2022 Abby Lessack Caregiver Award profile: Daniel Weldon Thomas
In 2022, LBBC inaugurated the Abby Lessack Caregiver Award to celebrate caregivers and the important role they play in the lives of those impacted by breast cancer. Daniel Weldon Thomas is one of the five honorees, and when you read his interview with Jean, you’ll understand why. Click here to learn more about all five of this year's Abby Lessack Caregiver Award honorees.
Daniel Weldon Thomas is known for “serving culinary creations to the world's most powerful appetites,” but to his mother he is a selfless, loving son and caregiver.
Daniel has compassionately taken on the role of caregiver and advocate for several people in his life. He stopped his business and life in Washington, D.C., to move to New York to take care of his father who had terminal cancer and passed away in 2019. Two years later, when his mother Marilyn was diagnosed, he coordinated with his brother to ensure she never had to drive to an appointment or feel alone. His mother was diagnosed during the pandemic, and, on the last day of her treatment, he coordinated an outdoor surprise celebration.
Daniel spoke with LBBC’s CEO Jean Sachs about his experiences with caregiving.
Jean: Would you tell me about your relationship with your mom?
Daniel: My mom is amazing. She is one of the most loving people that I know. She has sacrificed so much in her life to ensure that my brother and I had everything we needed. My father sacrificed a lot as well. They adopted my brother at a young age, and they adopted me when I was one or two. You could not tell me there were better parents on earth.
Jean: I know you've done caregiving before but tell us what caregiving looked like while you were caring for your mom.
Daniel: My brother and I, we had just finished taking care of my dad, who had passed away from gallbladder cancer. So, unfortunately, we knew the ropes all too well. The moment that my mom called and said, “I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer,” my ears kind of shut down, I guess you can say. I can't really remember everything else that she said after that. I just went into protection mode. I realized I feel that the moment that you have cancer, it's an hourglass turning over, and the sand is dropping down. With my dad, I was a man with a shovel inside of the hourglass trying to shovel the sand out. And because I was trying to shovel the sand out to slow down the process, I felt that I had to do everything I could to take care of my Dad—down to the last piece of sand that dropped. With my mom, I wanted to break the hourglass this time and maybe work differently.
Caregiving is not just about giving care to someone, it’s about love, food, and just being there. My mom actually wanted to go through this on her own. She said, “I'm going to drive myself to the appointments. Don't worry about it.” Like that was going to happen! I drove her every day, and then my brother said, I got her next week. I thought, okay, as long as, she is taken there. And, I'm kind of overprotective. My brother and I are overprotective. On a couple of the days that my brother took her, I still rolled to the hospital, just to make sure that she was okay. Even though I had all faith in my brother, a son wants to take care of his mom.
Being adopted or not, you only get one set of parents. You only get one family. It's not an obligation to take care of my mom or my grandmother, or my aunt or my dad. It's an honor that I can actually do the care.
Jean: What a great analogy with the hourglass. What's hard about that is the sand is continuing to come.
Daniel: It is, it is.
Daniel was also the caregiver for his godmother who passed in 2021 from Covid. He cared for her as an angel. She was a social worker and responsible for his adoption when he was baby to our family. He saw how she changed his life by placing him in our family that was eagerly awaiting the gift of a child into our loving home. Daniel is a most compassionate and caring young man.
Jean: You clearly have amazing parents, but they also raised amazing sons. Maybe you could just tell us what was most rewarding for you in taking care of your mom?
Daniel: I think the greatest reward was being able to sit behind my brother in the car after we both walked her into the building and waited for her to come out--for hours. My brother and I love each other more than life itself. We may not always agree on everything but knowing that I have somebody who's in front of me, behind me, beside me, and pretty much filling the shoes of our dad at that moment, I feel like I could walk through anything. Somebody has my back. God has my back. Like, it's when you just know who you are. And my mom knew that she had two strong black men protecting her, making sure she was taken care of. That was the moment for me.
Jean: You’re one of the honorees for an award that started with Amy Lessack, and she wanted to amplify the sacrifices that caregiving creates. So, for you, what were some of the sacrifices you felt you had to make, even if you were happy to make them?
Daniel: It's very hard to use the word sacrifice. I struggle with that word when it comes to family and the ones you love. I feel like I didn't lose anything. I'm just picking up the baton that my dad left for us. He taught us how to be men and how to take care of our loved ones. That’s not sacrifice.
Jean: Wow, that’s great. So, what advice would you give to someone who's maybe just starting out as a caregiver?
Daniel: Build relationships now, because you don't want to start reaching out to people when you need them. I'm from Washington, D.C., and life here is based on contacts and connections, but nobody has a relationship. I would rather have ten great relationships than 100 connections any day. I urge people in caregiving to build relationships.
Also, understand that, in caregiving, as much as you want to do for your loved ones, you have to allow them to do for themselves. They need to know that, ‘Hey, I have your back, but just know if you fall, I’ll be there.’ Don’t forget, to then also say, “Hey, keep up the great work.” Encouragement is fantastic.
Listen, people will tell you what they need and what they want, so give them space. They need space as much as you need your space. Speaking of which, find an outlet for yourself. My outlet during my mom’s and my dad's cancer battle was golf. And I would write cancer on the ball, and I would whack it like nobody's business. Tiger Woods didn't want any of this smoke I tell you. It allowed me to have an outlet, even if it was for 20 or 30 minutes.
The last thing I would recommend is crack jokes. Laughter's good for healing.
Jean: That’s all great advice. And then my final question is, how did you feel when you found out your mom took the time to nominate you for this award?
Daniel: Weird! I mean, it was appreciated but not necessary. If anything, I should be congratulating her on a job well done for beating this thing!
Daniel continues to be a caregiver for his family and the world at large with his culinary skills:
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