“For me, giving is receiving,” Kris Fredericks said, looking reflectively off at something more inside herself than out. Her journey from a caregiver tag-along at a young age to a leading CNA took time – and a battle with cancer – before coming gracefully into focus.
Kris has done volunteer work most of her life, finding even as a youngster that she had a special place in her heart for the elderly and those in assisted living. Growing up, she spent time living with her grandma, an LPN in New York. In previous generations, there were fewer restrictions and liability concerns, so Fredericks would tag along as her grandmother cared for clients.
“I would wheel the wheelchairs and help people do puzzles. Just sit and visit with them,” said Fredericks. “Really I’ve been around the elderly my whole life.”
As she grew, Kris found a career as an art director, and continued to pursue her love of nutrition and fitness. Her life and professional goals changed course entirely when in 2011, Kris was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It really changed my perspective. It got me thinking that I want to do the things I’ve always wanted to do,”
So, Fredericks did something exceptional. She changed everything. Frederick took a job at the Somerby assisted living community as a chef, merging her passion to serve the elderly and her professional experience in diet and nutrition.
Re-engaging her passion for seniors was a blessing to her own spirit, and Kris found even in serving the nutrition seniors need for wellness, that she craved more.
“I found out I wanted to hang out with [the elderly] more than just be behind the scenes,” she laughs.
So she dove deeper still into her volunteering, offering to teach yoga and cooking classes to seniors in her free time. Her desire to connect with seniors, to share experiences with them and be a foundation of love and respect were evident to all. When a staff member mentioned that Fredericks should become a CNA through the Academy at CaraVita, she decided to make the transition. Kris became a member of the second class of the Academy at CaraVita, graduating into a CNA role with CaraVita while continuing her working as a chef at Somerby.
Her battle with cancer has given her a unique perspective as a caregiver.
“Bad things can happen to good people and they do all the time. My personal belief is that God put us here on earth to support each other, and one of the best ways we can do that is to be charitable with our time. I get as much from these people on a daily basis as they do from me. I feel blessed to do it.”
As someone who battles every day for her own health and wellness, she is uniquely aware of the empathy required in care. She has experienced firsthand the feelings of needing care. Fredericks draws a comparison between her own health experiences and those in the first stages of dementia; noting that people who do not understand its plights can sometimes gawk at the strange behavior patterns and responses of the dementia patient. Not Kris.
“It makes me more empathetic to what a person is going though. I’ve been through a lot of surgeries and care and after my mastectomy in 2012, I know what it’s like to feel like people are always looking at you. You feel embarrassed.”
For all her amazing effort, Kris herself is still in the process of fighting cancer and has three more years of oral chemotherapy treatment to go. Two months ago she found out her bone density has decreased significantly because of the chemotherapy medications, a finding that led to emergency surgery reconstructing her jaw and removal of three teeth.
“I was so upset that I didn’t want to smile,” Fredericks recounted with less enthusiasm than is customary of her.
On the day she returned to her care client – a man facing the final stages of dementia – Kris was worried he would no longer recognize her. With so much time away, those memories of her would surely have been lost to the disease, and given such dramatic changes in her appearance, she felt the distinct anxiety that this session would reflect a complete restart of their relationship.
Yet, the moment they saw one another, his eyes lit up and he began to cry. Those tears – the kind that we only cry from authentic joy – and the realization that her relationships would survive illness, time apart and changes in appearance clarified Fredericks’ perspective.
“He knew me. And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.’ I stopped. It is just those moments of human interaction that change everything. I realized it’s just teeth. I’m still alive. I still have breath in my lungs. I still have my family.”
She was so thankful that day, she sat and watched him with a joyful heart. When the other residents visited to tell the same stories she’d heard time and again, Kris may as well have been hearing them for the very first time.
“It’s just getting to spend time with them that matters so much. Their eyes twinkled and their attitudes changed. They were able to be people again. When I come in every day and see the sparkle in someone’s eyes and know that I’m making a difference…that’s what matters to me.”
No matter where life takes Kris Fredericks next, CaraVita Home Care will be rooting for her. With her profound dedication to those she serves, her compassionate approach to health and wellness and her fearless refusal to retreat in the face of challenge, we are proud to honor Kris Fredericks as CaraVita Home Care’s June Caregiver of the Month.