FOURTEEN months before she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Rachael Bland’s experience of the NHS was one of sheer joy.
She had given birth to her first child – a little boy named Freddie – with husband Steve.
Rachael passed away on September 5 last year, two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer[/caption]
Yet, just eight weeks after celebrating his first birthday in September 2016, the BBC star was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The 40-year-old bravely battled the disease for two years before she died at home surrounded by family a year ago today.
On the first anniversary of her death, her widow Steve praised the “heroic” NHS – the many medics, doctors, nurses and specialists they saw helped the couple both clinically and emotionally over the course of Rachael’s treatment.
On the first anniversary of her death, Rachael’s widow Steve praised the “heroic” NHS[/caption]
Steve says: “I remember the first appointment we had with our breast cancer nurse. She answered every question we asked.
“She could see we were in shock yet she was so reassuring. It can’t be easy doing that job but she was brilliant.”
Rachael’s consultant Mr Richard Johnson who performed Rachael’s mastectomy in July 2017, the chemotherapy nurses, every NHS worker the pair encountered enriched their experience and helped the couple navigate the unimaginable.
“Our journey would have been so different without them all, especially Richard,” says Steve.
Rachael endured over twenty sessions of chemotherapy in a bid to treat the disease[/caption]
“He told us the truth, he didn’t sugar coat anything and he didn’t make anything seem unduly negative either.
“He was matter of fact and both of us felt reassured knowing he was in our corner.
“The internet becomes a scary place when you’re diagnosed with any cancer so having him and the nurses there to answer our questions made both of us feel more in control of what was an uncontrollable situation.”
Nominate your NHS hero by visiting: thesun.co.uk/nhs-heroes-who-cares-wins.
While Freddie was just 14 months when his mum was diagnosed, he never visited the hospital to see Rachael, who endured over twenty sessions of chemotherapy in a bid to treat the disease.
Steve says: “Cancer can be so overwhelming, it can consume your whole life if you let it.
“Rachael would spend hours having chemotherapy but her and the nurses would chat about Love Island or the X Factor. Rachael and I craved to forget she had cancer and those conversations made her feel like a person not just a patient.
“They’d have a laugh about something while they were fitting a cannula.”
In April last year, Rachael was told all traditional treatment methods had been exhausted[/caption]
In April last year, Rachael was told all traditional treatment methods had been exhausted, but her team of medics presented her with the opportunity to start a clinical trial for a new treatment for breast cancer.
Steve recalls: “I remember them telling us that we probably wouldn’t find a magic bullet among the conventional treatments that were available.
“But then in the next breath we were told about a trial. They said it was worth a go.
“I’ve heard it said that clinical trials can be scary for patients but for us they gave us some hope when hope was running out.”
Rachael started a clinical trial after April. A combination of drugs, which ultimately proved unsuccessful in Rachael’s case.
Steve says: “The NHS has so many cutting edge trials that save lives every day.
“The approved drugs Rachael was treated with all went through that trial process, people who did what Rachael did before her saved lives and continue to save lives every day.
“The fact we can access those types of trials are one of the most important things about the NHS. Being involved in a trial also gave Rachael huge comfort because she knew that even if it didn’t work for her, she was providing information that might help people in her position in the future.”
Two months before Rachael died, in July 2018, the couple were encouraged to speak to the palliative care team.
Two months before Rachael died she was encouraged to speak to the palliative care team[/caption]
Rachael spent her last week at home in Cheshire[/caption]
Steve says: “We didn’t want to because it felt like it meant the end. But the palliative care nurse was incredible.
“We had an initial meeting and the last week before Rachael died she was a constant in our lives. People talk so much about birth but not about death. If a pregnant mother is bringing a life into the world, a birthing plan can run into volumes but no one asks you for a dying plan. Rachael knew she wanted to die at home but that’s not as straightforward as it sounds.’
While Rachael spent her last week at home in Cheshire, those seven days are ones Steve will never forget.
“Dying is a physical process,” Steve says. “Our palliative care nurse came to the house every single day and without her I don’t know what we’d have done. I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t be doing.
The NHS contains the most extraordinary people. What they did for Rachael and for us felt like they constantly went above and beyond
“Lots of us have seen our partners or wives bring life into the world and being there when a child is born is incredible but how many of us have seen someone die?
“A lot happened in that last week and having a nurse there to help and to answer questions made a terrible process slightly less daunting. When someone tells you there are days left to live, knowing what those days might physically entail helps.
“At a time when everything has gone out the window, a plan of what might happen next is something you really cling to. I was shown how to make Rachael comfortable and do things like help her get her to the bathroom.’
Rachael died at home last September. While Steve describes the end as a “whirlwind” he’s certain the care, dedication and treatment from the many NHS workers they encountered made the experience less traumatic.
Steve's tips on how to deal with grief
In September last year my wife Rachel, the BBC news Presenter died of breast cancer.
Here are a few things I picked up since:
Don’t be afraid to have tough conversations – in the weeks and months before Rachel died we had plenty about her will, her funeral plans, even things like Freddie’s hair and what clothes he might wear.
By having those it made the decisions I had to make after she died a lot easier and it gave her a lot of comfort as well.
IT’S OK TO FEEL OK
However you feel, that’s ok. The way you feel after someone dies isn’t like anyway you’d imagine you feel. You might feel guilty when you start to laugh or joke or feel happy at some of the memories, and that’s fine. Whether you feel happy or sad, don’t feel guilty, just go with it.
Don’t be afraid to let people in. In the days after Rachel died I had friends get in touch with me and I just ignored their phone calls. But actually some of the good friends of mine insisted on seeing me and almost banged the door down and it was the best thing they could’ve done because once I let them in and once i talked to them it made the whole process easier.
BE YOURSELF & BE HONEST
Be honest with kids. All of sudden I’m a single dad of a little boy with a lot of questions. While I can’t answer them all, the best thing to do is to try and be as honest as possible.
Steve says he doesn’t know what he would have done without Rachael’s palliative care nurse[/caption]
Rachael hosted the podcast You, Me and the Big C with Lauren Mahon and Deborah James[/caption]
Steve says: “The NHS is about cradle to grave care and we experienced that within the space of a few years.
“It contains the most extraordinary people. What they did for Rachael and for us felt like they constantly went above and beyond. If you can make someone feel special when you’re just doing your job, you know you must be doing something right. Nurses, doctors, specialists, they all made our journey so much easier.
MORE ON HEALTH
“Cancer is one of those specialities where you’re dealing with death every single day but until the day Rachael took her last breath we were treated with compassion and care.
“The NHS is one of the best institutions in the world and Rachael would have been thrilled to be involved with the Who Cares Wins awards.
“It’s the perfect way to say thank you to some incredible people and I’m very proud to support them.”
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