“Give back to the people who give to you, look for those who may need your help – give without expecting back.”
- Rachael Bland, ‘For Freddie’
In November 2016, the acclaimed BBC presenter, Rachael Bland, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
The following two years were immeasurably difficult for Rachael and her family. However, that didn’t stop her from putting everything into raising awareness for the disease.
Sadly, she passed away in 2018, but Rachael’s amazing legacy lives on through her loved ones.
We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Rachael’s husband, Steve Bland, in our Adam Asks podcast where we talk to inspirational people with awe inspiring stories.
He shared with us his harrowing journey since his wife’s diagnosis, how life has changed and his advice for others on coping with grief.
The Aftermath of a Cancer Diagnosis
It’s difficult to imagine the emotions someone goes through after discovering their significant other has cancer. For Steve, his coping mechanism was launching into action and focusing on the things he could do:
“As a husband, your immediate reaction is wanting to fix things. But I couldn’t lie to her and say: “Everything will be alright”. So I concentrated on what I could control. I organised holidays for the family and made sure that every minute we spent together was special in some way.”
Being positive became much more difficult in April 2017 after Rachael was told that her cancer was incurable. “It hits you like a train,” Steve told us, “but soon after, I was in the mode of helping her get through it. I only realised how hard it had all been when she passed away.”
Coping with Insurmountable Grief
“Grief isn’t a process,” says Steve. “There’s no start, middle or end. The stages people talk about - anger, sadness and denial - don’t happen chronologically. You can experience these emotions in the space of half an hour or over months. It’s different for everyone.”
He also explained how grief doesn’t ever leave you. But, while he’ll always miss Rachael and mourn his loss, he won’t always be unhappy:
“Sometimes you’ll have great days and some days will be hard. By accepting this, the bad days become easier to deal with because you know they will pass.
“What surprised me in the beginning was how hard the good days were to handle. I would think How can I be laughing? and I’d feel painfully guilty. I had to learn to be okay with it - you should be able to cry and laugh when you want. There’s no rulebook on how to react appropriately to grief.”
Doing What’s Best for Freddie
When Rachael passed away, their son Freddie was four. Steve remarked how his son knows his mum isn’t there anymore and misses her. But he’s still a “happy little boy”.
To help Freddie come to terms with that’s happened in the future and ensure their happiest memories live on, Rachael spent the last months of her life writing her best-selling memoir: ‘For Freddie’. Steve shared with us his astonishment at how Rachael wrote with such energy and zest despite her failing health:
“She started the book in May and by the end of July she had written 21,000 words. In August, she was suffering greatly yet she still completed 60,000 words. It’s a really happy book, there’s no sign of resentment or bitterness. How she managed to keep her words so uplifting is beyond me.”
‘For Freddie’ is a testament to Rachel’s incomprehensible courage and love for her family. And it was the best thing she could have done for her son. Now, as Freddie grows older, Steve can share Rachel’s precious messages of love to her son:
“'Be kind. Be good. Be strong. Be true, my Freddie. I know you have the most wonderful life ahead of you. [...] You will always be the most special of boys – we remain the Three Best Friends wherever I am in the ether.”
Keeping Rachael’s Light Burning Bright
Steve has thrown himself into continuing Rachael’s incredible work in raising cancer awareness. This has given him the focus needed to avoid “drifting away into a hole of grief.”
Just as his wife helped those struggling with cancer, Steve has become an authentic and honest voice for people suffering from grief through Rachael’s podcast, You, Me and the Big C.
It was an absolute hit with the public and critics thanks to the team’s humour, honesty and rowdiness about everything from dating and intimacy to pain, winning five highly-acclaimed awards since its inception.
When Rachael died, Steve filled her shoes on the podcast. He’s found great comfort in carrying on what was important to Rachael.
The discussions he’s sparked with Debs and Loz have also had a huge impact on the cancer community. He’s contributed enormously to removing the stigma surrounding death, helping others give voice to their own pain and the fallout of losing someone.
He’s also run a marathon (his 5th!), raised thousands of pounds for charity and become a founding member of Cancer Research Initiative, Manchester Beats Cancer which is where Steve met Leon Milns, founder and Director of Adam (Leon is actively involved in the committee. He regularly attends its events, offers strategic support and gets the rest of the team involved in backing the charity).
Rediscovering a Zest for Life
“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
Through his ongoing commitment in helping others and determination to live life to the fullest, Steve is clearly making the most of every moment.
We are in awe of his courage and we know Rachael would be immensely proud too. What the future holds for Steve and Freddie is anyone’s guess, but we have an inkling that it’s going to be beyond bright and brilliant.
You can listen to Steve’s breathtaking story in full here.