Foster kids get cancer too.
And that can make an already painful and complicated situation even more challenging.
Christine and her husband Michael never planned on becoming foster parents. They were already busy with five biological children. But as the kids got older, friends from their church community suggested fostering. They looked into it, and soon young children were being placed with them. The first two they cared for were eventually reunified with their birth parents. But while one little boy was still in their home, the social worker came by. There was another child. A newborn named Angel. And he was very sick.
“Who are you going to find to take in a sick child?” Christine asked. “You’ll need a family with strong faith.”
“That’s why I’m here,” the social worker admitted.
In Christine and Michael’s household, decisions about taking in new foster kids had become a family affair. Everyone needed to agree, and they all understood that happy endings weren’t guaranteed. But this little one, this baby with cancer, he might truly break their hearts.
Angel had neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that forms solid tumors in the adrenal glands, abdomen, neck, chest, or pelvis. Diagnosed just after birth, Angel would required thirteen weeks of chemotherapy, and surgery to remove his tumor.
None of those dark facts mattered.
“We can’t leave that baby in the hospital,” the family declared. “We have to go get him.”
During Angel’s treatment, his birth mother was allowed supervised visits, and Christine did her best to support both mom and baby. But there are reasons kids end up in foster care. Angel’s social worker and his doctor were convinced that his birth mom couldn’t manage his follow-up care. They also knew that if he relapsed, early detection would likely be his only chance for survival. The courts agreed, and Angel got to stay with Christine and her family.
Christine and Michael became known as foster parents for medically needy children.
Twins Tristin and Travis soon joined the family, along with Desmond, a newborn, who later developed a seizure disorder. When their house filled to capacity, they moved into a bigger one.
And then another child in the foster system was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Violet was fourteen months old when she got sick, older than Angel had been. This age difference meant a longer course of treatment for her — almost two years. And it required a ten-week trip to Boston for inpatient care. Violet’s social worker believed Christine and Michael could manage her arduous medical care.
Once again the family had a sit down.
“Now is the time to tell me this is crazy,” Christine said to the older kids.
But once again their generous spirit came shining through. “We have so much experience,” one daughter said. “How can we not use it?”
Saying yes required the whole family’s commitment. With four young children at home, and a long road ahead for Violet, they had to do it together. And despite all the challenges they faced along the way, Christine loves what the experience brought out in her older kids. How they’ve shown themselves to be capable, generous, and loving. How they’ve maintained their good humor. For a school presentation, one daughter demonstrated the proper technique for flushing out a central venous line.
“We were just a large enough family to pull this off,” Christine says.
Now on the other side of cancer for the second time, Christine reflects on the experience as a foster mom. Both Violet and Angel were still in the system when Christine took over their care. As such, for privacy and legal reasons, the children couldn’t be photographed. They couldn’t be mentioned on social media. Their names couldn’t even be posted on the hospital door. When a Boston Marathon runner sponsored Violet in the race, the family couldn’t publicize any of it. Christine remembers feeling that Violet wasn’t getting credit for her fight.
Angel and Violet were so young that they don’t remember much from their battle with cancer, but Christine worries about the other kids in foster care who do. She worries that they are being denied the powerful support system offered by the cancer community. She worries that when other kids have visits from parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends during treatment, the foster kids are suffering alone. She hopes Angel and Violet can be a face for those children.
Christine hopes TO be a voice for them.
Because foster kids get cancer too.
Angel, 5 + Violet, 2
Diagnosed with Neuroblastoma at Birth + Stage IV Neuroblastoma at 14 Months