Style of the City’s Holly Weeks talks about the woman who captured all of our hearts.
Gone but not defeated. That is the lasting impression that Rachael Bland leaves, having died on Wednesday morning after being told earlier in the week that she had only days to live. Although it was with sadness that the nation received this news, it is not with sadness that we should think of her and the life she continued to lead – even when facing such brutal realities.
Even from just a little time spent researching her work, I am filled with admiration for the Welsh journalist, who used her position and situation for the better; filling the final year of her life with positivity and activism in order to change the way we perceive cancer and those living with it. After receiving the news that may cause others to shrink from the world and into a shell of the person they had once been, Rachael wasted no time in setting up a personal blog, Big C Little Me and beginning a weekly podcast, You, Me and the Big C in order to share her journey and the realities of living with cancer with the world. Her work reached out to, and helped thousands of people up and down the country; it is no wonder that the news of her death has come as a devastation to so many.
Although she will be missed by the nation, our thoughts at this time must go to her family, husband and two-year old son. Rachael became the most emotional on the podcast when talking about missing out on seeing her son grow up. She spent most of her last days wrapping presents for him to open every birthday up to his twenty-first and she has written a memoir dedicated to him, so that he may learn about her life and the sort of person she was. This preparedness for the future, and dedication to showing her son who his mother was is a testament to her strength, bravery and the love she had for her family. This story truly touched my heart and fires up admiration for this woman who refused to let cancer, and death have the last word. Her spirit and determination will continue to live on; in her podcasts which will continue to help individuals and families facing the effects of cancer, and in those who knew her, whose lives were intertwined with her positivity and loving nature. This is how we should remember her; with happiness and thankfulness that such a wonderful person lived and worked to spread such light into a world which seems to get darker every day.
Listening to some of the podcasts she created with fellow cancer-fighters, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon, I can’t help but be astounded by the positivity she exuded and the casual, realistic way she discussed the intricacies of clinical trials, chemotherapy and the array of emotions which come with it. The women have confirmed that the podcast will continue, as it has posed such a lifeline for so many others who are trying to deal with cancer; either personally, or as a family member. Listening to the women’s discussions and laughter, it really does feel very personal and natural; like I’m joining friends for a ladies’ lunch to catch up on what’s new in our lives, rather than listening in on a sombre topic of conversation. And this is why her work was so important; why she will continue to inspire others for years to come: she changed the way we talk about, and perceive, cancer. By bringing it into the public eye as a genuine point of discussion; not just as a statistic. By generating conversation and advice on how to deal with a range of aspects which come with cancer, from hair loss and intimacy to how to tell your loved ones. By flipping the situation around and turning something which could be so negative into a positive opportunity to live life to the fullest and encouraging others to do the same.
With one in two people now predicted to develop the disease over their lifetimes, it is so important that we reframe the way we perceive cancer, and perhaps more importantly, the way we perceive our lives: this, I believe, is the biggest lesson we can all take away from Rachael’s legacy. She stood to encourage others to remain positive in the face of adversity and seize every opportunity presented to them. Her story is a reminder of the injustice of cancer and how unpredictable life and death can be, but it’s also an inspiring reminder that you should try to make the most of life, no matter what situation you’re facing.