THERE are some things in life that make you want to run away and hide.
Cancer is top of that list, for so many reasons.
This week, that reason is a book. Not just any old book, but a book written by my dear friend Rachael Bland in the last months of her life, before she died in September.
It’s a book she wrote for her son, Freddie, who was just two when his mum died of breast cancer.
When For Freddie, landed in front of me, I burst into tears. I didn’t want to read it.
Well I did, but I knew it was going to be one of the hardest reads of my life.
Rachael was my rock, she knew how it felt
Just looking at the cover took me back to when it all started, Rachael’s worries that she wouldn’t finish writing it before she died, her hopes that it would give Freddie something to remember her by.
Rach and I met when she asked me to co-host the podcast she dreamed up, You, Me And The Big C – with Lauren Mahon.
She fast became my rock, the person I would message in the early hours of the morning when I was having a panic about dying.
She knew how it felt, she was in the same boat.
Looking back, she knew her options had run out
It was in May last year, that she received that phone call while she was at an ice cream farm – her doctors told her the cancer was back, and it had spread.
Her only hope lay in some experimental treatments.
Looking back now, I innocently used to (and still do) think and say, all you want is hope, hope and options.
When you have got stage 4 cancer hope is all you can ask for, and everything you cling on to.
She agreed, wholeheartedly. Then she made a joke about us getting two-for-one on funerals!
But reading her book this week, it dawned on me, even while we were having those conversations, Rach knew her options had run out.
It was hopes on the wings of angels and denial of the fiercest kind, in the face of her impending death.
Her book to Freddie helped her cope
Denial in the sense of knowing it was very real, yet still having the strength to squash it enough to carry on in the headstrong way only Rach could.
Her way of coping was to focus, on Freddie and making sure she left her beloved little boy a legacy – her book.
How she did it I will never know.
Still to this day, the hardest thing I wrote in my book was a small paragraph in the acknowledgements to my kids.
I wrote it in floods of tears and I’ve never been able to read it back without crying.
As a mum with stage 4 cancer, the idea of leaving my kids behind is the hardest bit – the painful treatment, operations and hideous side effects all pale into insignificance in the face of not being there for them.
That’s why I can’t imagine how Rach managed to write 90,000 words from the bottom of her heart to Freddie – especially given she was in and out of hospital, and dealing with her “death admin”, as she called it.
Love gave her the wind to live long enough
It’s a testament to her strength and her love for Freddie, and Steve, that she did do it.
Love gave her the wind to live just long enough to ensure it would be published.
Just long enough that she only stopped writing it a few days before she died.
Just long enough that she could leave us safe in the knowledge that Freddie would always know just how much she loved him, and that she would always be there for him – in the stars.
A guide to life, from mother to son
Rach wanted to do this for Freddie, like the name of the book suggests.
She left instructions with family and friends about her wishes for him in the future.
And she set up a WhatsApp group with family where she wrote down lots of things she wanted him to know – her guide to life, in true Rach style.
But she was adamant that he have it all down in her own words.
Love gave her the wind to live just long enough to ensure it would be published
She told me she wanted it to be, “just for him, all the things about me that might get lost”.
How she and Steve met, the music she loved, her uni days.
She knew her memory would be kept alive by Steve, her family and all her friends. But she wanted it to come from her heart, from a mother to her son.
Initially it was never meant for anyone else’s eyes.
But knowing I was writing my book F*** You Cancer, sparked an idea in Rach’s head. She started asking me how long it took to publish a book, how you get a book deal, how many words she might need to write?
Lauren and I told her straight away, it was something we would want to read too!
A massive heart and funny as f*ck
Deborah James reveals how Rachael Bland ‘held her hand’ throughout her own battle with bowel cancer
Reading Rach’s book I am just reminded of the wonderful woman she was.
Someone who was massive in heart, fearless in nature and funny as f*ck.
She was the girl from the Welsh valleys who was shy at times, lacking in confidence yet able to keep her nerve and deal with incredible pressure, even when breaking heartbreaking stories live on air.
For me, this book tells me what I already know, my friend was amazing.
MORE THINGS CANCER MADE ME SAY
The 7 cancer facts I learned from the scientists helping to keep me alive
The 4 things I wish every woman knew about smear tests and cervical cancer
Don’t ignore the signs! I looked picture of health weeks before cancer struck
Exercise hurts but it can prevent 13 cancers – and that can kill you
New cancer drugs triggered a rash so painful even smiling made me bleed
It might be my last Christmas but I have so much to be thankful for
Two years after cancer turned up it’s still spreading – but I’m still here
My cancer challenge just got bigger… it’s back and it’s spread to my liver
Mum suffering anal cancer tells Lorraine The Sun’s Deborah James saved her life
Men’s health isn’t just for Movember… nag the boys in your life year round
Hope is what all cancer patients want – and these new treatments could be it
I can’t comprehend how she had the strength both mentally and physically to write in her final weeks.
Selflessly, the last six weeks of her life was all about leaving a blueprint for Freddie, just as she did for us.
She has ensured that now she is gone, her voice lives on for Freddie.
And as she once said, “I want him to know exactly what kind of woman his mother was”.
Well, an awesome one if you ask me.
For Freddie: A Mother’s Final Gift to Her Son by Rachael Bland is published on 21st February 2019 by Michael O’Mara Books (hardback, £16.99). A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the charity Breast Cancer Now.
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