Transforming fear into fight. When you get the worst possible news, who will help you? Your doctor to a point. But sometimes the biggest difference comes in those who know the little things about your battle. The Imerman angels.
For decades in Chicago, she anchored the day. And she reported medical stories.
But when Joan Esposito got news from her doctor in 2006 that she had Hodgkins Lymphoma, she kept that a health secret.
Joan Esposito: "I didn't tell anybody. For the first week I was going through all these tests ... I didn't know if I was going to be alive six months down the road. It was pretty scary."
This single mother knew she had to face the music and move one.
Joan Esposito: "I tried to pick the chemo regimen that I thought would make me most available for my kids. There are a couple of days where you truly realize that there are worse things than dying. I was sick day after day, hour after hour, week after week. Your doctor is trying to keep you alive. And a lot of the minutia is just not something they have the time for. But the minutia is what you have to live with every day."
Enter Imerman Angels ... the masters of minutia.
Jonny Imerman, Founder of Imerman Angels: "Every age, every cancer, every treatment, every side-effect, everything is covered."
Meet Jonny Imerman. Cancer survivor. Motivator and founder of Imerman Angels.
Jonny Imerman: "I knew, when I was sick, and I promised and I prayed and I said that if I live and I get my life back, I will find a way to make the cancer world a better place."
And that he has, changing the way people face their disease. Transformed from the time he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 26.
Jonny Imerman: "I had the greatest mom in the world, greatest friends. I was never alone. But what the missing puzzle piece was for me was somebody my age, who was my gender, was a guy, who could look me square in the eye and say, 'Look buddy, I did this three-four years ago and I'm fine.'"
So in 2003 Jonny made it a mission to find those buddies, to connect people. On the internet they fill out a lengthy questionaire documenting every symptom, treatment and even support system. The details help match survivor and fighter.
Jonny Imerman: "By 2006 this thing had taken off so much, so fast and my phone was ringing off the hook. Some guy in Seattle, some guy in Florida, another person in Vancouver saying 'I heard you know a lot of survivors, do you know someone like me?'"
Terry Connolly found someone just like her. Lisa Geiger was also diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Stage 2B. Mastecomy, chemotherapy. Empathy.
Terry Connolly: "The first time we met we talked for about five hours."
Lisa Geiger: "And we were immediate friends."
Terry: "And the weight just came off. Immediate friends. Could relate on so many levels. And she was a Godsend for me."
They go through the steps together enduring the ups and downs. And sometimes even smiling.
Terry Connolly: "Someone to look you in the eye and say you know what, what you are going to go through isn't gonna be fun but ..."
Lisa Geiger: "Look at me."
Terry Connolly: "Yeah, I did it and you can do it."
Lisa Geiger: "And that, it removes so much of the fear."
Joan Esposito: "I think the one thing as an Imerman Angel you have the most to offer is, you know, don't worry. You have a good shot at getting through this. Look at me, I was where you are and I'm on the other side now. Have faith that you'll be on the other side one day too."
Jonny Imerman: "It's the greatest thing in the world, being able to share your story and find a sense of meaning, and a sense of purpose for all the chemos, and all the surgeries and all the treatments. But it really is a collective effort, it's a team ...it's a team mission. The survivors are the lifeblood."
By 2013 Jonny Imerman hopes anyone diagnosed with cancer anywhere in the world will have free access to the survivor's network of Imerman Angels. And he doesn't want it to stop with cancer ... he's hoping those with other challenges will use this model to reach out to those in need.
For more information about Imerman Angels, check out www.imermanangels.org.
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