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.

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.

Hello, I’m Heather. Let’s talk about caregiving.

Heather Jose photo

Heather Jose

I‘m excited to meet you as we launch our new home page called WeAreCaregivers.com! Bookmark this page and check back regularly. Every week, I plan to bring you helpful tips, practical news for caregivers and a mix of inspirational columns by myself and other writers. Together, we can find common threads in our lives.

That means you are an important part of this effort, too! I’ll tell you about several ways you can share in a moment. But, first, if you don’t want to miss future news and columns, click on the link (at left) to “Sign up for our Email Newsletter.” Don’t worry: It’s free, comes only once a week and you can cancel at any time—so give it a try for a few weeks. When you click on that link, you’ll be invited to receive the WeAreCaregivers newsletter from me via Email and, if you want, the ReadTheSpirit weekly newsletter and the OurValues newsletter, as well. Get them all—or just our new Caregivers newsletter. It’s your choice.

This new WeAreCaregivers.com is more than our group of writers talking to you. The “We” includes you. Every day, you can help other caregivers, right here on this website, by sharing a photo, a tip or a personal note. All of us need this kind of help. Me, too! As I look around me, I see caregiving everywhere! My mom is a caregiver. She provides assistance both to my dad and to her mother as well. I watch as my aunt juggles her job and the demands of her father. I sit in meetings with families who have children with special needs. And for 14 years now, I have seen caregiving from the perspective of a cancer patient.

This a tough job—caring for others. The hours are long and the reward is often little. But there are bright spots too. Tell us your story. Let’s begin this journey by connecting. Who are you caring for? What helps you? Any advice? Here are several ways to share with us right now …


Cover of GodsignsGot a photo to share? Here’s why we are asking: Suzy Farbman, a popular writer who you might have seen in magazines or on Oprah, has just published a new inspirational memoir about her successful struggle to recover from cancer. “Godsigns” helped to light her way. No, Suzy isn’t writing about big miracles. She’s describing the many little ways that we can find hopeful glimpses of God even in the midst of our toughest struggles. Sometimes these Godsigns are as universal as the wondrous experience of seeing a star-filled night sky, or a beautiful bird landing on your porch, or the smile of a child. Spot a Godsign in your life? Snap a photo and upload it on our front page (at left). Add a line or two describing your snapshot—then check back with us soon. We regularly will post some of these photos at WeAreCaregivers.com to inspire others. It’s easy—and a good thing to do. Those uplifting little Godsigns helped you—now let them help others.


Got an idea to share? Another writer contributing to WeAreCaregivers.com is the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, a pastoral counselor and veteran caregiver. He wrote the practical new book, A Guide for Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down. You might have enjoyed Ben’s columns elsewhere on the Internet or you might have heard him on the radio or at a conference. He talks and writes about the spiritual challenges of long-term caregiving. Ben’s most important advice is: Don’t do it alone. And, right here, you can start exchanging ideas with others. Whether you’ve read his book or not, you can start sharing ideas online, right now.


Together, we can make this new website a place of refuge, information, and above all community. Every week, you will find other men and women who are just like us in the daily challenge of caring for others. At WeAreCaregivers, we’ve done our research: We know that being a caregiver is a common thing. In fact, 1 of 3 people are taking on the role of caregiving in some capacity right now. However, even though this experience is so widespread—very few people talk about it. That is why we are here.

Each week, I’ll be here to welcome you. Remember my name, Heather Jose, along with the WeAreCaregivers.com home page. You can read my entire story in Every Day We Are Killing Cancer. As you’ll learn in that book, I have spent many years surrounded by caregivers and being cared for myself. Fourteen years ago this December I was told to get my affairs in order as an oncologist reviewed the scans that showed the spread of breast cancer. That was a terrible shock for a 20-something mother of a 1-year-old daughter. Cancer was not on my radar until that day! The title of my book comes from a hand-lettered sign that I carried with me through the long, tough journey to recovery.


Over the years, I have learned many things about the interaction between caregivers, patients and the medical community. As a longtime columnist for Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine, I’m an advocate of describing the goal we set for ourselves as not just “surviving,” but actually “thriving.” And, we can’t hope to thrive, if we’re alone.

Professionally I am trained as an occupational therapist. I have worked primarily in schools and nursing homes. These settings have opened the doors to caregiving in many ways. If you remember and share only one thing from your visit, today, it’s this: Become an active participant in your own health and don’t tackle these challenges alone. That’s the message that runs through everything I write. It’s what I say when I stand before conferences of health-care providers, caregivers and cancer thrivers across the country. It’s the message that saved my life.

So, you’ve heard a little of my story; you’ve met a couple of my friends who will visit with us in future weeks here at WeAreCaregivers.com. Now, it’s your turn. We’d like to meet you. Got a Godsigns snapshot to share? Get started via the Godsigns links on our home page (at left). Got a tip or idea to share? Take a look at the whole list of ways you can share with other Caregivers right now. And, keep in touch: Don’t forget to sign up for the free weekly newsletter.