Touched by an Angel

Photo of Johnny Imerman

Photo:  Mitynicechicago

I recently read a goosebump of a story and wanted to share it with all of you. This true story is about Johnny Imerman, man extraordinaire! He does a gazillion magical things to help patients living with and beyond cancer. I can’t wait until you read this entry about one man’s passion to help people of all races, ages and ethnicities. Oh my gosh, this program is so incredibly fabulous and wonderful!  Read on to see how it works.

Gavin Robertson didn’t know much about Ethan Zohn before he made that first phone call three years ago.  The commercial real estate broker from Boise, Idaho, had no idea Zohn was the 2002 celebrity winner of Survivor: Africa or a cofounder of the nonprofit Grassroot Soccer, which promotes HIV/AIDS education and prevention in Africa.  But Robertson, a 13-year cancer survivor, did know this:  He and Zohn, who lived in New York City, were both in their 30s, active, in serious relationships, and diagnosed with lymphoma-and Zohn needed his help.

It took a special brand of matchmaking to introduce Zohn to Robertson:  Imerman Angels.  A Chicago-based nonprofit founded in 2003 by testicular cancer survivor Johnny Imerman, the group links cancer survivors as mentors to individuals newly diagnosed with cancer and in treatment; it links caregivers, too. Imerman has a natural flair for connecting people, and the matches made by his organization now number more than 8,000, spanning every state in the United States and more than 65 countries–Wowza!

Over the past nine years, Imerman has developed a vast network of cancer survivors representing nearly every type of disease, and his goal is to pair every cancer “fighter” –as Imerman Angels calls someone in active treatment-with a survivor within 24 hours of contacting his organization.

Imerman was working toward an M.B.A. when he was diagnosed in 2001.  He didn’t know any other young people with cancer, much less testicular cancer.  As tough as his treatment was, Imerman knew on some level he was fortunate.  He had a loving mother, brother, and close friends.  But he saw many patients, alone in their hospital rooms, who had no one to discuss concerns about side effects, pain or ways to navigate the medical system, much less their deeper fears and anxieties. As Imerman recovered, he began to visit them and share his story. He realized that a 20-something single guy with testicular cancer probably wasn’t the best match for a 60-year-old woman with ovarian cancer. He began compiling a database of his new friends’ profiles in his spare time and to recruit any willing to mentor other patients.  Suddenly, he was a matchmaker.

His mother inspired the group’s eventual name when she referred to his survivor buddies as “angels.” He truly filled a crack in the system.

The message from Imerman Angels is consistently upbeat-“A Mentor Angel” is walking, talking, living proof and inspiration to others. Imerman knows that not everyone is able to beat the disease, and some mentors are matched with “thrivers,” as Imerman Angels call those who have terminal conditions.  All mentors, once they’re screened by staff, are encouraged to share their personal experiences but trained not to cross the line between offering support and giving medical advice, Imerman says.  The organization does not review medical records.

Matches vary.  One woman in rural Indiana was matched with another who happened to live in a nearby subdivision.  A woman in France found Imerman Angels’ website (Imerman Angels.org) and was matched to a survivor in the U.S.; they communicated via Skype.  Some mentors find their “fighter” has dozens of questions for them in the first conversation.  Some talk every day and meet once a week.  Some speak only once, asking for financial advice, for instance, and then never talk again.  Others become close friends.

To those who know him, Imerman is the energetic motor that makes his organization hum, and virtually everyone agrees that he seems unstoppable.  Even his computer messages jump off the screen, punctuated by “GREAT,” “AMAZING,” and “SO glad you each CRUSHED your cancers! Keep well!! J and “TOGETHER we are strong!!”

Imerman says he could talk about cancer all day long, and every day is different.  He’ll visit people at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, have lunch with a nonprofit peer, then host a fundraiser.  The next day, he’ll speak at a school and travel across the country to appear at a medical center or cancer organization benefit to spread the word about Imerman Angels’ mission to connect people diagnosed with cancer.  It’s a far cry from how his life was before his diagnosis, when his daily outfit was a suit and tie and his goal was to succeed in the business world.

Learn more, request support or become a mentor:  Imermanangels.org.  It’s a good thing!

Soure:  Pamela Ferdinand

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One Response to Touched by an Angel

  1. Deb Konrad says:

    My son is the one who told me about Johnny and his organization…right after my dx with Lymphoma 5 years ago. His girlfriends volunteers with them…she even ran the Chicago Maraton to raise money for them She and Johnny would practice together for the race. When I called Imerman Angels, it was Johnny himself who talked to me on the phone for over an hour, and then connected me with a mentor angel. After 2.5 years of treatment protocol, and once I felt stronger,both physically and emotionally, I joined his team as a mentor angel. I have mentored 3 people, and find that it is a very rewarding experience. It is my way of giving back…I can’t run a marathon, but this is something I can do. Johnny is one of the sweetest young men I have ever met…he has a heart of gold. I often joke that if I had a daughter his age, I would be trying to fix them up!

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