2022 Abby Lessack Caregiver Award profile: Emily Lorenz
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. Emily Lohrenz is one of the five honorees, and when you read her interview with Jean, you’ll understand why. Click here to learn more about all five of this year's Abby Lessack Caregiver Award honorees.
Emily Lohrenz was a senior in high school when her mother, Susan, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After four years in ROTC, and a plan to join the Air Force upon graduation, Emily found herself in the role of a caregiver following her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.
Emily quickly became a chauffeur, motivational speaker, nurse, pharmacist, patient advocate, cook, housekeeper, and temporary mom to her younger siblings. It’s said that ROTC teaches leadership and life skills, but her experience as a caregiver taught her many lessons about compassion, resilience, and responsibility. Emily went from a timid kid to a strong confident adult all while supporting her mother through diagnosis and treatment and maintaining a sense of normalcy for her younger siblings.
Emily spoke with LBBC’s CEO Jean Sachs about her experience as a caregiver for her mother.
Jean: Emily, you’re our youngest honoree – congratulations! I would like for you to describe for us what your caregiving looked like. What were some of the things you did to take care of your mom or the family?
Emily: Honestly, caregiving for me was kind of a crash course into adulthood. So I went from being a senior, getting ready to graduate and go to the Air Force, to being pretty much the sole provider for the house while my mom was getting her treatment. Making sure she was okay, making sure that my little brother and sister had a sense of normalcy in their life has been my role for the past couple years. For about a year she had chemo treatments after we dropped the kids off at school. I would stay with her for those. And then she had about four months of radiation, and I was there for that, too.
She not only gave up her future dreams, but she overcame her own fears of blood and wounds to help me. She also had to have a really quick crash course of being a single parent. She got both kids up for school, made lunches, picked them up, helped with homework, made dinner, cleaned, and put them in bed many times all on her own. She did all of this while she was struggling with the fear of losing another parent. Her dad died from an aortic aneurism when she was 12, and now she knows that her mom has cancer. She had to put all of her fears aside and be the leader - a role she has never wanted or enjoyed!
Jean: So, what were some of the most rewarding things for you when you were taking care of your mom?
Emily: I think what my mom would say the most rewarding thing is that I finally got my driver's license, because I put it off for a solid three years. It was the most terrifying thing I could possibly think of! All of a sudden, I had to drive her to chemo. I had to drive the kids to school. So, I had to get my driver's license, and now I'm a bonafide chauffer. I can drive anywhere, anytime.
Jean: Okay, wait a minute - you were going to fly airplanes, but driving was terrifying? Is that right?
Emily: There are fewer things to run into in the sky. I don’t have to worry about hitting a cloud. I could just go right through it.
Jean: That's great. So, that’s your mom's most rewarding thing, but what about for you?
Emily: My most rewarding thing would probably be that I got to spend more time with my siblings. I got to watch them grow up a little bit more. I got to make sure that mom got through treatment in the best way that she could.
Jean: You were young, and I'm sure your friends were spending their time differently. What kept you motivated?
Emily: My main motivation was making sure that my younger siblings had a good, steady... sorry, I'm going to cry.
Jean: It’s alright. We're good with crying. You don't ever fight it - you’ve got to just let it happen.
Emily: When my older sister and I were growing up, we had it rough. Mom had three jobs to help keep us supported. So, we didn't necessarily have her home all the time, and I didn't want Gregory and Sarah, my younger siblings, to go through something so scary by themselves. So, I would say that trying to give them a happy sense of childhood and not let this be a setback were probably my main motivators.
Jean: And it sounds like you achieved that, right?
Emily: Yeah, they're doing good. Gregory's in middle school now, and Sarah's in third grade. They're both great kids. They know that if they need anything, they can ask, and we'll do our best to get them whatever they want.
Jean: Well, you should be really proud. Not every teenager would make that decision. Where was your older sister?
Emily: My older sister lives roughly two hours away from us, so she's not necessarily very far, but she works as a chef. Her life is very hectic, and she wouldn't be able to spend the time needed to take care of things over here and still keep her job. I knew she would help us when we needed her. Other than that, I've got this.
Jean: We’ve talked about this, but maybe you could share just some of the sacrifices you made. What didn't you get to do that you thought you would be doing?
Emily: There were definitely a couple things I missed out on. I didn't end up going to the Air Force, so that kind of put my life plans through a ringer. I didn't end up going to my prom, because my mom had just had surgery, and then I had to watch my friends leave and have their experiences.
Jean: What advice might you give to someone who's just starting out being a caregiver?
Emily: One of the biggest things that I would say is just take your time. You can feel this pressure as if you have to know exactly what to do, and that's not necessarily a given. You're not going to go into this and know how to do everything. If you take your time, there are people who will help you. So, you have to learn how to accept help, and, if you're smiling while you're doing that, it's going to hurt just a little bit less.
Jean: Wow, that’s great. Then my final question is when you found out your mom nominated you for this award, what did you think?
Emily: At first, I was like, what is this? Honestly, I thought I was getting catfished for a minute. And then I looked into the organization (LBBC) and read about the legacy of this award, and I thought this is pretty cool. It's a way to honor not only the patients but their support system. It's not just the patient, and it's not just the cancer, it's everything working together as a whole.
Jean: That's amazing. You know, this award was created because Amy Lessick, who sadly passed away from breast cancer in her mid-fifties, wanted to honor her sister, who took care of her. Amy lived in North Carolina for a long time. She would have loved you, because you are exactly the kind of person she wanted to recognize. She really felt that there are people who are doing things nobody knows about it. Without her sister Abby, she wouldn't have been able to stay in her home. She wouldn't have been able to maintain some quality of life.. She was so grateful, and I feel like Amy is shining down on us right now.
So, thank you for talking with me and sharing your story. I have to ask: What are you doing now? Are you in the Air Force?
Emily: I am not. I actually decided to go to college while I am here with my mom still. I'm finishing up my degree in horticulture technology right now.
Jean: That’s a real shift from the Air Force!
Emily: Yeah, I switched from flying airplanes and aeronautical engineering to hanging out with plants.
Jean: That sounds safer. I'm sure your mother's happy.
Emily: Just a little.
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