“Isolation leads to depression,” says Jonny Imerman of Imerman’s Angels. “No one should ever feel she’s the only kid in town with cancer, or he’s the only young guy with cancer. No one should be in that position.”
A survivor of testicular cancer (diagnosed when he was only 26), Jonny Imerman founded Imerman’s Angels to connect fighters with survivors, and caretakers with caretakers. During hospital stays, he was surrounded by family and friends, but was heartbroken to see others fighting the disease alone. Even as a young boy, Jonny loved introducing one friend to another, so he decided to use that talent to employ angels here on Earth. “When we connect people who are fighting cancer with people who’ve survived that same cancer, we help them see there are others out there who have walked where they’re walking, gotten through it, and gone on to live full and happy lives. It gives people the strength to fight, and the belief to win.”
Once a small group of only 17 Chicago survivors, Imerman’s Angels has grown to over 1,700 survivors, the largest known network of its kind, and it continues to grow. Already the organization is linking people from all 50 states, and recent connections have expanded into New Zealand, France, England, Scotland, Spain, Pakistan, and more. Jonny has every intention of encouraging that momentum.
“Right now, in the U.S., we have about 2/3 of cancer patients surviving. We want to get that number up. How do we do that? By giving people hope. By showing them what’s possible.”
The mission statement for the organization reflects that goal: Beginning January 1, 2013, Jonny says every cancer fighter in the United States will have free access to a cancer survivor within 24 hours of being diagnosed. “When you’re the only person in your world who has the cancer you have, you start to believe that everyone else must have died. It’s a false deduction, but that’s just what you think, and it’s an unhealthy place to be. There certainly are people who have survived-you just don’t know them. That’s where we come in.”
Survivors call or visit fighters facing similar diagnoses. “It’s so empowering, when you’re a fighter, to hear stories from a survivor-what the treatments were like for them, how they made it through it, what they’re doing now. They may be running marathons, starting families, moving on to successful careers, and only awhile ago they were in the same spot you are now. That gives you the motivation to keep going.”
Survivors also share invaluable tips. “Chemo invariably gives you metal mouth,” Jonny says. “Everything has a metallic taste. The first thing a survivor will do is tell you to get down to Walgreen’s, get yourself some Lemonhead, and then you won’t taste anything but pure lemon. You realize this person made it through, and you can, too!”
Fighters aren’t the only ones who benefit from the process. Survivors gain immeasurable rewards, including the feeling that they’ve truly made a difference. Jonny himself continues to spend most of his time on the phone or at clinics, doing what he does best. “We can share stories. We can work together. We can beat this thing.”
Imerman’s Angels is funded mostly by donations. If you’d like to give to this worthy cause, please see Jonny’s website. If you know of a cancer fighter who needs help, please don’t hesitate to contact Imerman’s Angels. If you know of a survivor willing to volunteer, Jonny wants to hear from you!