After walking through a cancer experience, many come out the other side with a different purpose and want to do something to give back, pay it forward, or help others who find themselves on the same path. For cancer survivors and caregivers, Imerman Angels provides one of those opportunities.
Started in 2003 by Jonny Imerman, Imerman Angels wants to ensure that no patient or caregiver has to navigate cancer alone. They provide unique peer-to-peer support through a Mentor Angel – someone who has faced their same cancer, is of similar age, stage, or experience. Be it a survivor or caregiver, Imerman Angels works to ensure those who need support can get it from a true peer.
The level of support someone needs after a cancer diagnosis is as varied as the diagnoses themselves. Face-to-face support groups may not appeal to everyone, and the same can be said for online group support. For some, online access can be a barrier to finding a cancer community, or transportation to meetings can be limited. Others may not feel comfortable meeting with a group of strangers, and many appreciate the anonymity of one-on-one support.
Mentor Angels can connect in any way the survivor or caregiver feels comfortable, and as frequently as support is needed. Email, phone calls, text messages, and even FaceTime or Skype are available to make that connection they need. The difference is the one-on-one relationship, where privacy and confidentiality are core.
For one Caregiver Mentor Angel, volunteering to help other caregivers became a way to give back after a spouse went through treatment for stage III colorectal cancer. “You sign up to be a Mentor Angel because you want to do anything you can to help someone else,” they said. For this caregiver it was “empowering to empower” someone else as a caregiver and “co-captain” in their loved one’s care. Helping a caregiver stand up as an advocate for their person, making sure they practice self-care, and being an empathetic ear on the other end of the line can ensure that a caregiver gets the psychosocial support they need while the patient is getting the medical support to take on their disease.
When three time cancer survivor Eric Charsky was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003, the options for cancer support were still limited and many online communities still in their fledgling stages. One organization establish itself around that time was Imerman Angels, and crossing paths with founder Jonny Imerman in the cancer advocacy space led Eric to join the team as a Survivor Mentor Angel. Having faced both colon and rectal cancer, Eric would also be diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2016, making him versed in multiple aspects and experiences of this disease.
One thing that makes Eric unique is his experience with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), an inherited genetic mutation that increases the carrier’s risk of developing colorectal cancer due to an abnormally high amount of polyps, as well as additional cancers. In the colorectal cancer world, there are limited spaces for patients and caregivers with very rare inherited conditions to turn for peer support. This also includes “previvors” looking to connect. Previvors are those with inherited genetic mutations that increase their risk for developing cancer, and are diligently monitored by their health care team to prevent or catch cancer in its earliest possible stages.
Imerman Angels provides the extensive training and support at any time for their Mentor Angels. Every peer-to-peer relationship is different, and in the world of cancer it can be difficult and at times heartbreaking for mentors to walk through cancer’s darkest times with their people. Many mentors will find themselves wanting to do more to help and connect, but be limited by a patient or caregiver’s own boundaries. Volunteer mentors are trained to give each person the space they need to guide the relationship so that it best meets the needs of the person seeking support, while ensuring these volunteers have the support they need if they themselves need it.
No one should have to face a cancer diagnosis without support from someone who truly understands what they are going through, and Imerman Angels provides this in an unparalleled way. This is why the Colon Cancer Coalition is pleased to partner with Imerman Angels as a resource for those seeking support, and for those wanting to pay it forward by mentoring patients, survivors, caregivers, and previvors of cancer. If you’re interested in receiving one-on-one support, or volunteering to give support to someone just like you, click the links below to find more information.