Cancer and its treatments can affect your fertility so it can be really important to know what options are available to you. Adoption is one of those options. We asked Lesley to tell us about her experience of adopting after cancer.

The 2nd of August is a day I will never forget. In 2010, it was the day I finished chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma. Every year since I have marked this day in some way - in 2013 by getting engaged - and in 2019 by going to the farm with two children. Children who were just three days away from moving into my home and becoming mine. In August 2019, my husband and I adopted two children and I wanted to share my experiences of adoption as a cancer survivor.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Hodgkins lymphoma in 2010 and had six months of ABVD chemotherapy. Fertility was not really discussed much with me. When I asked before treatment started I was told, it was too late to consider as I needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. I was not hugely phased by this at the time as adoption has always been something I had hoped to do one day. Plus, there were so many other things to worry about. After treatment my periods returned within two months and my hormone levels were good, so I was told that I could probably have children in the future.

My desire to get pregnant was not as strong as it had once been

My husband and I met online in 2012 and two of our first conversations were about adoption after cancer. My husband was adopted with his sister as a toddler and adoption was something we both felt strongly about. When we got married, we always knew adoption would play a part in building our family, but we had yet to figure out exactly how. As time moved on and we heard stories of the children waiting to be adopted, I realised that my desire to get pregnant was not as strong as it had once been and that perhaps adoption alone was the right way forward for us. Moving forward with adoption meant that I could take the pressure off my body, which has let me down many times in the past. We decided that by pursuing adoption we were not opening ourselves up to months of heartbreak, disappointment and failure, I could continue with my medications and the pregnancy complications which some of my late effects could cause would not be a concern. But, there was another concern, would a cancer survivor be able to adopt? 

We went to our first information evening in Feb 2019 and decided that PACT (a voluntary agency) were the best fit for us. We were up front with them about my medical history from the start. At the time of applying I was in the midst of a two year struggle with abnormal cells on my cervix, I thought they would make us wait, but they were happy to proceed. Everyone is required to have a medical to show they are fit to adopt, exploring BMI, giving urine samples and having discussions about any existing medical conditions

Having cancer gives you resilience and a good understanding of loss and trauma

This is done by your GP and it's then approved by the adoption agency's medical advisor. We tried to get ahead of the game here and I made sure I had letters from all my consultants stating that my conditions would not affect my ability to be a parent. I had been discharged by my cancer consultant three years earlier, but as we already knew this would be our plan, I had asked this to be added to my discharge letter. This meant that things were not delayed and the medical was passed without any further communications with doctors needed.

The brilliant thing is that adoption agencies actually see having had cancer as a big positive, they're not looking for people who have had easy or perfect lives. Having cancer gives you resilience and a good understanding of loss and trauma. I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) post treatment and this too was not an issues, but I had to demonstrate that I had received counselling and have good coping mechanisms.

After seven months of paperwork, training and interviews, we were approved to adopt two children in March. We have always wanted to take children harder to place. Those over the age of four have a much smaller chance of finding a family.

Nothing beats hearing my child call me Mummy

In April we were matched with a 5-year old boy and 6-year old girl. They had been waiting in foster care for two years and their social worker was close to giving up on finding them a family. We knew they were displaying some challenging behaviours, but also knew we would be well supported with this. In July, we travelled 300 miles from our home to spend 10 days getting to know the children at their foster carers before they moved in with us on 6th August.

I can't say the past four months have been easy, but I can say they have been rewarding. Nothing beats hearing my children call me ‘Mummy’ or saying they love me and all the parents at the school gate are jealous of the massive hugs I get at the end of the school day. We look forward to growing together over the next few years as a forever family.

Reach out to those who've done it

We have always been open with our family and friends about adoption and our reasons behind it. For six years of marriage I had to put up with the constant questioning about when children would come, the assumption that we were struggling to get pregnant and the assumption we didn’t have children because I'd had cancer. But, there is hope and it is all worth it.

If adoption after cancer is something you're considering reach out to those who have done it, speak to your consultants for their recommendation and find an agency who understand and will support you through the process.