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Friday 14 December 2018

Obituary: Rachael Bland

Radio and television presenter who won praise for documenting her battle with cancer on an award-winning blog

BRAVE: Rachael Bland. Photo: PA
BRAVE: Rachael Bland. Photo: PA

Independent.ie newsdesk

Rachael Bland, who died last Wednesday aged 40, was a broadcaster who became an award-winning blogger and podcaster after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In her blog Big C. Little Me, she chronicled her treatment with candid good humour as well as video-blogging (vlogging) about her radiotherapy and conducting live Facebook chemotherapy sessions.

Her hugely popular podcast You, Me and the Big C also won several awards for Bland and her co-presenters, Deborah James, a former deputy head teacher being treated for bowel cancer, and the lifestyle blogger Lauren Mahon, who had successfully completed treatment for breast cancer.

Likened by one critic to "listening to three raucous friends in the pub", it rode high in the iTunes charts, rising to No.1 when she announced that she had only days to live.

With a journalist's curiosity and an eye for a lively phrase and a telling detail, she covered an exhaustive range of topics from anxiety, to the effects of chemotherapy, questions of fertility and coping strategies.

She was born Rachael Hodges at Creigiau, on the outskirts of Cardiff, on January 21, 1978.

She trained as a broadcast journalist - a calling she had settled on from an early age. In 1996 she went to the University of Wales to read Journalism, Film and Broadcasting, graduating with a First. After she had taken a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in 2001, BBC Swindon & Wiltshire hired her to present news bulletins. Then in 2006 she moved to BBC London, again as a newsreader.

As her career in broadcasting progressed she lost all traces of her Welsh accent, but her clear, reassuring and authoritative tones were ideal for news broadcasting.

She branched out into television, presenting sports programmes as well as acting as a relief presenter on the BBC News Channel and working for Radio 5 Live, which included reading the news on Richard Bacon's show.

When the station moved to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays, she also began presenting and newsreading on the television magazine programme North West Tonight, and settled with her family in Cheshire.

Bland was a show jumper, and competed in marathons and triathlons - including the 2010 London Triathlon, in which she took part to raise money for a breast cancer charity. In 2016, she announced that she had been diagnosed with the disease herself.

Blogging about her illness was a natural development because with her husband Steve she had been writing a chatty online account of becoming a parent for Homeserve.com.

She was treated with a trial drug, noting wryly: "So now I have turned lab rat." She had her eggs - "four frosty little grains of hope" - harvested and frozen in the hope that their son, Freddie, would not be an only child.

Treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy and guided meditations helped her to cope with the anxiety and panic attacks that came with her condition.

Bland carried on working into her final months; with her natural immunity suppressed by her treatment, she used anti-bacterial wipes to kill off germs in the studio.

In April 2018, she was told that her cancer was incurable, news that made her feel "like a grenade with the pin out", she reported.

She is survived by her husband Steve Bland, a former Radio 5 Live producer whom she married in 2013, and their son.

Sunday Independent

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