Dying mum’s heartbreaking gift to son
RACHAEL Bland was watching her two-year-old son playing with an old tyre when the devastating call came through.
"I'm sorry, it's bad news," said the voice on the other end of the line. Her cancer was now incurable.
Looking at little Freddie having fun on their day out at a farm, she felt as if her heart was breaking.
Rachael realised she would probably not see her little boy grow up. So she came up with a plan to ensure that even if she could not be there, the memory of her always would be.
The 40-year-old BBC newsreader is now racing to finish her memoirs to help her son navigate life without her.
"It's an idea I've had since I was diagnosed, but I didn't think I'd have to put it into action," she said.
"Since getting the news in April it pushed it to the forefront. I just wanted to leave something behind for him. As he grows up he'll get all the stories about me from my husband Steve. But he doesn't remember them all in the way that I remember them.
"I hope he can read my personality off the page and hear my voice through it. I don't know how long I have left and I just really wanted to leave something behind for him."
The Radio Five Live broadcaster started her memoirs, For Fred, last week and has already completed 12,000 words.
"I'm five chapters in and I've not got to where I got pregnant with him," she said.
"The last chapter will be a closing message to Freddie, which will be difficult. I want him to know he can be whoever he wants to be and do whatever he wants to do and I'll be proud of him.
"I don't want him to be held back or worry about things. I just want him to have a happy life and do whatever he can - and be a kind and a generous person."
Bland, who lives in Cheshire, England, with Steve, 38, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2016. It spread to her lymph nodes and in April of this year tests showed it was terminal.
She said the "hardest part" of her diagnosis was dealing with it as a mother. "Freddie's too young to understand so I've not had that conversation with him," she said.
"But I think, 'Imagine him growing up without remembering who I am.' The only time I get really upset is when I'm looking at him and these thoughts pop into my mind. I think, 'If he's upset about anything what will he do if I'm not around?'
"I want to see Freddie going to school, going off to university, I want to be there for when he joins a football team and all of those things … "
Despite her illness, Bland has continued to record her BBC Five Live podcast You, Me & The Big C, which she co-presents with Deborah James, 35, who has stage four bowel cancer, and breast cancer survivor Lauren Mahon, 32.
It has been an unexpected hit, reaching number three in the iTunes charts, and the trio are currently recording season two.
"We had the idea at the start of the year," she said. "We thought it would be good for a group of women who've been through cancer treatment who aren't this grey, sad stereotype of cancer.
"We went from being online friends on Instagram to real-life friends. We have become so close and they've really helped me get through everything. We laugh a lot on the podcast. Obviously there are emotional moments but we're still young women getting on with our lives."
It was on the podcast that Rachael got the idea to write her book. "I was talking about how I feared Freddie forgetting me and telling the girls I wanted to write something," she said.
"They encouraged me to get it down. I haven't had the wildest or most exciting life but I'd love to get the book published so people like me can find some support."
Here are some extracts from For Fred …
On her wedding day
I WAS 40 minutes late to my own wedding day. Timings slipped when the hair and make-up lady arrived late.
Then we sent the bridesmaids off in the vintage Daimler without thinking how long it takes an old car to do a five-mile round trip to the church and back. I stood waiting with Dad for a good 20 minutes cursing that decision.
Which gave your dad a great ad lib opener to his speech about how one of the first things I told him about myself is that I hate it when people are late.
I now agree this is ridiculous - your father and I are never on time for anything. If we are first to an event we spend the whole time voicing our shock.
The advice is to aim to get to an event or meeting a good 15 minutes before the stated time. We've just not quite managed that ourselves yet.
A challenge for you is to see if you can better our terrible tardy record and restore the good Bland name on the social scene.
TRAITS-WISE I can't stand arrogance - people who like the sound of their own voice too much - and those who are without empathy.
I can already see that you are full of empathy.
I had some pain the other day and you dashed straight off for your medical kit and checked me with your stethoscope and thermometer.
I can already see you are so caring and can read people's feelings.
These are excellent personality traits to have inherited - I say this because they are from me.
On meeting your dad
I KNEW that night, after 33 years, I had found the man I wanted to marry.
For so long I had heard the old adage that "When you know, you know" and I never knew.
Until that moment, when you just know!
It is like the other half of your soul that's been missing slots back in like a jigsaw piece and you can relax … . "Ah, there you are".
On a career
YOU will note my frequent references to what are now probably defunct research tools - that is the journalist in me.
I've always loved the news and knowing what is going on in the world.
It is always good to be informed, it puts you ahead of the game.
At its very basic level, my love for news is pure nosiness and being the first in with the gossip.
I decided fairly early on that I wanted to be a broadcast journalist and just went for it. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do and could focus on it.
If you have that too then brilliant, if you can't decide or nothing seems to grab you then just head out into the world and experience things and you'll find your path.
It all comes back to that autonomy of thought and knowing yourself and what you want out of life.
If that takes years then fine, if you know when you're ten - great.
But remember, you are here to make yourself and those around you happy, so always keep that in mind.
On being happy
I AM a huge fan of any kind of rom-com, Love Actually-esque, feel-good film.
For me, the clue is in the title - I like to watch things on TV that make me feel good and happy because that's just a nice way to feel, isn't it?
I haven't watched a horror film since I was about 15 - I think they would stay with me.
And there's enough horror and misery in the world not to add to it with fictional accounts, in my honest opinion.
Though I do admire those people who have the resilience of mind to happily sit through a terrifying two hours at the cinema then skip home, happily untouched by what they have seen.
I also love a good comedy because I love to laugh. Laughing is good for your very soul. I hope that you laugh as much in the future as you do now.
You currently find yourself and other things so funny that you frequently laugh until you are sick.
I love to see you this happy and discovering your own sense of humour.
Always keep that.
Let's just hope that the vomiting bit settles or that could get annoying on nights out with friends.
On being brave
THE 20-year-old me, who was terrified to speak in public yet desperate to be on the radio, seems a world away from 40-year-old me, who you have to turn the volume down on because she's banging on about herself on the You, Me & The Big C podcast again.
The lesson I guess here, my Fred, is that if you're of a sensitive disposition like your mummy, which I can see you already are, you've got to try to develop a thick skin.
Try not to take things to heart too much.
Feel and grieve your disappointments because not everything can go your way in life, then get back out there again and carry on living.
As I now know only too well, you only get one chance at life so grab every opportunity you can and keep on trying.
On his heritage …
HISTORY and heritage are so important, they are what makes us who we are - and I guess this is why I'm writing all this down for you.
I was born and brought up in Wales and, even though I lost my accent after many years of news-reading, I am still Welsh through and through.
There have been a number of jovial arguments between your father and I about which side you would play for should you take up rugby or football internationally.
We eventually settled on you being an England and Wales cricketer to cover both sides - no pressure!
I know that living in England and spending time watching sport with your dad that you'll be English first.
But I hope you'll still have that Welsh dragon roaring inside you from your mummy.