par Diana Bradley
, Staff Writer | November 23, 2012
From the November 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
It was a Saturday night and 26-year-old Jonny Imerman was shooting pool with some friends, when a sudden surge of pain forced him to drop his pool stick and double over.
“It was like somebody took a knife and stabbed me in my left testicle,” he recalls. “I literally had to waddle out of the bar at a 90 degree angle.”
Fighting through his crippling, mysterious pain, Imerman somehow managed to drive himself to the hospital, only to have crushing news delivered: he had testicular cancer.
“All of these questions ran through my mind,” he recalls. “I thought: ‘God, I’m alone. I wish I knew someone like me. Has anyone else beaten this cancer? Can I get back in the gym? Will I be able to have kids after the chemo? Will I ever feel normal again?’”
After a two-year battle with the cancer, Imerman prevailed. But his own experience made him realize what others affected by cancer were lacking. He started visiting his local cancer center, arbitrarily walking into rooms and asking patients, “What do you want to know?” Instant bonds were formed as he educated them with small tips like what to do about the bad taste chemo leaves behind or how to get through and just manage day-by- day.
Six months into mentoring patients after work,
Imerman realized his efforts were having a tangible, positive impact. This prompted his hunt for more survivors, leading to his eventual network of “angels,” which would be the basis for his nonprofit – Imerman Angels.
“My mom actually came up with the name,” he explains. “ She started meeting all my survivor buddies and she said, ‘These people are so sweet and caring and selfless, they don’t want anything; they just want to change a life and give back — like angels.’”
Today, approximately 4,000 cancer survivors and more than 1,500 caregivers or “mentor angels” from more than 60 countries are involved, registered and trained in the network. Cancer patients are matched — based on age, sex and cancer type — with survivors, so they can receive support from a peer “just like them,” who has been down a similar path.
“It’s a positive experience to know that someone has beat your kind of cancer and is not only surviving but thriving and living a great life,” says Joe Schneider, an 18-year survivor of Burkitts non-Hodgkins lymphoma, who has been a mentor angel since the organization’s inception. “For us survivors, it is also an opportunity to give back and make a difference in someone’s life. That’s why it works so well.”
In addition, caregivers are matched up through the organization’s network — parent-to-parent, spouse-to-spouse — helping entire families to get through cancer.