Metro Detroit man giving back with cancer fighters

Oakland county cancer survivors connects patients with one of his Imerman Angels


At 26, Jonny Imerman did have a health care in the world.

But that changed one Saturday night when he was out with friends in Ann Arbor.  He was shooting pool when all of a sudden he was doubled over in pain, barely able to walk.

He went to the hospital and eventually got a very surprise diagnosis.

"All of a sudden, you know, a doctor runs his hands through his hair and is like 'I'm sorry kid.  You know this is testicular cancer and its spread and you know we're going to have to jump on this right away,'" said Jonny Imerman.

Imerman aggressively treated his cancer, beating it not once but twice.

However, when most cancer survivors would steer clear hospitals and cancer treatment centers, Imerman found himself returning again and again.

Imerman says he had a great support system with his family and friends but there was another connection that could have helped him and that is why he was drawn back to the cancer center despite being in remission.

"Becoming a survivor a second time, I was like, I need to give back, I've got to find a way to help people and the one thing I didn't have that I knew was missing was the friendship to a survivor like me," said Imerman.

Jeff Imerman said his younger brother Jonny is a role model to him.

"Most people would run away from the hospital and never look back.  He charged right back in to help the people that were still there and still fighting," said Jeff Imerman.

When he reflects back on his battle with cancer, Imerman says he wishes he could have connected with a survivor of testicular cancer while he was sick.

"I didn't know anyone who had been through the same thing, and you want someone to look in your eyes and say, 'Wait you know, you've been there you get this, like tell me is this normal? Do you get these tingling in your fingertips? Is that normal? Do you get this bad taste in your mouth too? I can't kick this taste in my mouth from chemo is that normal?" said Imerman.

Imerman would go door to door at the cancer center stopping to talk to patients, offering them hope that there is life after cancer.

"I did it on nights and on weekends," said Imerman.  "I knew a lot of the nurses and I knew some doctors and I'd be 'Who here is young?' Because I was also young and in my 20s. 'Who would relate to me? Who can I walk in and talk to and show them the other side.  You know there is another side. You can beat this and I beat it, and I'm building my life back."

Imerman realized that patients could make better connections with people who survived the same cancer that they're currently fighting. He started recruiting survivors and matching them with patients with the same type of cancer.

"So a 50-year-old with breast cancer, stage two, find another woman who is 52 who beat stage two cancer three years ago and she is just like her. Get these women in the same room and it's like fireworks.  It's an immediate connection.  It's hope. It's empathy.  It's support," Imerman said.

In 2003 Imerman Angels was created, giving cancer patients one one one support from a "mentor angel."    

An angel like Ashley Goldberg who was diagnosed with a type of bone cancer when she was seven years old. Imerman Angels didn't exist at that time, but she knows the impact a mentor can have on the healing process.   At her mother's request, Goldberg and her family met Casey and her family.  Casey was a young girl who had the same type of cancer and survived.

"All I wanted to see was someone who had survived it and was walking around and was healthy," said Alissa Goldberg, Ashley's mother. "When we met this girl Casey, that was the most hope, the most strength, the most courage that I could ever have asked for and I had the strength at that point to be able to take the next step and go forward and fight this battle."

Goldberg might have been young but she remembers the impact Casey had on her during her cancer fight.

"She was just someone who I could be bald with, I didn't have to wear my wig with and she didn't have to wear her wig with," said Ashley Goldberg.   "That's huge to me to have somebody who understands and somebody young so it definitely, definitely influenced my wanting to be a mentor."

These days both Ashley and Alissa are Imerman Angels.  They are currently mentoring a teenage girl who had the same cancer as Ashley and her mother.

"Talking to Lily just keeps me grounded and it's just a reminder how important life is and how precious life is and how much someone like me can give to others," said Ashley Goldberg.

Imerman Angels has 6,000 cancer survivors acting as mentor angels in 60 different countries.   When a patient calls Imerman Angels, they are connected with a survivor of the same cancer in a matter of a couple days, sometimes a couple hours.  The goal is to make the match within one to three business days.

The network matches the cancer, age, gender, treatment type, side effects or any other specifications a patient might request.  The mentor angel often connects through phone calls, texting, email, Skype, even attending doctors' appointments, whatever the patient needs for support.

"If you're a human being and you need help with cancer and you live anywhere in the world we're going to help you," said Imerman.

There is no charge to anyone who seeks an Imerman Angel, it is a free service.  For more information, click here.

Imerman Angels is now based in Chicago, but Imerman's family has found a way to help in metro Detroit.   

His mother Jane and his brother Jeffrey have created the Imerman Cake Company.     The family changed their eating habits and learned more about organic food once Jonny was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  They started developing recipes using natural and organic ingredients.  In 2010, they founded the Imerman Cake Company selling chocolate chip and cinnamon cakes at farmers markets in the metro Detroit area.  A portion of each sale is donated to Imerman Angels.

To learn more about Imerman Cake Company, click here.