Facing Our Biggest Fear: Come Rewrite the Calendar with Me?


Benjamin Pratt

Benjamin Pratt

Is the calendar your enemy? Many people see hope in a new calendar. But caregivers? We see looming medical tests and family traditions we can no longer follow. One woman told me that, year after year, she dreads March—because she lost six loved ones all in March! The winter months can be especially dark. (Earlier, I shared a prayer for light.)

As 2013 opens, I’m ready to tackle the Big One: Time itself! At least, I’m tackling the way we let time shape our hopes and fears. I’m marching up to the calendar, pen in hand, and I’m rewriting the holidays! Not only that, I’m declaring new holidays with twists guaranteed to boost my spirits.

Come on! Try this with me through 2013. Email us with your new holiday ideas at ReadTheSpirit@Gmail.com. As I spot great reader contributions, I will weave them into our new Caregiver’s Calendar in occasional updates. Together, dear readers, we might get a creative, hopeful movement going. Is your mind rolling, already? I refuse to complicate this brave new idea with a lot of rules, but let me strongly recommend one practice: As you dream up a new holiday with me—plan for someone to cover your caregiver duties on that day. It’s a very valuable idea. We all know that physically and spiritually healthy caregivers pace themselves. So, plan ahead for days “off.”

Here we go! We’re starting with some “real” holidays, anniversaries and milestones. Then, we’re adding some twists.


JAN 21—Today, let’s stop and solemnly take an oath as volunteer caregivers. When we assume we have no choice about our work, we are walking a dangerous path. Research shows that caregivers who see their work as a personal choice feel more purpose, vitality and joy. Today, take a break and recite this inaugural oath: “I give myself freely, with love and devotion, to choose each day to be a volunteer caregiver of my beloved. I shall do so by calling upon the support of my community and my God. I shall seek to care for myself so I may do my task with purpose and devotion, so help me God.”


FEB 2—The groundhog teaches us that we all have a choice. Even if it feels as though the whole world is watching, we can say: “Yes” or “No.” As caregivers, we like to please. Most of us say “Yes” until we are exhausted. So, as the world watches Punxsutawney Phil, we’ll each pick a moment to say: “No.” Need support for that idea? Read Cindy LaFerle’s column: Disappoint someone today? Good. That’s a start.


PICK A DATE—This works! My wife and I experienced it last year and I urge you to join me in making it an annual celebration. Here’s what happened: My wife was recovering from surgery. One day, three of our friends conspired to send us a flurry of texts and emails to make us laugh. What a boost! Ask friends to give you this gift on February 3—Super Bowl Sunday—or ask them to surprise you one day. Imagine wondering when this might descend on you? Better yet, conspire with your friends to give a Super Bowl of Laughter to someone else!


FEBRUARY 14—Who needs flowers? You do. A bouquet works, but consider planning ahead for a blooming pot of Narcissus on Valentine’s Day. These blossoms are bright, white stars reminding you of love and hope.


PICK A DATE—How long has it been since you talked to your dearest friend? Yesterday or years ago—it is time to call again. Use a telephone or Skype—but make the call. Remember: We express our love more by listening than by talking. So, the real focus on this holiday is the listening part of these calls. Set aside enough time; encourage your dear friend to listen to your stories, as well.


MARCH 4—That’s the day our 13th president left office. We don’t recall much about him except his installation of the first bathtub with plumbing in the White House. So, let’s celebrate the end of his hard work with warm water, bath salts, bubbles, rubber ducky, candles and music. Sink in. Thank Millard!


PICK A DATE—Plan ahead for this special occasion on which you will share your personal story honestly with a trusted friend. Too often, we are like Shakespeare’s Cordelia in King Lear. She is a noble figure caught up in the tragedy of Lear, partly because she has difficulty expressing herself to her father: “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth,” she says. As caregivers, our feelings often are suppressed until they lead to confusion. Sometimes they spill out in sighs, tears or laughter—the languages our body uses when we don’t have words. On Cordelia Day, honesty rules. Think of this as an in-person National Talk to Your Dearest Friend Day.


APRIL 1—Perfectionists are on a steep slope as caregivers. We need the spiritual wisdom of imperfection. Instead of playing practical jokes on April 1, give yourself permission to say: “So what!” Today, it honestly doesn’t matter if the floor isn’t vacuumed, some dishes aren’t washed, our loved ones sleep in their pants and not their PJs. Obsession with perfection eventually drives everyone nuts. Today, reset your priorities: Let go! So what!


There’s the first quarter of 2013. I’ll be back with more—but only if you chime in with your ideas to encourage more of this wise-and-wacky redrawing of the calendar. Add a comment via the link above—or email us at ReadTheSpirit@Gmail.com.


For millions of caregivers, the little New Year’s Resolutions are biggest

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

GOT BIG PLANS for New Year’s Resolutions? Are you already fearing they’ll go bust?

This year: Think small.

Some people don’t like to make these resolutions, but they feel good to me. It’s a chance to think about what I would like to do better and what goals are on my radar screen. This year I have goals related to health, work, and financial matters. None of them are earth shattering—but I have found that the little things matter.

Eternal Clock by Robbert van der Steeg, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Eternal Clock by Robbert van der Steeg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When we are in the midst of caregiving, time feels like our enemy—always too little of it. So, in making resolutions, let’s focus on things we actually can fit into our lives. I believe strongly that the best way to be good caregivers is to take a little time for ourselves. As we start 2013—focus on the little.

Five minutes is enough to make a cup of tea, do some push ups, write in a gratitude journal, or pack a healthy lunch. Ten minutes allows me to work up a sweat, plan healthy meals for a week, pray, or chat with a friend. Just a little break—to do a little good—can make a huge difference in mindset.

This year I am rewarding myself for staying on track with my goals and saving money here and there. Rather than pay for a gym membership or a meal plan I am going to pay myself for following through with my own simpler, less-costly goals. At the end of the year I should have a nice little bit of cash for something fun.

That is motivating to me, but you have to find what works for you. Maybe you can plan lunch with a friend or get a pedicure or go to a movie on a regular basis.

With any resolutions, the important thing is to make them obtainable, especially at first. When we start with something that takes all of our willpower, it is inevitable that we will get discouraged and quit. It is easy to revise goals later in the year and make them harder—but it feels like a letdown if we do the reverse.

Keep in mind that taking care of you is essential to taking care of a loved one. We can’t provide care if we become exhausted and find ourselves under the weather.

What are your resolutions? Would you consider making a list of five-minute or ten-minute things that would bring a small dose of health and wellness into your day?

Heather Jose, a 10-year survivor of stage IV breast cancer, wishes you a Happy New Year!


Stressed at the holidays? Seize Sunset Moments!

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

MY HOLIDAY CARD to caregivers lacks the snows or sleighs or Santas that grace so many Christmas cards. Instead, I’m sending you a bright image of sunset along “our” Florida beach. Earlier, I wrote about this beach and the tough choices we face when family traditions must change.

As we all head through these days leading to a New Year, remember: While holidays are stressful, I don’t think that’s the intent of a holiday. Like you, I’ve got a long To Do list, while trying to keep smiling at my children—who are driving us crazy from being off schedule. Then, there are the older folks who we work so hard to bring to gatherings—only to discover that they are ready to go home. Know these feelings?

Let’s refocus on the best images in these fleeting days. Click on the “View Entire Gallery” in our Godsigns photo gallery (at left on this webpage). If you click on an individual photo in the gallery, you can read the captions at your own pace, including a couple of my photos. (Now, that gallery is in a small, pilot phase. In 2013, it will grow significantly. Right now, you can add your own photo via the “Upload Your Own Godsign” box at left.)

And now, from my family to yours …

Sunset Moments

Every year, I am reminded that life is a series of opportunities that I must seize when presented—not pushed off until I think I can find a better time. I call these sunset moments.

The reminder comes when my family vacations during the year-end holidays along the Gulf of Mexico. Every evening as the sun begins to set, we gather to watch the beautiful display of color over the ocean. It is impromptu, and spectacular on a clear night. Drinks in hand we toast the beauty and reflect on life for a few minutes.

It always happens, though, that someone is missing. Too busy running an errand or showering before a night out to enjoy the splendor. I’ve done it myself. Thinking that I’ll go out tomorrow instead.

What I’ve learned is that we can’t recreate that sunset. Invariably the next one is covered with clouds or undetectable because of rain. The splendor is gone.

Life is full of sunset moments. Chances to take a minute or two to enjoy the life that is ours. To laugh, to reflect, to be fully present—that is a one-time chance.

May you choose to fill your life with sunset moments.

Heather Jose, a 10-year survivor of stage IV breast cancer, wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What do we do when joyful traditions must change?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

My parents were married on December 18, 1965. Since my dad was a teacher, they went on their honeymoon during Christmas break. They took the scenic route through South Carolina, but eventually ended up at the Three Crowns on Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida.

What started as a honeymoon became a tradition. My parents returned to Lido Beach for a few years, but as children came along they found a little motel with efficiency units in Venice. It wasn’t until 1980 that they returned to Lido. The motel had changed things and they were looking for something else, so they came to look at a timeshare. I can still remember looking around on a hot day, wanting nothing more than to go swimming. Long story short, my parents liked the place—and the fact that they would always have the same room—so they bought in. It was literally right down the beach from where they honeymooned.

Sunset on Lido Beach Sarasota Florida.

Sunset on Lido Beach Sarasota Florida. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

We never missed a year. Each Friday when school was done we would load into the family vehicle and drive straight through. It wasn’t long before we knew many of the people who owned the same weeks as us. As Michiganders would ask how we could leave at Christmas time we would simply smile. Over the years the relationships grew more and more with our friends on the beach. Dad met one of his best friends there. He and Kenny were double trouble, whether on the golf course, the beach, or out on the town. We would spend all day on the beach or at the pool and then regroup for dinner. it wasn’t uncommon for 20 or more of us to go out together.

As I moved out and married my husband, I began an every-other-year plan for Christmas in Florida. However, after cancer entered my life it became clear that this tradition was one we wanted to pass on to our children. We picked up the yearly ritual again and this tradition continues today.


Families change. The generation of kids when this all started—now is a generation of parents with kids of our own. We fill more and more units at our timeshare and our kids look forward to football games on the beach. Those are the good things. but as we all know there is bad with good. Now neither Dad nor Kenny are able to make the trip. Their health won’t allow it. Each year it is a question as to whether or not we should go and leave Dad behind.

Should we continue the tradition that he started or forego it in order to be at his side?

We have chosen to continue the tradition of Lido Beach in honor of him and our best family memories being made there. You can feel the excitement build in the same way it did when I was growing up. Once we have arrived—everywhere we go is accompanied with a story about Dad. We go to his favorite breakfast spots, and his dinner places, too. I love that my children can know a place that Dad loved. They don’t have the pleasure of having a healthy GrandPaul (or Pops) like many other kids their age. But, it seems right to share his spirit and love of this vacation.

Guilt travels with us too. We always wonder if we made the right choice. This is not easy. We took him with us for as many years as possible, until the enjoyment of it was gone for him. I think he would want us to continue. I really do.

Traditions bring joy, but they can also bring pain as they change without us wanting them to. This time of year, we all have dozens of traditions that cascade down around us like the winter’s snows. They’re stressful; they’re delightful; they’re emotional. And when a loved one at the center of that tradition is gone, or perhaps is so disabled that they can no longer fulfill the tradition … Then, what do we do?


PLEASE: Feel free to reproduce or repost this column and share with friends—or use it to spark discussion in your small group. If you do reproduce this, please credit …

And include a link to www.WeAreCaregivers.com

Disappoint someone today? Good! That’s a start.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I’m Heather Jose, your host here at WeAreCaregivers.com. Today, please welcome author and columnist Cindy LaFerle, whose home website www.laferle.com is packed with more columns like this one. That’s her latest book cover, shown below. As a sometimes-stressed-out caregiver myself, I was moved to publish this column the moment I read Cindy’s hard-earned advice: Hey, sometimes you’ve just gotta disappoint someone! 

Cover of Cindy La Ferle's Writing HomeBy CINDY LA FERLE

EARLIER THIS FALL, I felt like the filling inside the proverbial midlife sandwich—managing my elderly mother’s healthcare needs while gearing up for my only child’s late September wedding. If I wasn’t driving Mom to the oral surgeon or the pacemaker clinic—or tracking down a pair of shoes she could wear to the wedding—I was reviewing menus for the rehearsal dinner or writing names on place cards in calligraphy.

Not that I’m complaining. My son’s wedding was beautiful, all said and done, and I’m still savoring memories of the highlights, including a special mother-son dance at the reception.

Most important of all, I’ve come to realize that guiding an elderly parent through her final years while helping a son launch a new life of his own are inevitable steps in the ongoing circle-dance of life. I also remind myself—especially when I’m racing from one spot to the next—that I’m blessed to have a freelance schedule that gives me the flexibility to step up when others need me.

But as Cheryl Richardson points out in her newest guide, The Art of Extreme Self-Care, it’s all too easy to lose oneself in the service of others. If you’re a caretaker, a professional caregiver, a people-pleaser, or anyone else who puts the needs of others first, you know what Richardson is talking about—and her book will speak to you.

Richardson used to be a woman who couldn’t say no. To anyone. She taught seminars and workshops, mentored clients, volunteered for organizations, and “supported needy friends who were struggling.” She was often exhausted and had little time left for her marriage. “I was a good girl. I was so used to playing the role of caretaker that it had become a normal way of life,” she writes.

Just in time, Richardson’s life coach challenged her to make some changes. Encouraging her to “desensitize” her fear of stirring conflict and letting people down, he suggested that she practice “disappointing” someone every day. As soon as I read that part, my palms started sweating. Like Richardson, I’ve often said “yes” when I should have said “no” — even when I knew I didn’t have the time or my heart wasn’t in it.

All because I hate to disappoint people.

It’s not easy to break out of this pattern. As Richardson notes, “One of the harsh realities about practicing Extreme Self-Care is that you must learn to manage the anxiety that arises when other people are disappointed, angry, or hurt. And they will be.”

When you stop worrying about what others think, you’re changing the “rules of the game,” she warns. Some of the folks who claim they can always count on you will play the guilt card when you dare to admit that you’re too tired to help, or that you can’t change your schedule to accommodate them.

Yesterday, after a two-year lapse, I finally visited my family doctor for a complete physical. After driving my mother to every medical specialist in Oakland County on a monthly basis for the past four years, it felt a little odd to focus on my own healthcare, my own needs. It hit me, while the technician hooked me up for my EKG, that I knew less about the general state of my own health than I do about my mother’s. And when my sympathetic doctor began my exam with the words, “Cindy, this time is about you—not about your mom or your son’s wedding,” well, I nearly dissolved into tears. I knew I was long overdue for a new season of self-care.

“If you want to live a meaningful life that also makes a difference in the lives of others, you need to make a difference in your own life first,” Richardson reminds us. “When we care for ourselves deeply and deliberately, we naturally begin to care for others—our families, our friends, and the world—in a healthier, more effective way.”

So … what have you done for yourself lately, my friend? Are you ready to risk disappointing someone today?

Cindy La Ferle is a lifestyles writer and blogger based in Michigan. She is the author of an award- winning memoir, Writing Home, and has published essays and lifestyles features in more than 70 regional and national newspapers. Visit her blog at www.laferle.com


Remembering furry friends who warm our lives

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

I CAN’T RECALL HOW MANY YEARS it has been since my son came running in to our house sure that there was a bear in our yard. He had had been out riding his snowmobile in the track he and his dad had established in our yard. We were keeping an eye on him through the picture window. He was young and somehow he decided that it would be quicker to jump off his sled and run in to the house rather than ride there. But I digress…

What we discovered was a big black dog. She wandered in through the woods and calmly walked to the door. I was standing strong, determined not to let her in. Of course, I did check for tags and identification and came up empty handed. By the next morning she was lying on our living room floor. My husband didn’t have the heart to listen to her begging to come in all night. She was such a gentle giant, good with the kids and our dog and cats. But still I answered no to the cries of “Can we keep her?”

We made all the correct calls to the shelters, we looked at local store windows for Lost Dog signs, we called the vets and animal control. No one, it seemed, was looking for her. It is not unheard of for dogs to be left to fend for themselves in our neck of the woods. We began to look for a home for her.


No, this is not the dog in our story today, but he reminds us all of the inspiring love we often find in big working dogs like the Newfoundland. This breed can weigh more than 150 pounds. While terrific companions, they have big appetites, too. See the note, below, about a new nationwide FILL THE BOWL project. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My father-in-law came to mind. He had lost his beloved boxer, Buster, a while before this. When we mentioned that we had this “bear,” he didn’t seem to be very interested. My husband suggested a trial run. If he didn’t want to keep her after the weekend we would take her back. He agreed.

That was at least five years ago. We never got a call to come get her. The dog now has a name. Josie. Very creative when you consider that our last name is Jose.

She hasn’t been an easy dog. Initially she was terrified of riding in the car. She still has anxiety at times. Have I said that she is big and black and sheds a lot? She has trouble controlling herself sometimes on a walk, wanting more than anything to chase a squirrel or a cat or another dog. And then there were the fleas from lying in the dirt all summer!

Despite all the issues, I am grateful for Josie. My father-in-law takes his job of pet owner very seriously. He walks Josie (and also the other furry friend Pudgie) three times a day. If you are there at the correct time you will see the pacing begin when walk time approaches.

The dogs are so good for him. They provide structure for his days and someone to come home to. Especially since my mother-in-law passed away in February. It makes us feel a little better to know that he has someone depending on him and therefore keeping him going. The dogs are someone to chat with and snuggle with too. I also think we all know he wouldn’t walk the neighborhood without a dog—and walking is good for his health.

This year for Christmas my gift for my father-in-law will be dog related. It only seems right.


Humane Society Fill the Bowl Logo

Click the photo to visit the Humane Society website.

IN YOUR HOLIDAY GIVING: Remember that pets need food as well as love! And big dogs like the one in today’s story? You know: Lots of love—and lots of food. A tragic trend in winter months, when other household bills rise for the elderly, is a wave of pets given away to shelters simply because their human companions can no longer afford to feed them.

The Humane Society in the United States (HSUS) has an inspiring new FILL THE BOWL campaign. Visit this HSUS website for more about the campaign and details about receiving a free kit to help promote the idea in your area. The kit includes a poster, plus a couple of big, full-color stickers, plus a packet of hand-out cards. The cards have the color logo on one side and on the back say: Fill the Bowl Project is part of the Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Protection Ministries program. Every year, thousands of churches across the country donate food to local food pantries and other programs that help fight hunger. Pets are a vital part of our community but are often overlooked in times of need. Through the Fill the Bowl Project, faith communities can help by collecting cans and bags of pet food. One simple donation provides food for a pet and peace of mind for an owner.


STOCKING STUFFER: One of our most popular books, by therapist and business consultant Rob Pasick, is his memoir of reflections written as his own beloved dog was aging: Conversations with My Old Dog. Got a pet lover on your holiday list? Especially a pet lover with an elderly dog? You’ll warm their heart with a copy of Rob’s book.

ANOTHER FURRY (AND FREE) STORY: ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm was inspired by my column, today, and added a family photo of a border collie Shooter, who came to the rescue—yes, much like Lassie—of David’s mother in law one night. That photo and brief story is in our GodSigns Photo Gallery.


A Holiday Gift: Share a Pop-Tart Moment?

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I’m Heather Jose, your host here at WeAreCaregivers.com. Today, we are giving you a holiday gift—just as the stress begins to take hold. Benjamin Pratt is the author of our Guide for Caregivers and a columnist for the website at Day1, the radio network. Ben specializes in giving us fresh ideas and images that you will want to share. So, we welcome your giving this column to friends. You can even reprint it in your own newsletter. All we ask is that you add a link to www.WeAreCaregivers.com

A Pop-Tart Moment

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

Pop TartsShe is in her early forties, an elementary school teacher for seventeen years who loves teaching and is passionate about her work. Parents beg the principal to assign their children to her class. She energizes students and colleagues and often is at school from 7 to 7 or longer. She has not had a raise in pay for three years. Last year her class was classified as “gifted” and she was awarded Teacher of the Year.

Then came the night of the Pop-Tart.

That night took her by surprise, but I’ll bet you’ve experienced something like it. Millions of us have.  Here’s how she explained it to me: “I have absolutely loved teaching in spite of the demands and challenges. I love the kids and I know that I have had a positive imprint on many lives. Then, what happened recently took me by surprise. It’s like the light went out. I suddenly felt drained of energy and vitality. I went home and crawled under a blanket from head to toe and ate a Pop-Tart. I suddenly wasn’t sure I could keep doing what I have done for years. My husband sensed my need to escape and told our kids to keep the noise down and not go near me.”

All of us have Pop-Tart moments. Oh, we may choose ice cream or popcorn, potato chips or beer, but all of us have had the experience of turning to food or huddling in the corner and yearning for safety and comfort. Life can overwhelm us at times and when it does we need to crawl into a hole and recover. This is especially true for those of us who serve others—teachers, doctors, nurses, clergy, police, fire and rescue personnel and personal caregivers, anyone whose work demands a burning passion to give the gifts we have to others.

I said to the young woman, “When the light goes out like that, you’re wondering if it will ever come on again, aren’t you? Will the Pop Tart moment pass and you’ll get back to work? Or, are you headed toward complete burnout?”

Her response was illuminating in many ways. “Yes, burnout is knocking at the door. Every other year we alternate between a class of very smart, swift, stable students and a class of children who are at risk. This year I have the latter, very difficult but likable children. I have the additional burden that our principal broke up our teaching team this year. These fellow teachers were my support and lifeline—we laughed and played and worked very hard together, but now we are separated. I feel alone on a very steep hill.”

“So, you have two very important tasks ahead of you,” I said. “One will be to love these children to make the class a safe and comfortable place before they can possibly learn. The second will be to love yourself enough to make a safe and comfortable environment to restore your own passion. Neither will be done with Pop Tarts alone, but something a little more nourishing.”

She nodded with a smile and then I shared a classic metaphor. “Death Valley was once an ocean teaming with life. Refreshing water flowed into and out of this sea, vitalizing the sea and the area around it. Then geologic shifts changed the landscape and threatened the life of the ocean. The waters that fed the sea stopped flowing, but the outflow continued. The sea gave away all that it had and dried up, becoming a desert. The once life-giving sea no longer existed. Without refreshing water, it died. And now we have: Death Valley.”

This can be an accurate and alarmingly poignant metaphor of caregivers’ lives. The time when you become fully aware that your loved one is under your care is like a geologic shift in your world. All of your vitality flows outward and very little flows in to refresh you. You yearn for a trickle of refreshing water to restore your sense of vitality—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. You give, sacrifice and empty yourself with little or no time or energy directed toward receiving what you need for yourself.

Many of the warning signs of stress and burnout are seen by others before they are recognized by the victim. The most insidious and devastating aspect of stress and burnout is the way it gradually consumes a person over an extended period of time. Stress is the psychological and physiological response to events that are believed and perceived to be a threat to one’s well being. Burnout is the exhaustion of our resources due to excessive striving based on unrealistic expectations and a failure to replenish our resources. The key element is that stress relates to beliefs and perceptions; burnout relates to expectations. Burnout is the result of a failure to balance the distribution of our energy by refueling ourselves with the healing waters that will enable us to continue our difficult work as caregivers.

We yearn for something that will nourish us more permanently. Pop-Tarts are an immediate comfort and a warning sign, not the healing soul food we need for the long haul.

Dr. Pratt has addressed burnout in his recent book, A Guide For Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down.

Three words to light our way this Thanksgiving


IT’S MY FAVORITE kind of morning:
The coffee is brewed and in my favorite mug. The house is quiet—just me and the dogs enjoying the stillness as the world wakes up.


I live for moments like this, but only because they are rare. The pace around my home is usually quite fast. Sometimes I wonder if life is passing me by.

As Thanksgiving approached this year I wanted to do something to help us all stop and think for a minute. If you are on Facebook you may be seeing a barrage of “Thankful” posts. I think that’s great. I used to do a ”Thankful Thursday” post each week in an effort to remind myself of all the blessings I have received.


This year, though, I decided to kick it old school. I bought a piece of poster board and a bunch of Post-it notes. I grabbed a Sharpie and wrote GIVE THANKS in the middle of the board. I put the board up in a central location in our house and posted the first “I’m thankful for” note. Then, I threw open the invitation to the whole household.

Our board is filling up fast. I love it. Sometimes I forget all the blessings in my life. Sometimes I just think of the changes. There have been many.

It wasn’t too long ago that we would attend two Thanksgivings in the same weekend, one for my husband’s side of the family and one for mine. This year I will host one small gathering. I miss the old days when everyone was healthy enough to sit down to dinner together and even play cards or Turkey Tracks afterwards. Yes, you read that right, in my family we play dominoes, specifically a game called Turkey Tracks! (Do you have a family game tradition? Add a Comment today and tell us what you like to play after the plates are cleared away.)


I miss the people in our family who have passed on and those who are too incapacitated to participate anymore. I am sad that my children don’t have all of their grandparents (and great grandparents) to share in the day of celebration.

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

But always, I will be thankful. And I will make Thanksgiving special for my children and the family that will be with us. The Post-its this year are my reminder of our many blessings.

The three most important words I can share with you this week: Always be thankful. That’s a message from me—and I know that it comes, as well, from all those  who we remember at this time of year:

Always be thankful.

Heather Jose is author of Every Day We Are Killing Cancer, a book packed with inspiring stories of gratitude for the many people who rallied around Heather during her life-and-death struggle with cancer.

Have you seen a Godsign? Let me show you some of mine …

Heather Jose

WHAT IS A GODSIGN? Author Suzy Farbman coined the term in her new memoir, Godsigns. She’s describing small moments that lift our spirits and reassure us of goodness and hope. We know that they are all around us. We also know that different things speak to each of us.

Here at www.WeAreCaregivers.com, we want to share the things that lift you up—to help all of our readers. Will you join us? When you spot a Godsign in your life, snap a photo and upload it. In the box provided on the left side of this page:
1.) Have your photo ready on your computer, then use the “Browse” button (on the left side of this page) to select your photo.
2.) Then, use the box labeled “Type your photo description here” to add a caption or even a whole paragraph about your photo.
3.) End your text, if you’d like, with your name or a nickname. I put my name on my new Godsigns photos.
4.) Click the “Upload” button. If all goes well, you should see a response confirming your actions.
5.) Note: You won’t see your photo immediately appear in the gallery. Every couple of days, our editors choose new photos to show to the world. Check back in a day or so. We thank you, in advance, for sharing your photos!

Right now, take a moment to look at the Godsigns Photo Gallery. Our editors moderate the Godsigns Photo Gallery and select uploaded photos that are likely to inspire our readers. Currently, there are about a dozen photos in the gallery—including two new ones that I have added today. There are two ways to view this gallery, so read the little note that says “How to Enjoy The Photos.”


Will you help us get the gallery going? And check back with us soon? We regularly post some of these new photos at WeAreCaregivers.com. Those uplifting little Godsigns helped you—now let them help others.

Let’s be “Thrivers”! Don’t settle for being “Survivors”!

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

BE A THRIVER! I love that statement. It implies action and an attitude of gratefulness. It says that how we approach things, every day, matters in the long run. It affirms that each one of us can make a difference in our health and wellness.

That’s why you will hear more about cancer “thrivers” than cancer survivors here at WeAreCaregivers. In addition to these new weekly columns, I continue to write for Breast Cancer Wellness magazine, where our whole team has been trying to change the way Americans talk about cancer: We want more people to declare that they are cancer thrivers—not just survivors. Since launching and promoting this term a couple of years ago at the magazine, we are seeing it show up in national news reports regularly, these days. And that’s a major boost for people with cancer—like I was and like millions of others are today—in completely rethinking our approach to this battle.

Cancer is a funny thing. It can bring out the best and the worst in people—depending on your approach to life. I am not arguing that someone who decides to be a thriver won’t die. But, I am arguing that people who decide to thrive will truly live, no matter how many days they have left in this world. And guess what? We are all going to die, so my goal is to make the most of my days. Acknowledging death actually can help a person move toward a more fulfilling life.

You may think that I’m just an optimist. You may fear that this isn’t possible for you. But, over many years, I’ve learned that anyone can learn to thrive through cancer. This may take a major adjustment in the way we view our world. But the rewards are great—a life of purpose, one lived with eyes wide open to the wonder of each day.


Today, I am a writer, a speaker, a teacher through workshops that I lead. But, I am also a woman. A wife. A mom. A daughter. A friend. And, like millions of other people, I sat in a doctor’s office one day and listened as he told me to “get your affairs in order” because I had breast cancer. That was a life-changing day, because it started me on the path to my real life, the life that I believe I was created to live.

In the first letter that I sent to my family and friends to tell them about my cancer, I wrote: “We are not saying: Why me? Rather, we are saying: Try me!” You could say that letter was just me being young and dumb at the ripe old age of 26—but it set the tone of my life from the start. I knew that I was going to do everything I could to kill the cancer and live the best life possible. My intuition told me that I needed to find out what I could control and take charge of it, because that made me feel better. I also felt deeply that focusing on the extremely dreary statistics was exhausting and could negate the best things that I had done for myself each day.

I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what leads some people to thrive, while others cling to survival mode. You can read all about how I came to these conclusions in my memoir, We Are Killing Cancer Every Day. The book also includes perspectives from lots of people who were my allies in the struggle. I’m not claiming that you can bottle my specific formula for every other person facing cancer. But, here are a few principles that I’ve found mark true thrivers:

STRENGTHS FIRST: Thrivers focus on their strengths and build on them. They acknowledge their weaknesses and let them go.

WE’RE IN CHARGE: We are in charge of our own bodies. Thrivers are willing participants in our own health; we are not waiting for someone else to fix us. I chose to work closely with my medical team, rather than passively receive medical treatment.

SIFT THE INFORMATION: Thriving is a process of taking in information and using the very best of it to keep moving forward. This does not mean getting bogged down in the endless information that can capture our minds in a negative cycle. For example, I decided that I did not need to know the possible side effects of every medication that was prescribed for me. Focusing on those long lists of scary possibilities would have been too depressing. My husband volunteered to take in all those facts—just in case we needed to know them. I’m not alone in making this choice. You will find in Godsigns that Suzy Farbman and her husband made a very similar division of roles as she fought to overcome her cancer.

NURTURE YOURSELF: Greet each day with a spirit of making good choices and living fully. Rest when needed. Don’t worry if you stray occasionally. I still recall a conversation with a woman who was skeptical of my strict diet while I was battling cancer. She implored, “Don’t you ever just want to have a chocolate chip cookie?”

I told her, “If I want a cookie, I will have one and move on. But, most of the time, I choose a life watching my kids grow up over my desire for a cookie.”

BAD STUFF WILL HAPPEN; CELEBRATE THE GOOD: Because of the impact of cancer in my life, I can say truthfully that a million good things have happened. It has helped me to focus on the good and believe that anything is possible. It has confirmed my belief in God. It has shown me that family is not a right, but a gift, and that families are built in a lot of different ways. It has revealed my passion for life.

Life is full of choices. Thriving through adversity is one of them.