A foster carer from Gwynedd who’s devoted almost 40 years of her life raising a vulnerable youngster with severe physical and mental disabilities is in the running for a top award.
Rhian Evans, 58, refused to give up on Anthony when he came to live with her family as an 11-month-old tot and helped him learn to walk despite doctors’ warnings he would never be mobile.
Then, when Anthony was 31 and diagnosed with an aggressive form of testicular cancer which had spread to his bowel and bladder, the grandmother-of-18 fought to ensure he received treatment vital for his survival.
Now, just months after he received the all clear following a five-year cancer battle, Rhian is celebrating for a second time after being shortlisted for the Promoting Fulfilled Lives Award at this year’s Wales Care Awards.
The national awards, run by Care Forum Wales, acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.
Rhian, from Clynnogfawr, Caernarfon, who raised Anthony, 37, as a son along with her own three children; Sion, 21, Gilwyn, 37, and Rebeca, 40, will now attend a glittering awards ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff on November 17 which will be hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV adverts.
Rhian, a former school cook, said: “I was shocked to be nominated for the award but I feel very proud.
“I would never have had my life any other way. Anthony’s brought so much to our family.
“We go out and sometimes other children stare or make nasty comments but our own grandchildren are totally different. They understand people with disabilities. They’ve grown up very compassionate and it’s made them better people. We all look at life differently.”
Rhian, whose grandchildren age from four months to 26, fostered Anthony until he reached the age of 18. As a vulnerable adult, he continues to live at Rhian’s home receiving support and she is now registered as a Shared Lives Enabler with the Gwynedd and Anglesey Shared Lives Scheme.
“Anthony was 11 months old when he came to me. He was severely disabled both physically and mentally,” she said.
“We had two children ourselves at the time – one of which was exactly the same age as Anthony – and I was still only 20 but I just couldn’t give up on him. It was meant to be.
“He instantly became a part of my family. Doctors said he would never be able to walk and told us to just make him as comfortable as possible but I was determined that I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“My children encouraged him. They grew up together and know no different.
“We encouraged him to do everything he could; feeding himself, getting dressed, going to the toilet, and he managed. We wanted to make him as independent as possible.
“Anthony’s always called us mum and dad. I’m so proud of how it’s worked out but I never think about it because Anthony has always been a part of our lives.
“My parents always fostered children so I was brought up around other children. They were very caring people and I guess it’s in the blood.”
Rhian and her husband Elwyn, 70, a retired roofer, were devastated five years ago when Anthony was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 31.
“The doctors told us to take him home and were not planning to treat him. We couldn’t understand the decision at all,” said Rhian.
“Although it was never said we felt the decision was entirely influenced by his disabilities.
“I just wanted him to be treated – he deserved the same rights as everybody else. We ended up seeing another consultant and while we were talking I broke down. Anthony reached for a tissue to wipe my tears at which point the consultant realised he did have feelings.”
As a result of the consultation, doctors agreed to treat and Anthony received several rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. Although he didn’t understand he had cancer he knew he was ill.
“He was really poorly at the time. It was very difficult as a family but I was so determined he would get better,” said Rhian.
“This year he got the all clear – something we never thought would happen. He’s fought so hard through everything.
“He’s such a happy, loving man. He loves his brothers and sister. We have 18 grandchildren and he absolutely loves them. He’s always been a part of their lives and he always will be.
“He’s very funny and can be quite cheeky. Although he’s 37 he’s only the size of a seven-year-old. He doesn’t talk but he says ‘mam’ and he communicates through body language and he can make himself understood quite clearly.”
Since becoming ill Anthony is unable to walk unaided and holds on to the furniture for support but his family insist he will be back to his best in the future.
“We have a battle to get him back to where he was but I will get there,” said Rhian. “We’ve done it before.”
Nominating Rhian for the award, Lowri Matulla, registered manager at Gwynedd and Anglesey Shared Lives Scheme, said: “Anthony is recognised by Rhian and Elwyn, her husband, as part of their family and participates in all aspects of family life.
“Without Rhian fighting for Anthony to have treatment he would not be alive today.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.
He said: “The event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.
“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.
“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.
“It is a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”