1 Mom Made Sure Her Son Had Presents Through His 21st Birthday — and the Reason Is Heartbreaking

Ever since getting diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, Rachael Bland, a 40-year-old mom and former BBC presenter, has been fighting the disease. After briefly going into remission, Rachael got the devastating news in April that the cancer was back — and this time it was incurable. In a blog she wrote for HuffPost, Rachael described the moment she was told she would not be able to beat the illness.

"My D-Day call, I jokingly refer to it as 'Death-Day,' came back in April, while I was out playing with my 3-year-old son, Freddie," she wrote. "Hearing those words ripped the air right out of my lungs and I had to lean against a wall to steady myself. Holding in the huge sobs I knew were coming, I just needed to get home and call my surgeon in peace with my husband Steve at my side. On the short journey back I wept and kept telling Freddie, 'I'm so sorry.'"

"I'm also planning and wrapping birthday presents which he can open between the ages of four and 21."

As soon as she heard the news, Rachael admitted her sense of denial immediately kicked in. She began looking into experimental treatment options — even though they were all long shots — in the hopes of seeing Freddie grow up.

"When you are in my position — knowingly approaching the end of your life at just 40 years old, with a husband you adore with all your heart and a 3-year-old son you love so much that if you looked at him too long your heart could burst — you need two major things to get you through. Hope. And denial."

She added that: "It is as a mother that I have to employ my strongest skills of denial. I'm too scared to ask the doctors how long I've got left — it would be a guesstimate number that would hang over me. So we make plans, knowing it's not very long."

Rachael chronicled her entire cancer journey on her Facebook page, Big C. Little Me., and on Sept. 3 she got the worst news of all: she only had a few more days to live. After seriously thinking about Freddie's well-being, she decided to finish a few projects before she passed away.

She wanted to wrap up a memoir for Freddie and left her husband's sister a list of things to remember for her son's future. "Like not cutting his hair too short until he really insists, or my wish for him to go to the very best school and university possible, so long as that's what he wants," she wrote.

But the most heartbreaking task she needed to complete? Compiling birthday gifts for Freddie to open every year until he turned 21.

"I'm also planning and wrapping birthday presents which he can open between the ages of four and 21 . . . Personal effects like my notepads — so he can see what my writing was like. Or the perfume he helped pick out for me earlier this year so he'll remember my smell. And his all-important box of newborn keepsakes."

Tragically, Rachael passed away two days later on Sept. 5. Her family shared the news via Twitter, writing: "Our beautiful, courageous Rachael died peacefully this morning surrounded by her close family. 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. Steve and Freddie xxx"

Thankfully, Rachael died having checked all of her tasks off her to-do list: "I hope the book and these gifts and notes will leave an imprint of my love behind for the rest of his life. So he can be sure how very much I love him."

Dozens of people gave their condolences to Rachael's family. Scroll through to see some of the most heartfelt messages.