on the channel, before leaving that particular role in 2012.
As for her work over the airwaves, the journalist continued on at Radio 5 Live, but in 2011 she faced another significant change. That year, the BBC headquarters relocated to Salford, England. Despite all the upheaval, though, Bland made a little bit of history after the move.
Indeed, Bland’s voice was the first to christen the corporation’s Salford studios. The following year, she then returned to television screens on North West Tonight, one of the BBC’s regional news shows. And furthermore, in 2013 she celebrated one of the happiest days of her life.
Bland and her partner, Steve, who also worked at the BBC as a journalist, tied the knot. And some two years later, the pair had their first child together, naming the baby boy Freddie. Sadly, though, everything changed after the mom discovered a lump in November 2016.
Following an examination, doctors determined that Bland had triple-negative breast cancer. As a result, her chemotherapy treatment started in December 2016. However, despite facing an incredibly tough battle ahead of her, the journalist started a blog that charted all the details.
The Big C Little Me blog came to the fore after Bland’s cancer was first discovered, with the mom discussing a variety of topics. Indeed, the opening post covered several areas, including her fears for the future. With that in mind, though, the newsreader also revealed that her mindset was aiding her along the way.
“I actually find it helpful to think of my tumor as a villain whom I need to fight against,” Bland wrote. As her treatment continued, the journalist then underwent a mastectomy in July 2017. At that point, she started to feel pangs of optimism about her situation.
“A bit more surgery is a pain but just a few weeks’ more recovery, then radiotherapy to tick off and I’ll feel we’ve hurled cancer out of our lives,” Bland wrote on Big C Little Me. “Chucking its scabby shoes and coat behind it. There is light at the end of the tunnel again.”
Unfortunately, though, Bland’s hopes were cruelly dashed in October 2017 when doctors confirmed that the disease had spread. However, despite that heartbreaking setback, the mom continued to publicize her fight against cancer. And in March 2018 she started a new podcast.
Titled You, Me and the Big C, Bland hosted the podcast alongside two other women who had battled the disease. Indeed, blogger Lauren Mahon had finished her breast cancer treatment, while Deborah James beat bowel cancer. Together, the trio opened up about the trials they faced, with celebrity guests dropping by to add to the discussion.
“We wanted to create a space where you feel like you’re sitting down with girls like you,” Bland said of the popular podcast. “Having a cup of tea, talking about it like it’s EastEnders.” That approach certainly paid dividends, as You, Me and the Big C brought in thousands of listeners on the Radio 5 Live website.
However, just one month later, Bland received some unimaginable news that left her crestfallen. Reciting the phone call in a blog for the Huffington Post in September 2018, the newsreader wrote, “‘I’m sorry Rachael – it’s back and it’s incurable.’” Following a battle that spanned over 15 months, the cancer couldn’t be beaten now.
To make matters even worse for Bland, the news came while she was out with her young son Freddie. “Hearing those words ripped the air right out of my lungs, and I had to lean against a wall to steady myself,” the journalist continued.
“Holding in the huge sobs I knew were coming, I just needed to get home and call my surgeon in peace with my husband Steve at my side,” Bland wrote. “On the short journey back I wept and kept telling Freddie, ‘I’m so sorry.’” At that point, the mom then wrote about her health status.
“This cancer is growing wildly throughout my body, and I can’t put that down to anyone else but me,” Bland’s blog post continued. “It’s a terrible feeling that my body has some role in putting my family through the pain I know awaits them.”
From there, Bland spoke about her two outlets, admitting that both Big C Little Me and You, Me and the Big C were incredibly helpful. After touching upon the support she received, Bland then switched her attention back to her family. And she focused on Freddie in particular.
“It is as a mother that I have to employ my strongest skills of denial,” Bland wrote for the Huffington Post. “I’m too scared to ask the doctors how long I’ve got left. It would be a guesstimate number that would hang over me. So we make plans, knowing it’s not very long.”
“If I were to release all my feelings about leaving my precious, beautiful Freddie behind, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of my time on this earth,” Bland continued. “So I tuck them away, graciously accept every little hug, squeeze, cuddle and utterance of ‘I love you so much, mommy’ and try not to let him see it break my heart.”
With that in mind, Bland revealed her plans, as she looked to put some things in place before she died. Among her final acts, the journalist mapped out an ambitious idea relating to her son and the years she’d unfortunately miss out on.
“My main plan has been to write my memoir, For Freddie, which is almost finished,” Bland wrote. “It’s a collection of all those stories your parents tell you over the years from their point of view, mixed in with all the advice they give you.”
“I have a Whatsapp group with Steve’s sister where I send her things I want for Freddie and his future,” Bland continued. “Like not cutting his hair too short until he really insists, or my wish for him to go to the very best school and university possible, so long as that’s what he wants.”
At that point, the journalist lifted the lid on one last idea she had for Freddie. “I’m also planning and wrapping birthday presents which he can open between the ages of four and 21,” Bland wrote. “Personal effects like my notepads, so he can see what my writing was like.”
“Or the perfume he helped pick out for me earlier this year so he’ll remember my smell,” Bland added. “And his all-important box of newborn keepsakes. The main thing is that, while he’s so young, I want him to remember me in some way. I hope the book and these gifts and notes will leave an imprint of my love behind for the rest of his life.”
Not long after writing that blog post, Bland received the news that she only had a few days left to live. Undeterred, though, the newsreader continued to keep people informed about her condition, taking to social media. Indeed, she confirmed on Twitter that her time was quickly running out in September 2018.
Bland’s heartfelt tweet certainly struck a chord with the online community, as users offered their love and support. The message earned close to 60,000 likes and over 8,000 retweets on the social media website, while also generating thousands of comments. Some two days later, her husband then delivered the horribly inevitable news.
“Our beautiful, courageous Rachael died peacefully this morning surrounded by her close family,” Steve wrote via his wife’s Twitter account. “We are crushed but she would want me to thank everyone who took an interest in her story or sent messages of support. You’ll never know how much they meant to her.”
At the age of just 40 Bland left behind her husband and son. However, in the immediate aftermath of her death, the newsreader’s friends and colleagues all paid their own tributes, hailing the attitude she showed during her battle. One message in particular, though, stood out above the rest.
Tony Livesey worked with Bland during her time on Radio 5 Live, when he was making his debut in 2010. The pair quickly became friends, as they presented one of the station’s shows on a Friday every week. After paying a heartfelt tribute to his old colleague, Livesey then recalled the moment she made history back in 2011.
“I was all set to become the first-ever voice of 5 Live from our new home in Salford,” Livesey told BBC News in September 2018. “The posters had been printed, the bigwigs were lined up through the glass. I’d prepped my first words. Then, just as I drew breath, Rachael wandered into the studio, sat down and read the news.”
“[Bland’s] was the first voice to be heard,” Livesey added. “She winked and walked out.” But as the tributes continued to flood in, Steve and Freddie both faced an incredibly difficult period. Some two months after his wife’s passing, the former opened up about their struggles on the You, Me and the Big C podcast.
“There have been occasions where I’ve lost my temper with [Freddie] and I know I wouldn’t have done in normal circumstances,” Steve told the podcast in November 2018. “I shouted at him because he was being a right pain, [I was] trying to get him dressed. I started crying because it really upset me that I’d shouted at him.”
However, the grieving dad then revealed Freddie’s reassuring response. “He just turned to me and he said, ‘Daddy, are you crying because of mommy?’” Steve continued. “And I said ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Daddy, don’t worry, it’s just us two now. It’ll be ok.’”
On that note, Steve touched upon the tributes paid to Bland in the media, And he admitted that they had helped him through some of the tough times. After that, the journalist then hailed his son’s reaction to the loss, before making a rather bittersweet observation.
“[Freddie is] brilliant – he’s a bit young really to understand even on a very base level what’s happened,” Steve added. “But he’s just full of energy, full of joy, full of life, keeping us busy – he’s fantastic. You can’t look at him without seeing Rachael either, so it’s a little bit of her all the time just next to me.”