When 33-year-old Claudia Connor lost her reproductive organs to early stage ovarian cancer in 2007, her dreams of being a mother were shattered.
“The hurt was terrible,” says Claudia. “I told myself not to hold onto the dream of being a Mom though deep down I knew I would fulfill that role one way or another – through being an aunt or someone important in the lives of my friends’ children.”
Four years after her diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for stage 1c ovarian cancer, Claudia and her husband Sean became the joyous parents of baby Nathan through an adoption in Colombia, where Claudia’s parents were born.
“Nathan is now my son…he is my heart, my family, he is part of me,” says Claudia, Ovarian Cancer Canada’s National Walk of Hope Coordinator, who returns to work this summer following parental leave.
Claudia encourages young women who have lost their fertility to early stage ovarian cancer not to lose hope of realizing their dream of motherhood. “Give yourself the time to allow your body, your heart and soul to heal, and take the time to rebuild yourself. If you feel deep down that you are destined to be a mother, you will be.”
Acknowledging that adoption is not for everyone, Claudia says it is a rigorous process that requires the support of a woman’s partner, family and friends. While some countries will not consider adoptive parents with a history of cancer, others require medical proof that there has been no evidence of disease for a number of years. In Claudia’s case, Colombia needed medical certificates from her oncologist and family doctor indicating that there had been no sign of cancer in three years.
Claudia also points out that adoption is one of a number of options for women and their partners. She witnessed her friend Cynthia Bradburn become a parent through harvesting of her eggs, in vitro fertilization and freezing of embryos prior to surgery for ovarian cancer, followed several years later by surrogacy.
“We had tried a similar procedure but we weren’t successful,” Claudia says. “Just because you can’t give birth doesn’t mean you can’t be a mother. The opportunity will come.”
For Claudia and Sean, their opportunity involved months of paper work, undergoing psychological testing, home studies and taking courses on parenting.
“If you have any doubts about being a parent, going through an adoption process will uncover them – most definitely.”
For Claudia and Sean, becoming parents has been the realization of a long-standing dream. They had been planning for pregnancy when Claudia’s ovarian cancer was discovered and their lives were thrown off track. Now they say that being parents is even better than they could have imagined.
“I didn’t know what being a Mom would be like,” says Claudia. “I thought I was happy with my life before – with Sean, great family, friends and co-workers. But when Nathan came into the picture, my happiness increased one-hundred fold! He makes every single day amazing.”
Claudia and Sean became instant parents on Canada Day, July 1, 2011 in Bogotá, Colombia, the day they picked up their son from an orphanage. They were accompanied by a van load of relatives including Claudia’s mother and Sean’s parents from Canada, and Claudia’s extended family who gave them a home base in Colombia while the legalities were finalized over the summer.
When Claudia and Sean first saw Nathan, he was in a swing chair in the orphanage nursery. “He was just looking up, taking everything in, looking at our faces. He was the most beautiful, perfect baby I had ever seen – just the sweetest thing,” she recalls. “I touched him and he just melted into me. I didn’t want to let him go. Sean finally said, ‘Okay, I need to hold him!’”
Back at her uncle’s house, Claudia and Sean went about learning the practical aspects of parenting a baby with guidance from Claudia’s mother. After two weeks, Sean returned to Canada for work while Claudia and Nathan stayed behind for court dates, Nathan’s passport and visa. Sean came back for another week later in the summer, and finally Claudia and Nathan returned to Canada on September 4.
One of Claudia’s great joys was getting home in time to attend the Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope, where she saw her friend Cynthia and met baby Evan for the first time. “I was so elated for Cynthia and there we were together with our sons – after all we had both been through.”
Photo: Nathan, Claudia, Cynthia Bradburn and Evan at the Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope last September
“That walk was a dream come true for me,” says Claudia.
“Having Nathan be part of the walk, it put all my worlds together. I remember being at the walk when I just finished my treatment and being thankful for just being alive and being able to walk five kilometers with my family – never allowing myself to think that one day I would actually be at the walk with my own child.”