After losing her mother to cancer, Jade Merritt is creating innovative solutions to support caregivers and their loved ones.
By Jessica Bizik
Photography by Chris Crews
Think about the last time you complained about your to-do list. Maybe you missed Spin class due to a conference call, or got stuck in the slow checkout line at Target. Now consider how hectic your life might feel, if you were also responsible for caring for a critically ill family member.
Jade Merritt knows that feeling firsthand.
In November 2015, Jade took an unpaid leave of absence from her job as a clinical researcher to become a full-time caregiver for her mother—Michal (affectionately known as “Mikey”)—who was coming to the end of her courageous battle with colon cancer.
Jade considers herself a natural caregiver, but the role still took a toll on her. Some days she felt like she didn’t even have time to shower, much less go to the movies or go for a walk. But that’s exactly what some caregivers need to combat the frustration, isolation and exhaustion that can creep in when you’re taking care of everybody but yourself.
That’s why Jade created Mikey’s Miracle Foundation (mikeysmiraclefoundation.org), a nonprofit that provides practical solutions and support for families dealing with cancer.
“As a small organization, I knew we had to be selective about what we offer. So I used my personal experience, and surveyed families, to come up with three core services we believed would make a big difference: transportation, meal preparation and home cleaning,” she says.
The Foundation also delivers Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners each year—and hosts monthly mind/body/spirit events, ranging from Zumba classes to survivor storytelling nights, where patients and caregivers can connect with others who are facing the same challenges.
Jade’s latest innovation is The Caregiver’s Box, a free monthly care package filled with items to help make the caregiver’s life better. Think: a meditation CD, a Netflix gift card, an inspirational journal, some fuzzy socks to keep you warm on the overnight shift.
The idea popped up during a brainstorming session with some Stevenson University business students, who were tasked with helping local social entrepreneurs solve a problem.
“Self-care is the most important, but often most forgotten, part of the treatment journey,” says the Towson University alumna, who graduated with a degree in biology. “We want to help caregivers stay healthy themselves.”
To fill the boxes, Jade will partner with local businesses—such as a yoga studio that’s willing provide free guest passes—and buy other items with support from donors. (Watch for the “Be a Miracle, Give a Miracle” campaign launching soon.)
Plus, each box will include a handwritten note of encouragement—a touch that seems beautifully reflective of the woman who inspired Mikey’s Miracle Foundation.
“My mom was a very thoughtful person. Such a funny, smart, amazing woman. She was just about everybody’s favorite aunt—and she was my best friend,” says Jade. “Doing this work has helped me through the grieving process. It has given me something positive to focus on that is so much bigger than my grief and myself.”