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.

Life, but not as you knew it: Pregnancy, cancer and lights in the dark

There is never, ever a good time to get cancer, but having to face your own mortality while waiting to give birth to a new life is especially hard.  At Shine, we know a number of families who have had to cope with cancer while pregnant or shortly after birth. In our newest blog Hayley shares her story  of coping with bowel cancer while waiting to have her son.  It’s not something you read about very often (and quite frankly cancer and pregnancy seems like something that just shouldn’t be allowed!).  Take a read and let us know what you think.


Hayley pregnant

A heavily pregnant Hayley

My car keys made a nice, dramatic sort of jangle as they crashed to the floor. My purse too, made a satisfying crunch before skidding and coming to rest against the wall.

I must have made a dramatic scene: a large pregnant woman hitting the decks like that. Voices gathered in the darkness. Can we get her into a chair? Who is she? Can you hear me?

I heard myself protesting at being given a shot of morphine “I’m pregnant! I don’t want it”. The A&E staff were harried and unsympathetic; they hovered over me attaching lines, fussing and talking. A young doctor eventually presented me with a medical book to ‘prove’ pregnant women could have morphine if needs must. I didn’t try to read it.

The pain became more bearable and the scene came into focus. The A&E consultant came to talk to me. I told him I’d had bowel problems for years on and off….they kept telling me it’s irritable bowel syndrome (it’s not, and I still think today it is Crohn’s but that’s another story). He went off to look at his computer. They took a polyp from my bowel two weeks before and I hadn’t had the results.

I watched the doctor frowning at the computer, leaning in towards it as if getting closer would make what he was reading make more sense. He sighed, and came back to me and held my hand. And he told me: it was bowel cancer. Suddenly everyone who was looking after me changed. They all looked a bit sorry for me. They talked softly. They held my hand. ‘I’m going to die’ I thought and began to cry for my children and for my unborn child. How the hell could I be 32, pregnant and have bowel cancer? The world cracked and fell to pieces far too sharp to walk upon.

I was transferred to a ward where I talked to my surgeon to be. The colorectal nurse told me to go away and enjoy the rest of my pregnancy (because once I’d been induced early and had my baby, I was going to have a colonoscopy, be scanned, have a foot of my bowel removed and thus also be removed from my baby. And they wouldn’t be sure of the extent of the cancer until after the operation). So nothing to worry about then!

The rest of my pregnancy passed in a blur of worry, pain, Co-codamol and panic attacks.

One grey, rainy Sunday I became breathless. The out-of-hours doctor sent me to the hospital to be assessed and handed me a sealed envelope to take with me. It soon became a ripped open envelope: mmmm now lets see….differential diagnoses… Pregnancy normal symptom? Anxiety? Lung mets? LUNG METS…he wrote that?

All the way to the hospital I cried. I was certain it was lung mets and there was no hope.

But it wasn’t. I had to go through an x-ray (pregnant women can’t have x-rays) and a lung perfusion scan to make sure. I remember crying and one of the nurses talking to me about her mum who had died of breast cancer but had had nine years of fight before she succumbed. She had tears in her eyes as she told me the story. She gave me a bit of hope. She was pregnant too. I often wonder about her and am grateful for the way she treated me. They aren’t all like that.

One of the hardest things to take being a pregnant woman with cancer, was having to attend a million baby scans so they could keep an eye on the baby’s growth. Every time I had to sit in that waiting room full of happy expectant couples, texting their families on their phones ‘It’s a girl’ or whatever was torture. I sat there alone and scowled at the world. They had no idea what I was going through and I wanted to shout “I have cancer!” at the top of my voice and shock them all. I wanted to share my pain. You get some dark thoughts when you are in dark places.

The wait for the date for the induction of my labour was one of the hardest I have ever had to endure. The not knowing the extent of my disease, the worry about the operation, the impending separation from my baby tortured me day and night. There was no real life, only endurance. Every minute ached, every day hurt, every week burned.

Then we did it. We went through horrendous unnatural labour to meet my third child. We called him Monty. He is beautiful and is the light of my days. In those early days and nights at home I would cradle him and cry silently at the thought of being apart when I went into hospital for the operation. He was five weeks old when the date arrived. Another heartbreak. A deep, instinctual pain of separation: mother from newborn. It hurt so much I cannot describe it. My poor husband.

But time passes, doesn’t it. We endure pain, physical and mental. We wake up, we sleep, we cry and we smile. The next day always comes. I came home from the operation after five days in hospital. I ached all over, my bowels were not working in any shape or form, but I was going home. It was bliss.

They told me I was clear. I should have been relieved but somehow the reassurances were empty and hollow. I was numb. It meant everything but I felt nothing.

The story continues. More recent MRI scans I have found something on my liver – bile ducts that have closed off. The liver specialist thinks it might be PSC. It is not good news and there is no cure. PSC goes hand in hand with Crohn’s; tests for this are inconclusive and ongoing but I am pretty sure it’s there. More darkness.

The reason for my cancer was a genetic mutation, so I was always going to get bowel cancer at some point. Without regular screening and, at some point, having my whole colon removed, I will get it again. My children will have to be tested. It is possible they could share my mutation. Dark, dark, dark.

Hayley and Monty

Hayley and Monty

What I have gained out of all this is the knowledge that I can only do what I can do. I can only fight mentally. My body, the doctors, the scans will be what they are. The course of my diseases will be as they are, progress as they wish, all beyond my control. All I need worry about is my mind and how to keep it on the right path…acceptance, hope (but I’m a pessimist), openness, the making of new friends. Friends in the dark. Friends in my dark.

When it comes down to it, it is sort of alright to be in a dark place when other people are there lighting it a little with their stories, their struggles, and their smiles. I do not feel alone. And that is the biggest gift, to sit in the dark and be surrounded by shining lights.

 

Hayley is (nearly) 34 years old,a mum of three and a primary school teacher. She lives near Norwich in Norfolk where her 6 year old, 4 year old and 8 month old – together with a dog, cats, ducks and hens – keep her very busy!

Shine has a growing private online community that you can access via Facebook; many of our members have dealt with cancer in pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. If you’re looking for additional support with these issues, please also check out Mummy’s Star, a charity that provides information and financial support to families facing cancer in pregnancy and the first year after birth.

Life – but not as you knew it: The Parent Trap

Life – but not as you knew it is our latest blog series on living with cancer as a young adult. In this blog, Sam Reynolds writes about being a parent to a toddler while having treatment for cancer.  As she points out, parenting and cancer can test our feelings of control – in both cases, we’re challenged to give in to what’s going on around us, whether we want to or not.

At Shine, we have lots of young adults who are both living with cancer and small children.  If you’d like to get in touch or discuss this blog, leave a comment, Tweet us, check out our Facebook group or follow us on Twitter. 

The Parent Trap: Living with Kids and Cancer

Guest blogger: Sam Reynolds

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We are respecting our parents’ wishes…..They didn’t want to shelter us from the world’s treacheries.  They wanted us to survive them.

― Lemony Snicket, The End

 My daughter was eighteen months when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. I always knew she was a miracle (doesn’t every mother?) but when this happened, I cherished her even more. They are incredible little human beings – but they are also not stupid.  How do you explain cancer to a child?

On Googling this topic recently I was slightly alarmed at how little information there was for newly diagnosed parents. The first page I found was a Cancer Research UK page that blatantly suggested that patients would have grown up kids or grandkids, not young children. It took me a few more searches until I found anything useful. A lot of the information was about children with cancer. I realised it was important to share personal experiences of living with kids and cancer because there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of support out there, but it has a huge impact on people dealing with it.

It is impossible to keep your fear and stress a secret from kids.   At any age, they pick up on things. When I was first diagnosed, I wasn’t yet a parent.  When diagnosed again in 2012, my daughter was small but had a scarily good vocabulary; we immediately knew that we would have to give her a basic understanding of what was going on. Since the lump was in my clavicle, it was hard to hide the bandages after surgery; we called in an ‘ouch’.   We explained using Peppa Pig, her favourite show at the time, that Dr. Brown Bear was taking a bad bump out of Mummy’s neck and making her better. The radiotherapy schedule that followed was totally planned to fit in with her daily routine.  Every lunchtime I would put her down for a nap and a friend or family member would come and babysit for two hours while she slept and I dashed to the hospital.

I was worried about the impact all of this would have on her.  I realised we had obviously done an okay job when one day when we stopped outside the hospital where I had been treated. She asked me if this was hospital was where I got my ‘ouch’ fixed; I said yes. She then piped up, ‘I wish I could have an ouch one day so I could see Dr. Brown Bear’. My heart melted.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed for a third time; my daughter is eighteen months older but she is still incredibly young.   We have continued the ‘ouch’ phrasing – although this time the ouch was on Mummy’s boobies. We can only do what is right for her age. She will learn more as she matures, but she will always know.

The real test for me was during my stay in hospital for surgery. I was advised before the surgery not to invite her to see me. She would have been exposed to more than she could process and I would have been unable to hug and comfort her. It would be too traumatic. After the surgery, however, I was the one who felt like a child. When my mum came into see me I was very emotional and I felt like there was no way I could look after myself, let alone anyone else.  It frightened me how vulnerable and childlike I felt. I missed my daughter so much, yet the idea of being around an energetic, full-of-beans three year-old, scared me. I felt guilty. I wanted to be her mummy again but I had to put all my energy into healing and recovering without her and that was hard.

Recovering from surgery, going for treatment and living with cancer and all it’s appointments and side effects is massively demanding on anyone; as a parent it can seem doubly difficult. Trying to care for a child as well as yourself is a challenge.  On the one hand they are hugely helpful in maintaining some routine and distraction; on the other, it can become all consuming trying to make sure things are kept as normal for them as possible.  Both parenting and having a serious illness test the biggest control freaks among us; I find it an even more enormous test to just surrender at a time like this; to go with it and ride the wave.

It has been hard living with cancer and having a child though the healing that comes from the vitality, curiosity, adoration and innocence of having that little person growing up in front of me cannot be denied. Yes, at the end of a long day we can fall out; we are all tired and we are all emotional.  But tomorrow is a new day and to them, everything is forgotten.

When I was having radiotherapy two years ago it was my daughter’s second birthday. I remember thinking I must be mad to organise a two year-old’s party and to return from a 20th session of radiotherapy to entertain both children and parents.  Seeing the look of delight on her face when we brought out the cake and when we sang happy birthday…. nothing can replace those moments.  I wouldn’t let any cancer diagnosis ruin that for her, or for me.

Sam blogs regularly at samspaceblog.wordpress.com and tweets from @samboreynolds1.