When I began fostering in 2009 I could not have imagined how it would change my life in so many ways.
It was in February 2011, after my marriage had ended, that I found myself on a TACT (The Adolescent and Children's Trust) foster training course, seated next to a knowledgeable and cheerful single foster dad called Dave. We instantly got on and together we got through the course.
Not long after that I had to be re-assessed as a single foster carer, so I could continue caring for the young person with me. The process seemed daunting, so my TACT social worker suggested I contact a fellow carer, who was going through the same reassessment, for support. That carer turned out to be the very same Dave I had met on the course. We exchanged supportive emails and both successfully got through the assessment.
In October, I attended another TACT course and was very pleased to see Dave there as I had become fond of him. The following weekend we went on a date, and that was it, BAM!
The first three years of our relationship were part time as we lived 60 miles apart and had kids and foster children to consider. My fosterling moved on in April 2012 so I resigned from TACT to continue my job in a solicitors. I commuted three times a week to be with Dave when my children were at their dad's. Dave still had his fosterlings, and at weekends and holidays we spent time as a large "family" and went to bonfire displays, days out and family parties. We had many challenges to face with the kids falling out, vying for attention, growing up, getting into scrapes and the odd personality clash, but we worked hard at getting through those times to do the best that we could for them. Our relationship just got stronger.
In October 2014, Dave, who had cancer several years before, was re-diagnosed. We were told it had spread to several parts of his body and to "enjoy the next 12 months". Devastating news, but we were given hope with a drug trial that was available. We decided not to tell the children until after the treatment. Dave had been fostering the same children for 11 years, and knowing them so well, he felt they would find it difficult to cope, especially as we didn't know ourselves what was going to happen.
Dave made a bucket list of things to do "just in case". The first was for us to get married. We did it three weeks later in November, wearing jeans, with close family and friends, including our 'Cilla Black' TACT social worker who had brought us together. Our families pulled together to make sure the children were none the wiser about the illness.
Dave started treatment on 2 January 2015. By then, the older fosterling had moved on so we decided once treatment finished, Dave and his remaining foster child - 14 year old J, would move to Manchester so we could properly begin our married life, be a family and deal with whatever was coming together.
In March, a family member looked after J, while we struck off number two on the bucket list - a three-night honeymoon in Venice. Shortly after, his results came back and his tumours had shrunk and were almost undetectable. Happy days! We started our life together on a wonderfully positive note.
With the children now living under the same roof there were definitely problems and issues to iron out but we managed. By July, we had a new school for J, everyone was settled into a routine, and we got on with living life as a family. We had a holiday to Majorca in August, the first time J had been abroad and the first time we had all been away together. So again, there were challenges and clashes but nothing we couldn't handle together.
Our first Christmas as a family came and went and life was good. However, in March 2016 our world came crashing down when Dave found another lump. For the next few months, Dave tried a new treatment which seemed to work, until more lumps appeared. It was a rollercoaster, but he never complained. He was such a committed step and foster dad, remaining strong so that the kids had no idea what he was going through.
In December, Dave's eyesight started failing and just after Christmas we were told that the cancer had spread to his brain. We knew it was time to tell J and naturally he was devastated. Dave had been a father to him for 13 years since he was just two. We played the harsh reality down a little, but also tried to be realistic to prepare him for what would eventually happen.
Dave looked well during treatment, no-one would have known anything was wrong apart from him wearing an eye patch. He called himself Captain Dave Sparrow, still always being hopeful, still making us laugh.
In March 2017, Dave deteriorated suddenly and within 24 hours we were told nothing more could be done. I brought him home. Our two families came together and stayed at the house and between us all, we supported J, the kids and each other. We spoke about whether J wanted to be there when Dave passed, which he did, so we supported him during Dave's final hours and because Dave's sister is a nurse we had the medical answers to his questions. More than ever, J just needed to know he was safe, secure and supported.
Dave passed away peacefully with us all around him on 31 March. He was the most amazing man I have ever met. With regard to J, Dave dedicated every inch of his being to giving him the best of all his time, guidance, laughs and love and I am carrying on Dave's legacy, to ensure that J grows into the fantastic man his foster dad was.