Recently, one of our friends and cancer advocates, Jonny Imerman, was featured on CNN Health, in an article entitled “Pairing ‘Angels’ with Cancer Patients,” showcasing the organization he began 10 years ago, Imerman Angels. Imerman Angels is an organization founded in 2003 that carefully matches and individually pairs a person touched by cancer (a cancer fighter or survivor) with someone who has fought and survived the same type of cancer (a Mentor Angel). Caregivers (spouses, parents, children and other family and friends of fighters) also receive 1-on-1 connections with other caregivers and survivors. These 1-on-1 relationships inspire hope and offer the chance to ask personal questions and receive support from someone who is uniquely familiar with their experience.
In 2001, at 26 years old, Imerman was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He underwent an aggressive chemotherapy regime that lasted 5 months only to have the cancer return one year later, this time in his spine. Throughout his cancer treatment, he would walk the halls of the hospital and talk with other young cancer survivors, hoping to make a connection through their shared experience, and offer hope and support. Imerman says, “It was instant friendship. You’re not talking surface level. You’re talking about life and death. My goal was to get in there and motivate patients so that they wanted to jump out of their chemo bed and literally start swinging at this thing.”
Once Imerman was deemed “cancer free,” he was motivated to start engaging the young adult cancer community, and connect patients with other patients or survivors experiencing a similar health crisis. Imerman saw the value in providing a service enabling a cancer fighter to talk to a cancer survivor, who not only had beaten the same type of cancer, but who also was the same age and gender as the fighter. He started reaching out to doctors and hospitals and was referred to other cancer survivors. He collected information from patients, networked with other patients and survivors, and became a cancer matchmaker.
Today, a decade later, Imerman Angels has a database of more than 4,000 survivor mentors. The group tries to connect people living in the same city who can meet in person, but its database also extends overseas, and some pairs communicate via phone and Skype. On average, the group creates five to seven pairs a day and has made more than 8,000 matches in more than 65 countries.
Although Imerman Angels works with all age groups, the majority of their “angels” are between 18-40, a demographic often underrepresented in the cancer care community. According to Jenna Benn, a young woman diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma when she was 29, “Imerman Angels is incredible in the sense that they’re able to pair you up with someone that looks just like you and that gets it and that can tell you it’s going to be OK. All of a sudden, your reality doesn’t seem so strange.”