Coaching and cancer: Karen’s story

Karen Myers is a blogger, baker, knitter, traveller, theatre-goer and escape room addict. She was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in July 2018 and has blogged about her experience at atozeeofbc.com. In this guest blog post, she writes about her experience of Shine’s coaching programme.


A cancer diagnosis tends to throw a spanner into the works of your life. The various cogs of your relationships, your career, your health, your lifestyle, your hobbies, and your free time are all whirring away quite happily until a doctor says ‘you’ve got cancer’. Then everything comes to a grinding halt. Through no choice of their own, many people with cancer have to put large parts of their life on hold as they go through treatment. But when that active treatment is over it can be hard work to get the engine of ‘normal’ life started again. The physical and psychological drain on your energy and enthusiasm can leave you feeling directionless. I certainly felt that way – my cancer diagnosis came after a difficult redundancy from a job I had loved, and when a year of treatment and surgery came to an end I had no clue what my next step in life should be. I felt totally lost.

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Blog post author Karen Myers

That’s when Shine’s coaching programme appeared on my radar. I took the leap of applying in the hope that it would give me some guidance, some direction and maybe a little oil to get my engines running again. I had no real understanding of coaching but I learned quickly that the Shine coaching programme is flexible and open. The programme can help you focus on whatever you need: whether that’s your career, your relationships, your work/life balance, your search for better health, or your financial or personal wellbeing. Maybe post-cancer you wants to find a new direction, personally or professionally, or maybe you want help to rebuild normality after cancer has crashed through your life. Under Shine’s coaching programme, the end goal is entirely down to you. And if you’re not even sure what that end goal might be, that’s OK too. 

Now in its fourth year, the Shine Coaching programme starts with a fun, informative workshop where those being coached can meet and start devising the goals that will become the focus of their coaching sessions. These goals can be specific and detailed (‘I want to become an astronaut’) or, as in my case, woolly and vague (‘help, I need to change my life’). The goals can shift and change throughout the process, but initially they’re used to match you to the most appropriate person in Shine’s stable of experienced, skilled (and quite frankly, lovely) coaches. The opening workshop is also a crash course in what coaching should be: non-judgemental, flexible, open, and safe, and focused on exploration rather than sticking to a rigid, expected path. 

After the workshop you receive three full coaching sessions via Skype. What happens in those sessions is entirely up to you. What I found most surprising (and initially terrifying) about coaching is the freedom you have to plough your own furrow. Your coach isn’t there to steer you down particular routes or give ‘you must do this’-style advice, but rather to act as a sounding board. An experienced, skilled coach, like those on the Shine programme, know that their role is to ask you the right questions so that you can guide yourself towards your goals. Sometimes those questions can be challenging, asking you to peel back some of the layers of your self-perception. But your answers are heard with compassion and understanding and, surprisingly, it can be refreshing to be confronted with your own fears and self-conceits in such a safe environment. However, coaching is not therapy or counselling. Although my sessions occasionally became emotional, the focus was always on a positive way forward, on ways to reach the future ‘me’ I was trying to find. 

My coaching sessions were focussed on what work after cancer would look like for me. Having been in the same industry for nearly 20 years, the shock of a cancer diagnosis had me in a panic. I wondered whether I needed to become someone entirely different now. I really felt the pressure of all those ‘I had cancer and I started my own multi-million pound business/ran 20 marathons/climbed all the mountains’ stories. My coach’s steady, guiding (never leading) hand made me realise that I’m not ready to make a big leap just yet. I need some stability and security after an earth-shattering trauma to my life. And my coach led me to realise that that is OK. Coaching doesn’t have to lead to major changes. It can help you reclaim and reframe normal, if that’s what you want. 

Even Shine’s stellar coaching programme might not give you the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything (that’s 42!), but it might just help you find the right questions to ask. 

What the doctor learned

Dr Charlotte Squires was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin lymphoma in November 2018 when she was 30. In this guest blog post, she writes about how her diagnosis and treatment has changed the way that she approaches her career as a doctor.


Lymphoma is known for being tricky to diagnose: it can present in strange ways, or with signs that may not seem that concerning to people without medical knowledge.

As a doctor, it was surprisingly easy to work out what was going on. My partner and I were living and working in New Zealand on a year out between stages of my UK medical training when I realised that I was losing weight. Initially I was pleased, as many of us would be, and I put it down to healthier eating. But then the weight kept coming off, the night sweats began, and it started sounding less like a reason to buy new skinny jeans, and more like a cancer diagnosis waiting to happen. I wrote a list of what I thought could be wrong – each illness more worrying than the next – and took it, terrified, to my own GP. He thought I was just anxious but he took some blood tests anyway, expecting to be reassured. The next day I was on call at the hospital, seeing acutely unwell patients in the emergency department, when my GP phoned. My results were more abnormal than those of the patients that I had spent the morning admitting, and they were highly suggestive of cancer. Over the next week I had a CT, then a biopsy, and then confirmation of advanced lymphoma – the illness that had been at the top of my worrying list. packed up our things in three days and flew home. I found myself tipped from the end of the hospital bed, headfirst into it.

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Charlotte during treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma

Becoming a doctor involves a lot of learning. Medical professionals spend long years memorising anatomical diagrams, the routes of nerves and blood vessels, the causes of different symptoms, and what different organs look like under a microscope. We spend hours speaking to patients, trying to understand what it means to have an illness and to undergo treatment. We learn about drug doses, side effects, and the likelihood of successful treatment. We learn how to break bad news, and how to explain complex diseases.

And yet, there was so much I didn’t know.

I didn’t know what it means to have a mouth so sore that you can’t bear to drink. I didn’t know how it feels to lose all of your hair on your birthday, or how hard it is to know that it will take several years to grow back fully. I didn’t know the paralysing misery of severe nausea, or the gripping pain from bone marrow-boosting injections, or what it’s like to nearly faint in the middle of the Aldi Christmas aisle due to severe anaemia. I didn’t know how it feels to face down your mortality, or to lose friends, young and beautiful, to terrible illnesses similar to your own. I didn’t know what it was like to feel afraid, and so vulnerable that it’s as though your skin has been flayed from your bones. I didn’t know just how often the health service gets it wrong, or sends things astray, or just forgets, and how sometimes it doesn’t really seem to care. I didn’t know what it means to feel unable to trust your own body. I didn’t know how much bravery it takes, every day, to live with and through a cancer diagnosis. There is much I’ve had to learn.

I’ve learned what it means to wait, like Schrodinger’s patient, both relapsed and in remission at the same time, until the scan result arrives. I’ve learned how to sit anxiously, in quiet waiting rooms, afraid of what might happen on the other side of a closed door and wondering whether I’ll be able to find the words to tell my family if it’s yet more bad news. I’ve learned to try to sit with this, to own it, and to keep living whilst I wait.

I’ve learned what it means to be unable to plan ahead, or to have multiple caveats around treatment timelines, scan results, and the major impact of fatigue. I’ve learned what it means to cancel an anniversary dinner at the last minute after vomiting spectacularly in a restaurant car park, and how it feels to be the awkward one with special requirements, who needs others to be flexible, and who can no longer work those long hours without a second thought.

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Our blog author Charlotte

Now, eight months later, after four cycles of chemotherapy and more tablets and injections than I care to remember, I am back at work, on the easiest end of the stethoscope. My hair is slowly growing back, and I am beginning to feel more normal. But it is a slow process, full of peaks and troughs and unexpected detours. As a patient, I was often frustrated. As a doctor, I try to look for those frustrations and acknowledge them, even if I can’t always fix them. One of the biggest things I often think about is how as a doctor, I see my patients for 20 minutes in clinic and often have little knowledge of their lives beyond the hospital walls – and of what it means to have your life suddenly turned upside down. These days I try to ask, to listen to the stories, and to say, honestly, that managing illness takes more effort than treating it. As doctors, we’ve learned a lot to get to where we are, but there is still so much that we don’t know.

Adoption after cancer

In this guest blog post, Emma Owen from PACT discusses adoption after cancer and finds out the answers to some of the Shine Cancer Support community’s burning questions.


As a charity that finds adoptive parents for children in care, we get all sorts of questions from people who want to find out more about whether adoption is right for them. We get asked frequently:  “Do I have to be married or in a relationship, or can I adopt on my own?”, “Do I need to own by own home?” or “Can I adopt if I’m gay?”. 

The answers to these question are straightforward – Yes you can adopt on your own, no you don’t have to own your own home, and yes, you can adopt if you are gay!

But when it comes to health there is no one answer for all. Every single case is individual and different to the next person. We frequently get asked whether someone who has had cancer can adopt. The short answer is – possibly.

The first thing to remember is that having had a cancer diagnosis and treatment does not automatically prevent anyone from being accepted, assessed and approved as an adoptive parent.

In fact, tenacity, resilience and positivity that people have demonstrated while undergoing treatment for cancer are great qualities for adopters. But this needs to be balanced with ensuring that an adopter has the energy and strength to parent their child into adulthood and beyond.

As well as thinking of your own hopes and dreams for a family, you must also think of the needs of the child. An adopted child will already have suffered loss, and possibly trauma, and any adoptive parent must be emotionally, as well as medically, fit to care for a child who has had a difficult start in life.

As part of the adoption process you will need to have an adoption health assessment with your GP and this will need to be seen by PACT’s medical adviser. Your treating consultant will be asked for a reference and their view will be influential in the decision as to whether you can proceed with adoption.

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PACT’s medical advisor Dr Efun Johnson said: “The assessment process seeks to explore individual strengths to parent, using available health information on health status and likely risks that may impact on meeting the physical, emotional and developmental needs of a child.” 

I asked Dr Efun to answer some of the most common adoption questions we get asked by people who have suffered from cancer.

Q: Do you have to wait a certain length of time after you finish treatment before adoption agencies will accept you? 

Dr Efun: “Every cancer differs and detection could be at differing stages. After treatment and remission or cure we would ask that you give yourself a year or two to settle before you apply to adopt. In some cases you may need to wait up to five years. 

Q: What if you have disabilities after cancer treatment and your partner had cancer too or has health issues – is adoption still an option?

Dr Efun: “It is the capacity and ability to look after and parent a child that is looked at as well as both yours and your partner’s health. Yes adoption is still an option. 

Q: What if you have cancer long term but it’s not currently life-threatening, can you adopt then?

Dr Efun: “It depends on the individual situation.”  

We also have some more general questions, which I put to PACT’s Adoption Team Manager Mandy Davies.

Q: If cancer leaves you unable to adopt, would it be possible for your partner to adopt a child in their name only? Then share parenting commitments? 

Mandy: “While a couple are living together there would need to be a joint assessment.  If we were not able to proceed due to cancer it is likely to be because of a limited life expectancy.  If an adoptive parent were to die, this loss would have a huge impact on an adopted child who will have already lost their birth parents and probably foster carers.”  

Q: What are the first steps if I want to find out about adopting?

Mandy: “Do your research into what’s involved in the process, the children waiting and all the things any adoptive parent needs to consider. We have a Guide to Adoption on the PACT website which is a great place to start. Then I’d suggest coming along to an information event. At PACT information events we have talk from a social worker about the process and an adopter to tell their story and you have the opportunity to ask any questions.”

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At PACT, we have many survivors of cancer who have successfully been approved as adopters and gone on to have a family through adoption.

Marcia and her husband adopted their two daughters after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and successfully treated with an aggressive course of chemotherapy and a mastectomy. 

She said: “We were devastated, but the prognosis was positive. The oncology and fertility consultants worked with us to ensure I could have some eggs removed, and we had our embryos frozen. Post chemotherapy, we had to wait two years until we could have the embryos implanted. We had two unsuccessful attempts of IVF. 

For the next six months we took a long needed holiday and took the opportunity to consider our future as a family and we agreed to continue to explore the option of adoption.”

Marcia and her husband were approved through PACT and became parents to two sisters, aged one and two at the time. 

“We were really lucky, the girls took to us and their new home immediately. All the preparation work and transition went really well and they could just get on with being children.”

Marcia is a wonderful example of someone who has created her family through adoption after cancer. And in a society where there are three times as many children waiting than there are approved parents we do need more people to consider adoption. So don’t let cancer be the reason you don’t think about it. Every single application to adopt will need to be considered on an individual basis so do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

About PACT

Parents And Children Together (PACT) is an independent adoption charity and family support provider which last year placed 93 children with 64 PACT families through its adoption services. It is rated outstanding by Ofsted and provides award-winning adoption support to its families for life.

PACT is one of 34 voluntary adoption agencies in the UK which find, assess, approve and support adoptive parents. VAAs work in partnership with local authorities to find homes for children in care who are unable to stay with their birth families. To find out more about adoption visit www.pactcharity.org or to find a VAA local to you visit www.cvaa.org.uk

Emma Owen

Emma Owen

Emma Owen is PACT’s Head of Marketing and Communications.