Cancer almost stopped me from adopting our three beautiful boys

As soon as the social worker called and uttered the words ‘are you sitting down?’ to me, I just knew what they were going to say. Baby number three, Ben, was on his way so my husband Adrian and I had a decision to make.

We’d already adopted Ben’s two older brothers so we were asked if we’d be able to give a forever home to a third child. The answer to us wasn’t so simple – especially after initially having to put the whole adoption process on hold because of my cancer diagnosis.

But we couldn’t deprive Ben of his brothers, and we had enough love for another child, so we welcomed him into our home too.

Now,I can’t imagine a life without all three of them, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how it all happened.

When Adrian and I first started talking about adoption as a way to have a family, we didn’t really have a plan. We just had a strong feeling that it was the right thing for us to do.

We’d both been married before and had no children between us. For me, it wasn’t for lack of trying, but many rounds of IVF and several miscarriages later, I realised that having children naturally wasn’t something that I would be blessed with.

Adrian was positive about the idea of becoming a dad, but it hadn’t happened for him either. So a couple of years into our relationship, we felt secure enough that we had a lot to offer a child and decided that adoption – and more specifically foster-to-adopt, which looks to place a child straight from hospital with you – was something that we’d really like to try.

We loved the idea of it because it put the child’s needs right at the heart of the adoption process.

We were hopeful that this would allow any potential child to build strong and loving attachments with us – their prospective adoptive parents – from the very start of their little lives.

Once we’d had our initial visits from our allocated social worker, our adoption journey started in 2013. It began with a lot of paperwork – from our early experiences as children, what growing up was like and relationships with our parents, siblings, each other and friends. This took about six months in total to complete.

With all of this completed, our referees interviewed and all of the right boxes checked, we were about to move into a new home around the same time and that’s when we decided to go travelling too.

We spent four weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia and our plan was to have a lovely time travelling together before coming back to the UK and carrying on with our adoption journey – hopefully resulting in a family.

Unfortunately, after we got home, I wasn’t feeling well and found it increasingly difficult to eat or breathe. Initially I wasn’t too concerned, I just knew that I wasn’t feeling quite right, but put it down to something to do with the travelling.

I went to the doctor’s a day or two after our return, only to be whisked straight into hospital. Many tests later – and once malaria had been ruled out – I was told that I had cancer, Splenic Marginal Zone Lymphoma to be exact.

This is a rare non-Hodgkin lymphoma (blood cancer) that was based in my spleen, which is your body’s antibody factory, keeping you safe from disease and infections.

At the point of my diagnosis, I was 41 years old, and in December 2013, our adoption journey was put on hold so I could get well enough for my spleen to be removed.It felt really sad to have to do this, as at the back of my head I was thinking about how old I was and if I was ever going to be well enough again to pass the adoption assessment process.

After my spleen removal surgery, I had six months of chemotherapy and two years of further treatment, which consisted of monthly hospital visits for a further specialist drug treatment and three-monthly checks on my blood count.

I really appreciate that everyone’s cancer recovery journey is different, but from my perspective, I always treated my diagnosis as a minor inconvenience and got on with living a normal life as best I could.

Yes, there were treatment sessions to attend and I sometimes felt tired, but I was lucky enough to be able to work when I felt up to it, and continue to do the things that I loved doing, like visiting the theatre and spending time with friends.

The whole experience made me appreciate living in the moment. Having had to navigate showers and baths with a permanent PICC line in my arm – a long, thin tube inserted through a vein in my arm – made me promise myself that I’d never take anything for granted every again.

Throughout this time, Adrian was a huge support to me. I’m convinced it was a much worse time for him than it was for me. I was ‘in the experience’ not exactly in control of it, but certainly being able to deal with it in my own way.

He was having to observe it from the outside looking in, feeling pretty helpless at points and watching me going through an experience that he just couldn’t make better however much he wanted to.  

When I was finally told that I was in clinical remission in the summer of 2016, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from us both. Clinical remission isn’t full remission.

My condition is chronic, which means that I will never be totally clear of the lymphoma but it was, at that point, and continues to be, at such a low level in my body that it is undetectable. If that’s the best possible result I can achieve, then I’m happy with that.

I’m still monitored every three months and if it comes back, my treatment was a success last time, so that’s the positive position that I hold onto.

The pause for our adoption journey during my recovery felt like the sensible thing to do, but it never felt like the end of it completely – just an inconvenient happening that pushed us off course for a while.

Thinking back, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment we both felt that we were ready to start again. What we do remember is that we both had an overwhelming feeling that it was the right time, and we still had much to offer, so we jumped back into it in the spring of 2016.

Given the time that had elapsed and all that had happened, we had to start stage one again, but this time we had a whole host of stories about our resilience as a couple!

With our life stories re-written and updated, we were ready for stage two of the adoption process. My health was in the spotlight – and rightly so – and I distinctly remember our social worker asking Adrian: ‘What will you do if Kate dies?’ A fair enough question, however I do remember muttering something like, ‘and what if Adrian gets run over by a bus? I don’t have the monopoly on death you know!’

Finally with this stage successfully navigated – with both of us remaining fit and well and no killer buses in sight – we were finally accepted as prospective adopters on 4 July 2016.

It felt like such a momentous occasion, and we duly celebrated with good food and drink and all our family and friends, and then we were plunged into the wait for a suitable child.

In October of that same year, the long-awaited phone call came. A baby boy had been born and the social workers felt that he was a great match for us. His birth mother was sadly not in a position to be able to provide a stable and safe home for him to live in.

We felt a mixture of overwhelming joy, enormous trepidation, and a dash of blind panic. We were going to have a tiny baby and we needed to shop.

We first met our baby son Jamie when he was six weeks old and being cared for by his foster mum. He was so tiny and he snuggled into my shoulder and fell fast asleep.

For both Adrian and I, it was love at first sight. We got to know our baby boy through a series of visits and then finally he was ready to come home with us to stay when he was exactly 10 weeks old.

With foster-to-adopt, the legal process from being foster carers to adoptive parents can be a bit of a bumpy ride. At some point, a birth uncle stepped forward to be assessed and considered as a suitable adoptive parent, but it didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t a happy thought that our dreams of a lovely little family could be ripped apart at any moment.

We tried our best to focus on what was right in front of us – a tiny baby relying on us to care for his every need and not to be distracted by something we could do absolutely nothing about.

As a new mum to a tiny baby, the lucky thing is that you’re too busy and too tired to think about things like ‘will the cancer come back?’ It’s also always been my policy to only worry about things that I have some hope of doing something about, so worrying excessively about my health is something that I try to avoid.

I was also very happy that the brilliant NHS was keeping a close eye on me and so if anything did go wrong, they would be on it straight away.

Thankfully, by the end of that year, the adoption papers were signed and we had the most fantastic celebration day at the court with all our friends and family around us. It was such a special occasion to have everyone together to hear from the Judge (who he, himself, had been adopted) and to welcome Jamie into our family.

Life continued to be fun and just as we were starting to think about a sibling for our two and a half-year-old son, we had another phone call from our social worker. Birth Mum was pregnant and a baby brother was expected. They asked us if we would consider having him as a foster-to-adopt placement.

We didn’t have to think twice and the adoption merry-go-round started again with Michael coming home from hospital when he was 12 days old. We were pretty clear about the process by this point, so it felt familiar and easier the second time around. It also felt amazing to give our two little boys the chance to grow up together as part of our family.

When Michael was around 10 months old, lockdown was in full swing and the adoption process was moving along nicely. Unbelievably, we had another call asking if we’d consider adopting baby number three, Ben.

This felt like a harder decision, but I’m not sure if we were just kidding ourselves. Deep down, I think that we already knew that we were going to say yes to him and we are so pleased that we did.

I think that we would have felt very uneasy being the reason that the boys were separated. We also couldn’t imagine how we’d explain it to Jamie and Michael in the future.

Our decision was therefore based on love and not on things like money and bedrooms. We knew that we’d find a way to give them all a happy and loving home. Ben came home to us from hospital at 12 days old and he is just brilliant.  

When you watch them together, they are such a happy trio and they bring us an inordinate amount of joy. 

Our adoption journey is almost at an end. With two of our boys adopted and the final court hearing for Ben just days away, it feels like we are the luckiest people on the planet. What a great privilege it is to be parents to such a gorgeous trio of boys.

People sometimes say to us that the boys are so lucky to have us as their mum and dad, but we see it in reverse. We could not feel luckier.

It feels like we’ve had so much thrown at us over our adoption journey. My cancer diagnosis could have been the thing that stopped it in its tracks, but it has actually been the thing that has made both of us appreciate life so much more than we ever did previously.

Every day with our boys is a blessing and the chance to see them grow up into fine young men gives me a zest for life that is unquenchable.

Who can say for certain what their future holds? But I see one filled with love, laughter and a lot of noisy fun.

18-23 October marks National Adoption Week, a campaign which aims to highlight and champion all aspects of adoption.

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