Meeting the vivacious, intelligent and super talented Jennifer Merschdorf, the CEO of YSC (Young Survival Coalition) is like awakening to a sunny morning on the first day of Spring! She is brilliantly bright, fresh and radiant. Jennifer is also a young breast cancer survivor who travels with an easy-going, well behaved, incredibly cute caregiver named Preston Maxwell Merschdorf. He is a 2-year-old long haired Chihuahua who has his own Facebook page and loyal fan base.
Like many of her sister breast cancer survivors, Jennifer has had to face physical, emotional and spiritual challenges from diagnosis through to the long term effect of illness and treatment. Also like many CEOs of young adult cancer organizations, Jennifer meets and befriends many young adult cancer survivors who continue to die young. As an advocate and the founder of an AYA cancer awareness organization myself, I know that Facebook can read like an obituary column on a daily basis. It is emotionally challenging to face these losses so often. When I first met Jennifer, I asked her: who takes care of you, while you are caring for so many others? She flashed me that radiant smile of hers, carefully unzipped the large purse she was carrying, and out popped the adorable face of Preston Maxwell, Caregiver Extraordinaire.
In a subsequent interview for the Caregivers’ Section of Cancer Knowledge Network, Jennifer explained to me how Preston keeps her sane and healthy so she can meet the ongoing physical, emotional and spiritual demands of her job.
PAT: What are the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects pets can bring to the role of Caregiver?
JENNIFER: Preston’s needs dictate that I must get outside to walk him, play with him etc. Plus, carrying him around in my bag is like carrying around a 5 pound weight…added strength training! His personal demands make me more physically active.
Emotionally, Preston has changed my perspective in my professional and personal life. I work 24/7 as the CEO for YSC. I set high standards of excellence for myself. The work can be all consuming. But Preston’s needs demand that I stop work to go outside, breathe fresh air, walk around and think of something other than work. That helps clear my head.
Also, being someone who can get a bit “full of myself”, Preston helps ground me. He has transformed my “work only” lifestyle into a more balanced, restorative way of doing things.
PAT: You travel for work at least half of each month. How does having Preston traveling with you change your experience?
JENNIFER: Preston is my travel companion. His presence has eradicated the word “lonely” out of the hotel room experience. Now, instead of dreading the hours alone in the hotel after my work is completed for the day, I look forward to my one on one time with Preston.
Caring for another living breathing being every day triggers our daily dose of compassion, selflessness and forgiveness. Preston is my “special trigger agent” in my work world.
JENNIFER: Preston has rekindled the “romance” in my personal life by providing an alternative to the “I have cancer” world, which can be a limiting physical and emotional space for me and my husband to live in every day. With Preston, that world expands to a “puppy needy love, take me for a walk outside, see me be silly nilly, feed me, and daily wet tonguey kisses” kind of space that we share with equal pleasure. Preston makes us think of someone else besides work and my ongoing cancer related health issues.
Preston represents hope for the future. A fresh focus for me and my husband. A reason to laugh again…together. To love again…together. Like we did before my cancer diagnosis.
PAT: I understand that your husband wasn’t too keen on you acquiring a pet. Can you tell us more about that?
JENNIFER: My husband was my main caregiver. He didn’t think he needed to be caretaken…but Preston showed him that that wasn’t true. My husband probably didn’t realize how much my cancer journey had affected him until Preston came along. I think that Preston was healing him/us…more than he/we could first acknowledge. We found that sharing Preston Puppy adventures with one another at the end of a day can be very romantic!
PAT: You mentioned that you always saw yourself as a mother, and when your cancer side-tracked that dream, your need to nuture another little being has been filled by Preston.
JENNIFER: Yes. I am still processing the revision of that dream and Preston is helping me through that revision.
PAT: You have shared with us how Preston has effected your physical and emotional well-being. Has he had any influence on your spirituality?
JENNIFER: Since Preston has come into my life, I wake up knowing that I will smile every day, which expands my heart and my own healing process. Taking care of him and nurturing him has helped me grow as a person and changed my perspective on life as a whole.
Preston has made me better understand the Earth and our place in it. He grounds me, makes me smile and gives me endless puppy kisses. Preston has changed my life.
PAT: Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Preston – Caregiver Extraordinaire!
Jennifer Merschdorf, Chief Executive Officer for Young Survival Coalition (YSC). With over 15 years of experience in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, Jennifer brings a new voice to philanthropy. She excels at creating and implementing strategic growth plans, promoting an atmosphere of teamwork and ensuring proper organizational financial management. Jennifer has the ability to merge traditional business strategy and large-scale nonprofit training with fresh and innovative thinking that utilizes new technologies and builds on the strategic planning of an organization. In merging her leadership skills, strong strategic planning, finance background and passion for nonprofit innovation, Jennifer embodies a new style of nonprofit leadership. Jennifer strives to be a strong voice for all young women facing breast cancer, ensuring that they know they do not need to face this disease alone. As a breast cancer survivor herself, Jennifer understands the importance of ensuring all young women have access to YSC’s unique resources. Hear from her at: http://www.youngsurvival.org/about/ysc-chief-executive-officer