Interview | One-on-One Support for Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patients
March 5, 2012
We are honored to be able to interview Jonny Imerman about his organization Imerman Angels. Jonny is a 2x testicular cancer survivor who started Imerman Angels in 2003. Since then, their network has grown to over 4,000 Mentor Angels with connections in all 50 states and 55 countries.
Why did you start Imerman Angels?
My number one reason for starting Imerman Angels was because I could not find a prostate cancer survivor at 26 years old. While my mother and friends were such a great support team, I couldn’t help but wonder “has anyone gone through this before?!
I had so much uncertainty that I needed to know what was coming. When I finished chemotherapy, I knew I wanted to be a “big brother” figure to another man going through what I did. I started by visiting the local cancer centers in my area, introduced myself, and told them I had just gone through what they are going through. The men welcomed me with open arms. Yes, I could help these men one-on-one but I realized this was scalable; there are millions of people out there who can benefit from this. In 2003, it went from one person to over 4,000 survivors; we created a movement.
What types of cancer do you match people with?
We match people with ALL types of cancer. You have to believe you are not the only one in this world fighting your battle.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer; do you often find them matches?
We do! Although mesothelioma is less common then other cancers, we have successfully matched up a few dozen mesothelioma support seekers with mentor angels.
What are mentor angels?
Mentor Angels are cancer survivors or caregivers. This person is somebody who wants to give back; they have been through the cancer experience and can give tips, advice, encouragement, and hope. The experiences they share can range from radiation treatments to how it may affect their personal relationships.
How do you find mentor angels?
We find mentor angels in a few different ways:
- Hospitals, nurses, and doctors.
- Through their partnerships with other non-profits such as Livestrong and The American Cancer Society.
- Marketing, spreading the word, and of course online!
Are Mentor Angels trained or certified in the information they are allowed to provide support seekers?
Yes, they are required to participate in phone training and are given a mentor guide book with lists of dos and don’ts.
At what point in someone’s cancer diagnosis can they contact you to be matched with a Mentor?
Any point, the sooner the better. There have been instances where someone has gotten diagnosed and called the second they stepped out of the office, even before calling their loved ones. The first thing people do is Google what they have been diagnosed with, and for example, a mesothelioma patient can become very disturbed with the information they see regarding life expectancy and survival rates. This is why it is so beneficial to get a Mentor Angel to have someone who has lived it to inform you first.
How can they contact you to start the matching process?
The easiest way for a support seeker to get matched up with a Mentor Angel is through the website. There’s a section you can click on to get support and it will bring you to a very comprehensive questionnaire with everything about your diagnosis, lifestyle, age, etc. You can of course call the phone number on the website too.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer; do you often match others with mesothelioma?
Yes, as we discussed before we have had a few dozen mesothelioma connections.
How do you determine a perfect match between mentors and support seekers?
Support Seekers will fill out the questionnaire on the website with things they want in a Mentor Angel. The important part is that you get matched with someone you want to be matched with. In most cases, the more similar the pair the better. Matching is based on age, race, gender, and religion. The type and stage of cancer can be important as well.
Who connects a mentor with a support seeker?
We have a great team of survivor volunteers who make the connections. They have really gotten to know many of our Mentors over the years and are very detailed in their matching. The survivors then connect them through email introduction, phone or Skype.
Do they need to live in the same city? How do they connect with each other and how often?
No they do not need to live in the same city. They usually connect over phone and Skype. We love Skype; it brings such a positive energy being able to visualize how you will look after treatment. You can talk with each other as often as you like anywhere from once a week to once a month.
How many Support Seekers do you connect with Mentor Angels a month?
It varies; we had about 1600 Support Seekers last year, so that would be over 100 a month.
Are the matching services and resources you provide free?
All matching and resources we provide are free, and that will never change. Our organization is run on donations and energy. We have a group of runners who are apart of Livestrong and run the Chicago and Austin Marathons annually.
Caregivers are also going through a very new experience, do you connect caregivers?
Yes, we have over 1,500 caregivers ready to be connected. It is easy to forget that caregivers have not gone through this process before either and need support and guidance as well.
Is there a story you can share with us about how Imerman Angels has helped someone?
We have a survivor here named Krystal, she is a mesothelioma survivor at the age of 24. While this is a rare cancer especially at such a young age, we made a connection. Krystal was matched with a young woman in Texas who was diagnosed with mesothelioma right after Krystal, and they both spoke Spanish, it was unbelievable. The young women from Texas came to Chicago for treatment one weekend and we all got together. It was crazy how great the connection was, they are still great friends.
We would like to thank Jonny for his time, more information on his organization can be found online at ImermanAngels.org. Our patient advocates at The Mesothelioma Center assist patients with a variety of medical, financial, and support resources such as Imerman Angels. The Mesothelioma Center’s patient advocates can be reached 24 hours a day at 800-815-7924.