No one can ever say Lorraine Freytes backs down from a challenge.
Diagnosed with lupus when she was just 11 years old, the disease has challenged her to keep going despite debilitating symptoms and grueling therapies. Now in her junior year of nursing school at Florida International University with a 3.8 GPA, Freytes has traveled a rough road to get to this point. But, she says, taking the easy route just isn't her way.
With lupus, Freytes became familiar with hospitals and hospital staff at an early age. A flare up of joint pain and severe fatigue so intense she was unable to get out of bed led to her diagnosis, and physicians and nurses quickly became part of her regular routine. And while they worked to make her feel better and control the lupus, they also, unknowingly, influenced her career path.
At first, Freytes and her family were unhappy with her treatment, overwhelmed by the diagnosis, and frustrated that their voices weren't being heard by those who headed up her treatment plan. Eventually, her family found a hospital where the staff responded to her, and it changed her world.
“The staff was wonderful,” she says. “They treated me like a person, and I decided I wanted to become a nurse. I loved going to see them, and I wanted to make other kids feel the way I felt when I had to go.”
Freytes says the staff's compassion gave her a deep sense of relief. “I can't even describe it, like the butterflies, that someone cared,” she says. “Someone who didn't even know me. It was heart-warming and incredible.”
As part of her treatment, Freytes received chemotherapy several times a year for several years and so became close to the staff. Her thoughts never wavered. “I wanted to be that person,” she says.
Despite the upheaval, Freytes kept her goals in sight. “I always pushed myself,” she says. “My parents said, 'Don't let lupus stop you from doing what you want to do.'” When she couldn't take notes in class, she recorded the lecture. She wanted to be out in the world. “If I had to hobble out the door, I did,” she says.
As a student, Freytes takes care of herself knowing the rigors of nursing school are extra challenging for someone with lupus. She receives wonderful support from a close network that includes her family and her boyfriend. Sometimes she just has to push through symptoms like severe fatigue, she says, but she also takes care to slow down and rest. “I exercise, eat healthy, and take lots of naps,” she says, noting that her lupus is manageable right now. She hasn't had an infusion in two years.
Freytes is thinking of a career in NICU or pediatric oncology because she received her own chemotherapy infusions there. “I like that environment,” she says. “I want to give patients hope. I can show them I was sick, too.” She also knows what it's like to feel miserable from treatments that are helping you and that common link will help her be the kind of nurse she has always envisioned.
After Freytes finishes her bachelor's degree, she plans to keep going until she has a PhD in hand. “I always tell people to follow their dreams,” she says. “Don't let things stop you from what you need to do or want to do. You can't live in a bubble.”
And even when an illness or another of life's unexpected challenges gets thrown in your path, keep going, she says. “You have to push yourself and you have to try. You just have to do it.”