The 40-year-old journalist, who also worked on Radio 5 Live and North West Tonight, was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2016 and began blogging about being a patient, later drawing on her experiences to produce her own BBC podcast series. Describing herself as “putting the ‘can’ in cancer”, Bland helped to change the conversation around illness; helping thousands with her humour, strength and determination in the face of her disease.
In May this year, she revealed she was to take part in clinical trials for immunotherapy at the Christie NHS cancer treatment centre in Manchester, following months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Writing on her blog, Big C Little Me, she said: "It is a Phase 1b trial so very early in the process and I feel an odd sense of pride that I am one of fewer than 150 people worldwide who will test it. If it doesn’t help me then I hope the data I provide will at some point in the future help others in the same position.”
But on Monday 3rd September, the mother took to twitter to reveal she had been told her breast cancer was incurable, and that she didn’t have long left to live. Sharing a photo of herself with her fellow You, Me & the Big C presenters, on Twitter, she quoted Frank Sinatra, writing: “In the words of the legendary Frank S – I’m afraid the time has come my friends. And suddenly. I’m told I’ve only got days. It’s very surreal. Thank you so much for all the support I’ve received. Debs and Lozz will continue with the #YouMeBigC podcast. Au revoir my friends.”
Following her tweet, countless social media users offered words of support, with people praising her bravery in dealing with the diagnosis and listening to her podcast in their thousands – sending it to the top of the charts, which Bland was “very happy about”. But two days later, on Wednesday 5th September, she passed away in the early hours of the morning.
Her husband, BBC Radio 5 Live producer Steve Bland, confirmed the news in a heartbreaking statement on Twitter. "Our beautiful, courageous Rachael died peacefully this morning surrounded by her close family,” he wrote. “We are crushed but she would want me to thank everyone who took an interest in her story or sent messages of support. You’ll never know how much they meant to her.”
Speaking to the BBC, shortly after, he shared more loving words: "Rachael's death has left a huge hole in our perfect little family that we'll never be able to fill. She was an incredibly talented broadcaster as well as a wonderful and much-loved daughter, sister, aunt, niece, wife and, most importantly to her, a mother to her precious little Freddie. [the couple’s three-year-old son]
"We all take such huge comfort and pride from the amazing and tireless work she has done since her diagnosis to reduce the stigma around cancer and prove that it is possible to live life to the fullest even when facing huge challenges on a daily basis. At the end, even though her body was at its weakest, her voice was at its strongest and most powerful.
"Rachael was and will always be an incredible inspiration to everyone she met. To us, she was perfect in every way and we will miss her more than words can say.”
Listen to You, Me & the Big C at BBC.co.uk or download on iTunes