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Losing both parents to cancer: “It was the every day moments that meant the most”

Adam Coulson is about to become a dad- he and his wife are expecting a little girl in June. Becoming a parent for the first time can be a scary prospect, especially if your own parents can't be there to give you advice along the way. Adam lost both his mum and his dad to cancer in the last few years. Like many people, cancer has affected his life in a big way.

I asked Adam about his parents and the memories of them that inspire him as he prepares for parenthood.

"I'm seeing him in a new light as I think about what kind of dad I want to be"

"My dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, during my final year at University. He was young, only 53 years old, and only given a year to live. He was an active, sociable and reliable man, so his diagnosis was a big shock to us. Naturally, our family rallied around him and my brother, sister and I spent as much time supporting our parents as possible.

In summer 2006, we hired a house in the Lake District and spent a week together there as a family. We were lucky; it was one of those rare bright and beautiful summers in England. Lots of family and friends dropped by and visited that week. It was a "come one come all" kind of holiday, where the house was never empty. Dad got to really enjoy every moment- fortunately, he was pretty mobile and not too ill at the time.

He even got to come to my graduation at the University of Stirling, although travelling at this point during his cancer was quite an effort on his part. That day was one of the most important moments we celebrated together before he passed away.

Even though the circumstances were difficult, we spent lots of time together that year and it really brought us closer as a family. I remember him being completely stoic and strong throughout the whole process. He broke with his prognosis and was with us until November 2006.

The memories of him are still of course really present. Recently, I've been thinking about my dad and what kind of father he was to me and my brother and sister. I'm almost seeing him in a new light as I think about what kind of dad I want to be.

My brother recently had a daughter, and my sister also has two girls, so parenting styles are often a topic of conversation between us three. Of course, our mum and dad are always in my thoughts, but the prospect of becoming a dad means I am thinking about them in new ways.

The more I think about it, the more I'm slowly realising about why he used to do the things he did, and how he worked so hard to provide for us.

Dad was a kind and dependable man, which inspires me to be the same.


"We'd been through it before as a family and we were prepared with mum, perhaps that made us able to cope a little bit better"

Nine years later, my mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer. This happened a  year after we’d thrown a party for her 60th birthday so, like my dad, she was relatively young and it came as a devastating shock to her.

My mum was active for a long time during her cancer- she used to come up often to visit Edinburgh where my wife and I live. She loved to come to shows at the Edinburgh Festival with us, she was that kind of independent and fun person who was always up for travelling somewhere new. After she lost my dad she decided to go on a few new adventures herself. One time she went snorkelling in Australia, even though she was afraid of water! Her positivity and zest for life still inspires me today. The experience of supporting my dad through his illness meant that my mum was armed with more knowledge of the treatment options available to her.

With mum, our special moments together were a bit different compared to that busy week at the Lake District. With dad, we had a busy house full of people, but with mum, our time together as a family was more about the everyday moments of just enjoying each other’s company. We would just be out on the patio, making dinner together and talking. That's the lesson we took away from the first time with dad's illness: it's those little everyday moments that mean the most.

"Cancer is not something that just affects people of my mum and dad's generation"

Cancer has an epic effect on our lives. I think almost every single one of my family and friends has been affected in some way or another. What's really difficult to think about is that cancer is not something that just affects people of my mum and dad's generation. A friend my age has recently battled with breast cancer. It's immediate and quite terrifying. That's why it's important for me to try and help in any small way I can.

I'm doing three 10k runs this year to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research in memory of my mum Elaine and my dad Dave. My good friend actually gave me the idea- he did the same thing to raise money for research after I lost my mum last year. And I thought- if I'm going to do one run- I might as well do three!"

Help Adam raise money for research by donating to his JustGiving page 

To celebrate the moments in the life that matter, Worldwide Cancer Research have created Dedicate a Moment, a website which lets you choose an image, personalise it and send it to someone you care about. Visit


Communications Manager at Worldwide Cancer Research

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