Heather Jose: ‘The greatest gift cancer gave to me …’

Heather Jose

Heather Jose

A note from your host: “This week, a lot of readers have been talking about a photo I shared on my Facebook account of my adopted son as we celebrated his 13th birthday. Along with the photo, I wrote: “The greatest gift cancer gave to me was the opportunity to adopt.” The moment I posted that line, friends began asking for more of the story. So, today, here is the story of how we got Ty.”

“Would you consider adopting a baby boy from India?”

This question led me to my son. I had sent an inquiry to several adoption agencies asking them if they would work with me given my status as a breast-cancer survivor. I got many responses, but this one sparked my interest.

Once I had finally talked my husband into adopting, I started exploring countries. India hadn’t really been on my list, but after a few conversations I was hooked.

In 2001, India had a low incidence of drug and alcohol use. The orphanages were generally very well staffed and children were paired with ayahs so that they could bond. And, because of concerns about caste and religion, many Indian families would not consider adopting even a perfect child.

We began our search in January 2001 with all of the paperwork and home studies. By spring we were moving right along and ready to be matched. Then the government in India shut down all of the adoptions in the Southern part of the country due to corruption. Fast forward to September 2001—does that ring a bell? The world became a whole lot smaller and the feud between India and Pakistan intensified.

Ty age 18 months within the first week that he was homeFortunately, in January of 2002 my agency established relations with a small orphanage in Pune and we were matched with a little boy. He was the first boy they had had in a long time. His birthday was January 22, 2001, right about the time we starting praying for him.

The adoption process was delayed until summer by red tape—then more red tape. My mom and I arrived in Mumbai during a monsoon. My husband stayed home, partly because we didn’t know when we would travel and partly because we didn’t want to bring our daughter Sydney. Ty and I met the next day at the orphanage. We were brought there by a social worker. Upon our arrival we were introduced to the person in charge and ushered in to an outdoor space to have a warm Coke. I remember thinking, “how fast can I drink this so I can meet him?”

With the coke gone, I was able to meet my son.

He was beautiful. He was terrified.

They put him in my arms and he kept looking away. His ayah kept pointing to me and saying something akin to momma. I just shushed and rocked him. Next, there was a little ceremony involving flowers, sweets, and bindis. And then we were off!

They had given us a banana in case he was hungry and we left in a hired car. He loved the car. Since we didn’t have a car seat Ty stood on my lap and held on to the handle above the door. The social worker stopped and helped us get a few groceries that Ty might like and we returned to the hotel.

We spent the next couple of days doing nothing at the hotel. It was great. Ty was wary at first but within 24 hours he called me “Mama.” We played with the toys I had brought and spent a lot of time looking out of the window that overlooked a busy street. At any given moment you could see oxen, cars, rickshaws, children in school uniforms, or women in beautiful saris. My mom would reach her arms out to Ty and say, “Up?”

Soon he was calling her “Up”!

After Pune we traveled by plane to Delhi where we visited the embassy. We were the first people to come through for an adoption since 9/11 with our specific guide. We tried to do a little sightseeing, but I quickly decided against it given the 108-degree heat with an 18-month-old who was still getting to know me. I enjoyed our time in the hotel room bowling with water bottles and answering the phone endlessly.

The trip home took forever. I may have not gone through labor to have Ty in my arms, but 18 hours on a plane was no picnic. We arrived in Detroit out of diapers  and completely exhausted.Facebook photo of Ty by Heather Jose

My husband was at the airport to meet us along with our daughter and in-laws. Ty was even more terrified of my husband. He hadn’t met many men in India. He wouldn’t let Larry near him.

Fortunately, Ty adjusted amazingly well. He hit the ground running. After getting over his fear of Larry he became Larry’s shadow. I have no doubt that Ty was meant to be with us.

Now, about that line I typed into Facebook recently: I would never say that cancer is a “gift,” but cancer did change the path of my life and because of it I have had experiences that never would have been. I can honestly say that I had never thought about adoption prior to cancer.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without Ty.

What do we carry with us—when we give up the family home?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

My parents built the house where they raised our family in 1968. Through the years they hosted many family events and even more impromptu gatherings of friends. The house was perfect for these things with its large living area, inside and out.

Dad loved innovation (and was a little crazy). He installed a switch in the master bedroom to turn on a plug in the kitchen. This would be the predecessor to the coffee maker with a timer. He could turn on the switch and have his coffee ready when he went downstairs. They kept adding things over the years: a pole barn, a pool, a two-story tree house, and a sand volleyball court.

It was a great place to grow up.

It was home.

WHAT IS HOME? To my family, home is gatherings like this scene of dominoes after a family dinner. For poet Ted Kooser, it's a House Held Up By Trees.

WHAT IS HOME? To my family, home is gatherings like this scene of dominoes after a family dinner. For poet Ted Kooser, it’s a House Held Up By Trees.

Nearly 45 years later, Mom lives alone in the family home. Dad passed away in January. My brothers and I settled in towns other than our hometown and aren’t close enough to regularly visit. It’s a pretty big place for one person and upkeep is ongoing. Though there are lots of good memories, Mom is ready to move. We all agree that the house needs children running through it.

Have you experienced this emotional milestone in your family?

Many writers have tried to describe these powerful ties we feel toward a family home. Frederick Buechner wrote a whole book, The Longing for Home, to explore these deep stirrings within us. As we become adults ourselves and our own children grow up, he writes, “we find ourselves remembering the one particular house that was our childhood home. We remember the books we read there. We remember the people we loved there.”

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser wrote a wonderful children’s book about the powerful connections we feel to family homes through the generations: House Held Up by Trees. In one of Kooser’s best-known poems, he says that it was so hard for him to help his aging mother move away from their family home that he transplanted her iris bulbs into his own garden and, each spring, the iris blooms help him to remember their former home.

In our family, Mom seems ready to make a big move now. After considering all of the areas where her kids live, she bought land this summer on our lake and is planning to build. Geographically this puts her in the middle of all of us since one brother lives north and the other lives south of us. We are happy to have her closeby.

In this process we have found that there is a wide range of opinions about leaving the family home. Some people are astounded that Mom would consider moving; others encourage her to move on with the next chapter.

Mom would acknowledge that there are a whole lot of memories associated with what will forever be “home” for many of us—yet she knows it is time to move on.

She wants to be a part of more memories by being closer to her family—rather than staying in a house that is no longer a gathering place. A house is a house she would say; it’s people who make a place … a home.


Please, share your stories and ideas. This is such an important—and often difficult—challenge for so many of our families. I’m sure many of you have stories like mine or like Ted Kooser’s. I hope you will add a Comment below or email us at [email protected] about an experience you’ve had—or an idea you’ve found helpful, like moving some iris bulbs.

And, if you enjoyed this column, you also will enjoy Debra Darvick’s column this week, called Home Making: The Sisterhood of My Traveling Remnant.

Calling Dad or Mom in a panic? One Dad says …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

This week, please welcome one of our most popular caregiving authors, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt. He researched and wrote our signature book: A Guide for Caregivers. Last week, I wrote about the need for caregivers to take breaks, from time to time. And, I am. I’ll write again, soon.

As a parent myself, I love this column by Ben. It’s tempting to enjoy that great feeling when people think you’re a super hero, but real life always intervenes …

‘I’m Only a Father’


Panic ButtonAFTER our younger daughter graduated from college with a degree in interior design, she was hired by Pottery Barn to help design and setup stores across our country. When she wasn’t traveling to other cities, she would spend a day or two at stores in the mid-Atlantic region working on redesign.

One morning she left in her little car before 6 a.m. for Baltimore. About five miles from her destination, on a busy interstate, the car broke down. She called me—frantic and scared—as 18-wheelers sped past shaking her and her little car.

“Dad, I’m going to be late for work. I can’t get the car to start. What can I do?  I need your help.”

That’s when I said the words I’ve got to live with forever, now.

“I’m only a father.”

I quickly added, “You will have to call a local garage or towing company.” And, an hour later I got a call that she was at work. The mechanic had come, made a minor adjustment, and she was on her way.

Once the panic was over, and with a relieved smile, my daughter told the story to all her colleagues at work. They teased her for weeks with my line: “I’m only a father.” For all the young people at the store, that captured the universal, inevitable moment of discovery: Mom and Dad aren’t super heroes.

“I’m only a father,” has become one of those touchstones in our family lore. It is raised and shared in our family gatherings. I often repeat it myself as I acknowledge my limitations and sometimes re-frame it:

“I’m only a caregiver.”

“I’m only a husband.”

“I’m only a minister.”

“I’m only human.”

The irony is that, the more I acknowledge my power and limitations, the more I discover my capacity to be present and available to others. As I shed the demands of perfection, I often experience the genuine good gifts I am capable of sharing.

Please, add a comment below: What’s your story of admitting your limitations? And, share this with friends: Click one of the social-media icons with this column and invite friends to read this with you.

(Originally published at www.WeAreCaregivers.com. This column also has been republished, with permission, at www.Day1.org the website for the Day1 radio network.)

Here’s our new Caregivers Calendar: Plan ahead with us and … Life can be a REAL box of chocolates!

GET READY for some fun! I’m your host at WeAreCaregivers.com and this week we welcome Dr. Benjamin Pratt for more ideas about creatively reinventing our Caregivers Calendar. (In his first column, Ben explained the importance of this idea.) And, here’s a link to my own previous column. I’ll be back next week!
Heather Jose

By Benjamin Pratt

Fine Chocolates in a boxSince January, I’ve been inviting readers to tackle the calendar and rewrite the holidays. Please, pitch in and help! Email us with your holiday ideas at [email protected]. We’re certainly not alone. Today, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm recommends a brand-new children’s book based on the same idea, called World Rat Day.

Here’s my own new crop for the second quarter of the year …

I know that life can, indeed, become a box of chocolates—if we plan ahead. In the small, lively City of Fairfax, VA, where I live, we hold an annual Chocolate Lover’s Festival. Hundreds of people venture in for a two-day extravaganza of tastes, smells, sculptures of chocolate. Why shouldn’t we borrow this idea and enjoy a little taste of chocolate every day? You  might pair your rich dark chocolate with a rich red wine and get more enjoyment plus health benefits. It will be fun adding all those flavonols, antioxidants and resveratrol for your heart and skin. You will savor each small sip and bite. Of course, not a lot—but a daily delight like this, with your feet up, will keep you well directed in your vital task of caregiving.

Maybe you will call it “Doodling” day because you can’t imagine yourself as an artist. I invite you to just let your mind wander and wonder—to let your hand follow along as a way of distracting and calming yourself. Surprise yourself. Put your coffee or teacup in your opposite hand and draw an image that reflects your mood. Clarify your feelings with honesty. Remember, it is what we don’t face honestly that will bite our backside. After drawing to clarify, you will probably want to share your insight with a close friend.

We caregivers are givers to our core. We know ourselves and appreciate ourselves best when we are giving. Ironically, we often feel like we can’t give another thing. When you are having one of your Blues Days, I suggest you shift your focus from your primary care receiver to someone else. Just for a short time. To whom could you give a gift that will raise her spirit and your own? Make a cake or cupcakes in your kitchen and surprise others. Your own heart will be lifted!

Oh, so simple. Take a nap every day!

Start with the mirror and, looking yourself in the eye, say, “I love you. I am grateful for you.” See how many people you can genuinely give the gift of those words in the course of a day. It will come back to bless you as you have blessed others.

Take at least an hour each day and at least one longer segment of time each week—time for yourself in a way that calms, quiets, relaxes you. We have a dear friend whose husband is dying. He naps every day. She takes that time just for herself. Some days she calls my wife and the two will chat for three hours. They both are nourished, comforted, renewed. Be a little selfish—care for yourself by taking time for you.

Once again—it’s your turn! Email us with your new holiday ideas at [email protected]. Or, leave a Comment, below.

Caregivers: Who are we? How many of us are out there?

Heather Jose

AS WE BEGIN our journey to reach out and connect caregivers, we should discuss who we are. Over time—as you follow our columns and as you respond to questions on this website—we will be addressing more specific information for different groups of caregivers. We know that caregiving can take on many forms and roles.


This is not a complete list, rather it is a starting point …
MILLIONS ARE INVOLVED: More than 1 in 4 American adults are caregivers right now, according to a new Pew study. Most are responsible for another adult, often their own parent or a spouse.
CHILDREN: 1 out of 5 caregivers takes care of a child with disabilities or health issues, Pew found.
MANY WAYS TO CARE: Countless forms of caregiving include a friend caring for someone with cancer, a church member caring for someone in grief, a work colleague caring for someone who has experienced trauma.


While each group presents its own unique challenges, caregivers have similarities. One commonality is that caregivers need assistance. For example: Most caregivers supplement the vital help they receive from medical professionals with their own research online. Pew found that “caregivers make extensive use of the Internet.” We are “voracious” Web readers of helpful information. About 4 of 5 caregivers search for online assistance—and that’s such an important part of their lives that 90 percent of those online caregivers have a high-speed Internet connection available at home.


CLICK THIS IMAGE to read the whole Pew report.

WIKIPEDIA gives this definition: “Caregiver” is the term Americans, Canadians and Chinese use to describe us. People in the UK, Australia and New Zealand prefer to use the word “carer.” Wikipedia says those words “refer to unpaid relatives or friends of a disabled individual who help that individual with his or her activities of daily living.” Wikipedia has much more.

PEW’s July 2012 report gives this definition: “Women are slightly more likely than men to be caring for a loved one, as are adults ages 50-64, compared with other age groups. Caregivers are more likely than other people to report that they themselves are living with a disability, 34% compared with 24%. The call to aid a loved one cuts across all other boundaries: those who work full-time and those who are retired; those who have children at home and those who do not; those who are married and those who are single; those who enjoy a high income and those who do not. All of these groups are equally likely to say they are caring for an adult or a child who needs their help.”


We will talk more about this question in coming weeks. One short answer is: We assist with “activities of daily living” (ADLs)—tasks people need to accomplish each day. From getting dressed or making a sandwich, to paying bills or managing medications—these are all ADLs. Caregivers find themselves performing a myriad of tasks for their loved ones. The simple truth I hope you’ll remember this week is: Whatever you find yourself doing as a caregiver—there are millions of other people doing the same thing today. You’re not alone.

GET INVOLVED: Tell us about yourself. Upload a Godsigns photo through the link at left. Leave a comment by typing in the “Share Your Thoughts” box below. Please, share your own caregiver story. We would love to know more. Who are you caring for? Have I mentioned your group or your daily activities today? How much time are you devoting to caregiving each week? How long have you been doing this? And, when you’re searching online, what’s the most important way we can help you?

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