‘RACHAEL CHANGED THE CON­VER­SA­TION ABOUT CANCER WITH HER HON­ESTY AND HU­MOUR’

Her co-host Deb­o­rah James pays tribute to BBC 5 Live’s Rachael Bland

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MY FRIEND AND

col­league Rachael Bland died last week, aged 40. She didn’t ‘lose her bat­tle’ with breast cancer. There are no win­ners. She fought so damn hard. She didn’t ‘suc­cumb to the dis­ease’. Cancer cru­elly took my best friend and there was noth­ing she could do apart from face her fi­nal curtain with ut­ter brav­ery by lift­ing the veil on cancer.

She made it pos­si­ble for peo­ple to start a con­ver­sa­tion about cancer and not feel ashamed. She placed it front of stage in a bid to ad­dress the as­pects peo­ple don’t talk about when it comes to cancer – fac­ing death, hav­ing sex, the pain and im­pact on re­la­tion­ships.

The pod­cast she cre­ated, You, Me And The Big C (which I’m hon­oured to have co-pre­sented) was, in the words of 5 Live con­troller Jonathan Wall, ‘One of the most im­por­tant pieces of broad­cast­ing I have ever heard.’ He added, our ‘About Death’ episode was ‘the best piece I’ve heard in 26 years’.

The pod­cast shot to the num­ber one spot in the charts the day be­fore she died, and I feel an im­mense sense of pride in what we’ve started. There was a need to have these con­ver­sa­tions.

Rachael ac­cepted her fate and ad­dressed the con­ver­sa­tion around it head on. We asked her if she was scared of dy­ing ( her an­swer: no – she was only wor­ried for those she left be­hind) and what her great­est wish was for the fu­ture (that her son, Fred­die, know what kind of per­son his mummy was). Di­ag­nosed with cancer in Novem­ber 2016, Rachael was told it was ter­mi­nal in May this year – she’d got her head around her life end­ing and clearly out­lined her wishes for the pod­cast to con­tinue. But she never ac­cepted that she would not see her two-year-old, Fred­die, grow up. It was why, a month ago, she de­cided to write him a book. When she died, she’d com­pleted 80,000 words – chart­ing all the things she knew she wouldn’t be there for, from the im­por­tance of wear­ing high-fac­tor sun­screen to how she met her hus­band and his dad, Steve.

I met Rach on­line. She reached out to me in the hope of find­ing a friend who knew ex­actly what she was think­ing. We were both pas­sion­ate about rais­ing aware­ness and then she said, ‘I want to do some­thing and I want to do it with you.’ I’ve since learned from Steve that she was wor­ried I’d say no! I was hon­oured to be asked.

Writ­ing today, I’m not a cancer sur­vivor. I haven’t won. I ac­cept that I, like Rach, have lit­tle con­trol over my bowel cancer. I too am some­one who can only learn to ‘live with it’. And what I’ve learned from Rachael is that you can live, even if you are dy­ing.

I will miss her in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to laugh in the dark­ness. She was the one I’d text at 3am when my fears were tak­ing over. She was the only one who knew ex­actly how I felt when my cancer re­turned. How did she deal with it? She lis­tened, told me to wipe away my tears, have a glass of rosé and carry on liv­ing. Then she sent me death jokes.

So, I’ll wipe my tears Rach, as hard as it is, and I’ll raise a glass to ev­ery­thing we did. I prom­ise we will con­tinue what we started. I just hope I can do it with even a drop of your hu­mour and courage.

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