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.

Living with incurable cancer: talking to my children

In this guest blog post, Shine community member Beth writes about her story of living with incurable bowel cancer, and shares her experiences of talking about her illness with her young children.


 

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Meet Beth

My name is Beth, and I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 37. I was working as a Paralegal, and about to start the final year of my law degree. This diagnosis could not have come at a worse time, just when I was finally pursuing the career of my dreams and becoming a solicitor. However, it was not my career that came to mind, but my family: my husband and my babies.

In 2017 things went from bad to worse. I was told that the cancer had spread to my lungs and was now incurable. I was given six months to three years to live. My son Joseph was nine at the time, and my daughter Abigail was just seven. How was I going to tell them? What was I going to tell them? How much should I tell them? How much would they understand? How could I make sure I was always a part of their lives? What could I put in place for them emotionally for when I was gone?

I had a lot of questions – mostly about my kids, not medical questions for the doctors. Who to ask? I found charity leaflets about talking to children about cancer, but they were very generic; I felt that there was a lack of support for parents and children in this situation. I wanted to speak to child psychologists, parents who had been through this, adults who had lost a parent as a child – anyone who could give me insight into the best things to do for my children. in the end I found help, ideas and support from my followers on my Facebook page. I asked if anyone had lost a parent at a young age and if so, what had helped them. Then the ideas came flooding in.

When I was first told I had cancer, we told the kids that I had some bad cells and the doctors were going to take them out, meaning that I would be in hospital for a bit. After my initial operation, we explained that I would need to have some medicine to kill off any tiny bad cells that the doctors could not see and help prevent any more bad cells growing. We explained that the medicine might make me feel ill. The progression of my cancer meant that I needed to break the news that the bad cells were back, the doctors could not cure me and – the bit I still needed to get my head around – I was going to die (but we had no idea when).

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Beth and her family

I talked to Richard, my husband. We planned to sit the children down and talk as a family, but not about time frames. Unfortunately, we never did get to sit down and do this. Life has a funny way of taking these things out of your hands.

I did tell Joseph and Abigail, but it was one afternoon when I was snuggled up on the sofa watching TV with them. An advert about cancer came on and Joseph turned to me and said ‘you had cancer didn’t you, Mummy? But you don’t have it anymore.’ My heart sank. We had never used the ‘cancer’ word, but he knew. Yet that was not what got me. Yes, I was going to have to shatter their world, and it would have to be now because I could not lie to them. The conversation went something like this:

 

Me: Well, you know that medicine to try and stop it coming back?

J&A in unison: Yes, Mummy.

Me: It looks like the medicine didn’t work as well as we thought, and I do still have cancer.

A: But Mummy, cancer can kill people.

J: But the doctors will make Mummy better, Abi.

Me: Unfortunately, the doctors can’t cure me, but they are going to do whatever they can to keep me here with you for as long as possible.

A: Are you going to die, Mummy?

Me: We all die one day, but I will probably die sooner than we would like. You know that if there is anything you want to ask me, you can. We can talk about anything.

There were lots of tears and cuddles, but oddly no questions – well, not then. A few weeks later my daughter, who is very matter-of-fact, asked ‘Mummy, will you last until Christmas?’. I am still not sure if she was more concerned about her presents – the man in a red suit does not get all the credit in our house…!

Both children made us promise that we would tell them whenever we got any new information. Joseph wanted to know about scan results and treatments. They seemed reassured by being included in what was going on. Just over a year on, we still have no idea how long I have left, but we take each day as it comes, and do everything we can to make as many memories together as possible.

We talked about making memory boxes, something they would have to keep their memories of me and our lives together as fresh as possible. The children put things into their boxes that remind them of something we have done together. It could be a photo of us together, anything that means something to them. I hope these boxes will help them to connect to me through physical things they can hold, touch, see, and smell.

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Dreaming about holidays

I am also doing things that the children do not know about: for example, I have written their birthday cards all the way up to the age of 21. This was tough and I cried a lot, but it was important to me. I set up an email address for each of them and I send them emails. I include a summary of something we have done together, what I enjoyed most, and a picture or two. I bought some books that ask questions about my life, and about their lives. I am in the process of completing these books and trying to answer all the questions.

I plan on recording videos and writing letters for special occasions. My husband can give them if he feels appropriate. The most important thing, though, is to be there for them right now and make the most of the time we do have together.

I am currently on a holiday booking spree…

 

You can learn more about Beth and get in touch with her via her blog, Facebook page, or Instagram/Twitter: @bowelwarrior. 

If you would like more support about talking to children about cancer, you can…

 

How I told my five-year old I had cancer…

In this post, Shine member Steph tells us how she talked to her son about her diagnosis. What are your experiences of talking to young children about cancer? Please share this post and add a comment if you like.


When I was diagnosed with cancer in July 2016, my first thoughts were ‘I just need to get through this for him’ – ‘him’ being my nearly five-year old, Theo. We’d arranged a fantastic party for his fifth birthday and all I was concerned about was being there for it.

As it happened, the first part of my treatment was booked in for a week after the party. This was such a relief. The sun shined brightly that day and it couldn’t have gone better.

I knew, though, that I had to tell him about my cancer because there were going to be things he’d see, and things that would come as a surprise to him. Perhaps everything he was used to might change. Who knew at this point?

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Steph and Theo

I read a book that was written to help you tell your children about a cancer diagnosis, and I was genuinely saddened by it. It talked about the family getting angry and the diagnosis not being the child’s fault, and about parents getting cross but telling the child not to blame themselves. Then there was a picture of utter chaos: dad was in the kitchen in his pyjamas, there was a knife in the fish tank, the dog was eating the kids’ cereal and the kitchen floor was flooded. It was absolute carnage – it simply looked to me like daddy wouldn’t be able to cope. This was not at all what I wanted Theo to see or understand. The book and the tale it told just really didn’t work for me.

A different approach

I wanted something that said, ‘no matter what happens, Mummy is doing her absolute best for you, and doing everything in her power to be OK’. So I decided to write a poem. I needed it to be personal to Theo to help him understand that the future might look different for a while, and that Mummy wasn’t going to be well.

Dear Theo,

Mummy has written this for you, it’s a rhyme, 

And wants to read it to you from time to time.

For now, mummy does feel a little sick,

But a cuddle from you would do the trick.

Sometimes mummy will stay in hospital for the night,

The nurses will take good care of her, she’ll be alright.

You know you take medicine from a spoon,

Mummy has medicine too which’ll make her better soon.

The doctors are doing all they can to make her well,

Why not even wish her a get well soon spell?

Mummy is trying her absolute best,

But sometimes she needs a little rest.

You are all she thinks about day and night,

And dreams about you and her flying your kite.

As always be the loving person you’ve always been,

You’re the bravest boy mummy has ever seen.

Theo’s reaction

The first time I read it to Theo, he smiled and said ‘wow, it rhymes!’. I knew, though, that he’d heard the underlying messages. I was lucky too that when Theo was with his dad, he’d read it to him as well. Theo heard the poem over and over again, and even asked for it sometimes. I think it prepared him for the next few months and taught him that there was likely to be a fair amount of change coming.

As changes were on the horizon, I told him when they were going to happen: a stay in hospital, surgery (and therefore he’d have to be extra careful and not jump on me) and losing my hair. Theo never really asked any questions and dealt with it all very matter-of-factly – a little like me, I think.

Theo really didn’t like my wig though and wanted me to just ‘be me’ and not hide behind it. My hair is growing back now, and the other day he asked if I could shave it again as that’s what he preferred! It struck me that no matter what, children love you unconditionally – and even if I’m feeling different or unusual, to him I’m normal and I’m his mummy.

I also visited Theo’s school as I didn’t know how he would be affected by my illness and if it might come out in class. The school were fantastic: they set up an Emotional Learning Support Assistant for Theo, with whom he had a chat with once a week. It seemed that no matter what was happening, I was still his mummy, and he simply told them what was going on at that point in time. It gave me a great peace of mind to know that the staff were looking out for him when I wasn’t able to do so.

Looking back

I find my poem hard to read now as it brings back so many difficult memories. At the time, my priority was to make sure that Theo would be okay, and that I got through everything as easily as I could for him.

I’m so glad that I didn’t go in all guns blazing with that book, and that I took some time to think about what was right for us.

If you like the poem or think it would work for you, too, then feel free to read it to your children.

If you’re affected by any of the issues that Steph has discussed, you can join our private Facebook group and find peer support.

If you’re free on 19th May, join us at Shine Connect 2018, our annual conference. We’re having a session specifically for parents going through cancer who want to support their children. More information at shineconnect.co.uk.

You can also look at the list of useful organisations on our website

Ten ways to help a friend coping with cancer

We often post articles on Twitter and Facebook about what to say to a friend or family member who has cancer, or how you might help them. We’ve also noticed that these often get a huge number of hits! That got us wondering how the members of our growing Shine community have been helped by family and friends when they’ve been ill – so we asked them! We got some great responses and we’ve summarised them below. Have a friend in need? Take a look below and see if we can inspire you!


Message1. Let them know you’re thinking of them

“One of my friends sent me a card every week that I was in the hospital – and I was in there for a long time.  It was so nice to receive a surprise in the mail and to hear all her news.  I’m not sure she knows how much it meant to me but I’ve kept all the cards as a reminder of what a great friend she is”.

When you’re ill, sometimes just knowing that you’re still part of the land of the living is all you need. A text, a card, a phone call – no matter how brief – can make a huge difference to someone who hasn’t been out and about much, especially if you’re clear that you don’t expect a reply.  Being ill can be very lonely so knowing that your friends and family are still thinking of you can make a huge difference.

2. Cook

“A friend bought 12 homemade freezer meals at two separate points during chemo. Even though I didn’t feel like eating most of the time at least I knew there was something quick, easy and on hand for my husband and daughter. I was very touched at her kindness and effort”.

If you’re a whizz icookn the kitchen, there’s nothing quite like a homemade meal to perk up someone who isn’t feeling great. And even if they don’t feel like eating because treatment has done a number on their appetite, you might be easing their stress by making sure other members of their family have something quick and easy to eat when the hunger pangs hit.

3. Clean

cleaningNot big on cooking? How about cleaning? A lot of our Shine members mentioned that they’d had friends who had popped in to clean the bathroom and kitchen, or put fresh sheets on the bed (and do the laundry) while they flaked out in front of the tv.  There’s nothing quite like clean sheets and a nice fresh towel – and it doesn’t take very long either!

4. Hang out

“For me, I was happy just to have people to keep me company. I think as a young lad people don’t know what to say and some people found it easier to avoid me.  I was happiest when people just came round and played computer games or chatted, especially when I couldn’t do much else beyond letting them in!”

super-1138462_1920Your mate may not be up for a heavy night down the pub, but heading over to his or hers with a movie, a computer game or even a pack of cards can really boost someone’s spirits. Something that doesn’t require a lot of mental or physical energy – like hanging on the sofa – but keeps them involved in the world around them is often really appreciated.

 

 

5. Get them out and about

“I went to Glastonbury festival after my treatment and all my friends had to take it in turn to carry all my belongings and helping me hobble around. I felt guilty about ruining their fun, but in reality I genuinely felt they were happy to have me there.  This reassurance was enough for me.”

We get it – being around really sick people can be scary. But helping a friend by taking them out, even if they’re going to need extra support, can help them feel like they’re still participating in all the things that they should be doing.  Keep in mind that they might not be able to walk long distances or stay out late, but if you can pick them up and drive them to a restaurant, or help them carry their stuff without making them feel bad, you’re more than half way to making their day!

6. Entertain the kids

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Let’s face it, kids can be exhausting at the best of times. If your friend has little ones, why not take them out for an afternoon or come over and cook them dinner while your friend has a nap? If they’re old enough, an afternoon movie or a trip to the park could give your friend a much needed break.  Or invite your friend and the kids over. You entertain them while your friend chills out with a cup of tea!

7. Head to the hospital

Something that everyone with cancer knows is that it’s time consuming – and hospital appointments can take ages.  If your friend is spending more time with the nurses and doctors than his/her mates, why not offer to keep them company? Ask if they’d like someone to take them to the hospital, pick them up, or hang out in between.  Having someone to gossip to can be a great distraction from the blood tests, scans and doctor chats.

8. Walk their dog

12376834_10156672952605263_2785600398398241687_nDoes your friend have a pooch? Why not ask if you can help walk the dog a few times a week? If your friend is happy for you to do it, see if you can get a few other friends together and organise a walking roster. On a good day, your friend might just want company for the walk. On a bad day they’ll be glad to have someone do the walking (and poo scooping!).

9. Organise a treat

“One of the most helpful things was planning something nice for my husband and I to do or go for a treat on the week before my next chemo. These did not cost much or sometimes nothing at all but it was something to focus on in the rotten days”.

“My friends always organised a get together on “chemo eve”, which was lovely.”

Cancer can be expensive! Not only are you missing work, but you’re spending your money heading to and from the hospital, on parking charges, and on extra blankets and heating to keep you warm. If you’re looking for a simple way to cheer someone up, why not plan a night out to the cinema or a comedy show? Book tickets when you know they’re free and either take them yourself or organise for others to go with them. (One minor note of caution: if you can, check if there’s cancer in the movie at all. You’d be surprised how many people in movies die of cancer. It’s not what you need when you’re going through treatment!).

10. Help them celebrate

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Having the energy for Christmas, Easter or a birthday can be tough when you’re coping with a cancer diagnosis.  Does your friend need help buying a tree or getting the decorations out? It can be hard for people to know what they need but asking specifically how their planning for a holiday is coming can open up whole new possibilities for help! Buy the Easter eggs, plan the hunt, decorate the tree, light the candles, buy the cake….the options are practically endless.

Got more ideas? What have we missed? Let us know! Comment below or Tweet us @shinecancersupp

 

 

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.