Without Barnardo’s, I wouldn’t have my family

This Father’s Day Brad Owens will be celebrating the joy of being a dad to his two adoptive sons – and being free from the shadow of cancer. Three years ago Brad Owens, 36, and his husband Tim Sunderland, 47, adopted two brothers, through Barnardo’s.

The boys were three and five and had been in long-term foster care.

Then in February 2017 Brad was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

After a gruelling year of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy – plus parenting two boisterous boys – Brad received the news that he was in remission just days before he ran the Marathon for a second time for Barnardo’s in April 2018.

‘I wanted to thank Barnardo’s’

“I wanted to run the Marathon again to show my gratitude for all the help and support Barnardo’s have given us through the adoption process and beyond, during my illness,” says Brad, a customer relations manager from Mile End, East London.

“This past year has been a challenge and with the rubbish of going through cancer treatment, I wanted to turn my negative year into a positive.

“Without Barnardo’s, I wouldn’t have my family and without their support, going through treatment would have been more difficult than it already was.

“I wanted to get back my health – and training was a big part of that – and show my kids that cancer is nothing to be scared about. ”

Brad’s sons, now aged eight and seven, were there to cheer him on at the Barnardo’s station and provide the much needed boost he needed to cross the finishing line in unexpectedly sweltering heat. With two friends, Oliver and Steven, Brad raised £7,000 to help the children’s charity support the UK’s most vulnerable children.

‘Barnardo’s have always been so positive and inclusive’

When they decided they wanted to be parents, Brad and Tim approached two local authorities about adoption, without success, before attending a Barnardo’s open evening. Buoyed up by meeting and talking to adoptive parents and social workers, they began the adoption process with Barnardo’s.

“Barnardo’s has always felt so inclusive and welcoming at every stage – from the initial talks to activity days we go to now with the kids,” he says. “We’ve never felt anything but positivity. Whether you’re gay, straight, single, they just want the best outcome for the children and families.”

Brad and Tim were accepted as prospective adoptive parents after being questioned on every aspect of their lives and relationship together. “The effort Barnardo’s puts into potential adopters is so impressive,” says Brad.

But twice they faced disappointment after two pairs of children they hoped might come to them were not matched. “Just when we were beginning to despair, our family finder Nicky showed us the boys’ profiles and we were so excited, wanting to know more about them than the one paragraph,” recalls Brad. The couple got to know the boys – until it was time to bring them home and start family life together.

‘We went from a couple to a family of four overnight’

“Our world flipped on its head,” says Brad. “We went out for on Friday night for dinner together like any couple without a care in the world, met friends over the weekend and then drove up to start introductions on Monday morning – and our lives changed totally.

“When you have a baby, you have nine months to prepare and you learn to read your baby’s needs and grow with them. But we had two traumatised little boys with their own distinct personalities, who need constant love and attention. Looking back on those early days it was quite traumatic for all of us and called on all our strengths.

“My advice to any new adoptive parents would be to take each day as a time and make sure you have time to yourselves as a couple, to get a little breathing space – even if you spend the whole time talking and thinking about your kids.”

Initially the boys called them ‘Daddy Brad’ and ‘Daddy Tim’. “For me the most magical time was when our youngest dropped the Brad and just started calling me Daddy and came to me for a cuddle and said ‘I love you’.

“He’s a gorgeous little boy but there are still times when he had huge outbursts, kicking and clawing, but he’s gradually learning to control his anger and he is also very cuddly and loves hugs.

“He likes his own space, building Lego or playing with his doll’s house, whereas our eldest needs to be around people. They’re both very active and love climbing trees to terrifying heights and skateboarding. If they’re outdoors, they’re happy.”

Being a parent – and ill

In January 2017 the whole family had been passing round coughs and colds but the following month Brad realised the lump in his neck he’d assumed was just a swollen gland was still there. After being referred by his concerned GP, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and began treatment immediately. Surgery, then rounds of chemo and radiotherapy, left him exhausted with the added worry of school pick-up times, meal making and all the practicalities of bringing up two boys.

“It was not the funnest year, let’s just say, but through it all the boys and Tim kept me going,” he says. “Olivette, our Barnardo’s social worker, had supported us all the way through the adoption process coming with us to the adoption panel and the court when the adoption order was granted, and she stayed in contact all the way through my illness. I was very touched that she phoned when I was sick and sent postcards. The boy’s social workers had dropped them like a lead balloon the moment they were placed with us.”

After 10 happy years in London, Brad and Tim have made the momentous decision to return to Australia in September with the intention of surrounding their boys with family.

If you would like to give a child a loving family and would like to know more about adoption or fostering, you can find out more at Barnardo’s Adoption.