Whenever Steve Bland looks at his son Freddie, he’s reminded of his late wife, Rachael, the journalist and BBC radio and TV news presenter who died from breast cancer in September 2018.
Recently he posted an Instagram picture which showed just how similar the pair looked at the same age.
“Rachael’s mum sent it to me,” says Steve, a journalist and podcaster on You, Me and The Big C. “They’re the spitting image of each other – it’s incredible.
“Sometimes it’s like looking at her when I see him. He’s 95 per cent Rachael and a little bit of me comes through occasionally.”
Since Rachael’s death, Steve has watched Freddie go through many milestones. Now aged five, he started in reception in September last year, although Rachael got to see him in his pre-school jumper just before her death.
What is your view? Have your say in the comment section
“We could see which way it was going on the Friday before she died, so my sister went to the school to get a jumper,” says Steve.
“Rachael adored Freddie and we spoke a lot about how tough it was for her to know she wasn’t going to see him ride a bike, or in his proper school uniform. She’d have been super proud of the little boy he’s becoming.
“The day I struggle with most is the anniversary of Rachael’s death. Every other milestone, like Christmas and birthdays, you’ve got people around and good memories to call on.
“The first anniversary hit me hard. It’s always going to be a tough day and it should be, because it’s important.”
Now, however, Steve has someone in his life to share the joy with again. He met nurse practitioner Amy at a cancer conference and the pair started dating shortly before the pandemic. Then lockdown happened and their fledgling relationship had to take place solely on FaceTime.
“It’s been difficult and it was particularly hard on Amy,” Steve says. “But the past four years have taught me resilience and not to worry too much about things you can’t control.
“The other day we went out for dinner and Amy said, ‘This is probably only the third or fourth time you’ve seen me in make-up’. We’ve barely been out on a date and every holiday we booked fell by the wayside.”
Amy had only met Freddie on “a handful of occasions” pre-pandemic, but now they’ve built “a fantastic relationship”.
Like news? Sign up to one of the Mirror’s newsletters
“They get on so well,” says Steve. “I’ve heard him ask a couple of times, ‘Are you my mummy now?’ and she always says, ‘No, you’ll only ever have one mummy’.
“We’re never going to give her the label of mummy, but Rachael was very keen he’d have that kind of influence and figure in his life.”
When it comes to finding the balance between keeping Rachael’s memory alive and being in a new relationship, Steve says the pair talk openly, and it was Amy who suggested meeting Rachael’s mum in Wales.
“It’s a tricky balance and becomes a little trickier now we are in the serious stage,” he says. “Amy said she feels like she’s living in her shadow a little bit.
“My co-presenter Lauren Mahon put it well on the podcast – if you’d broken up with someone, you wouldn’t have pictures all over the house but when someone dies you do.
“Rachael’s always going to be a massive part of our lives, but it does mean taking down some pictures, and a few things have to change. She’d have wanted us to move forward.”
Steve is passionate about “breaking down taboos” about dating after someone’s died.
“I don’t have any guilt, and Rachael’s family and friends are fully supportive. It comes down to how open Rachael was, how much she’d talked to her friends and family. There is no ambiguity.
“I want to enjoy life and provide Freddie with the best life possible, and that’s all people want to do.
“People judge widows and widowers and there is a perception you have to wait a certain amount of time. Whether they want to move on two months or 20 years after someone’s died, they don’t deserve judgement.”
Amy and Steve are discussing the next step of their relationship – moving in together. They currently live 45 minutes apart.
Steve recently started a new series of his podcast with Deborah James and Lauren. It’s part of his mission to help those going through cancer “not to feel so alone”, and hammer home the message that people should see a GP if they have an unexplained lump or bump, bleeding, weight loss or persistent cough.
This October, he’s running the Virgin Money London Marathon for Macmillan Cancer Support again, having raised £20,000 for the charity the year after Rachael died.
“We got amazing support that day. It was so emotional,” he says. “The final few miles were painful and I had cramps. I was coming down the Mall and someone shouted, ‘Rachael would be really proud of you’.”
“It makes me well up even now. Lauren and Deborah were waiting for me on the finish line and I was a blubbering mess, but it was an amazing feeling.”
This time around, Amy’s going to be running it with him. It’s her first marathon, and Steve says: “She swings between excited and terrified. We just want to raise as much money as possible as these charities have taken such a big hit over Covid. It’s great to have a reason to run.”
- To support Team Macmillan visit londonmarathon.macmillan.org.uk. The funds will help Macmillan continue to provide vital support and do whatever it takes to be there for everyone, from day one of their cancer diagnosis.