Sam LiBassi, treasured member of the Imerman Angels community, lost his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma on October 24th, 2013. Sam’s journey with Imerman Angels began shortly after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in February of 2011. Imerman Angels founder Jonny Imerman became aware of Sam through a mutual friend. When the two finally met, the relationship between them was organic. It didn’t take long for Sam to get involved with Imerman Angels, speaking at a fundraiser at Navy Pier and even appearing on ABC 7’s Windy City Live.
Sam was the second of four children, born in Cleveland Ohio. He was homeschooled throughout high school and went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After graduating, he was hired as a mechanical engineer at Parker Hannif in Lincolnshire, IL. He was deeply involved in youth leadership and regularly attended Lake County Baptist Church in Waukegan. In August of 2013, he married the love of his life, Bettie, in Lincoln Park, Chicago.
Those that knew Sam say that he excelled at everything he did, and also incorporated his faith into every part of his life. One thing that stood out about Sam was his attitude; even when Sam was in pain, he maintained his faith in God and exerted an infectiously positive attitude. Along with his attitude came a naturally curious personality. Anything that Sam learned about, he wanted to know more about and was always fascinated by even the simplest things. He also loved to cook, read, and show off the city of Chicago to his friends.
Upon joining Imerman Angels, Sam was paired with a Mentor Angel named Vince who was an Ewing’s sarcoma survivor. Vince provided Sam with a great amount of support throughout his battle. Vince and Sam’s relationship helped to comfort Sam and helped him to retain his positive attitude amidst his illness. Being able to communicate with somebody who had also battled Ewing’s sarcoma allowed Sam to know what was to come, as well as to know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sam, who loved running, had just signed up for the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon days before his diagnosis. Though he wasn’t able to run the 2011 marathon, Sam remained determined to run and train again. Sam went into remission in November of 2011, and signed himself up for the 2012 Chicago Marathon. In September of 2012, only a month before the race, Sam relapsed. However, he was diligent about participating in the marathon with Team Imerman Angels. Though he wasn’t able to fully compete, he ran eight miles and was still able to cross the finish line and receive a medal.
Sam planned to run another marathon as soon as he was better. Although Sam passed away before he was able to do so, his sister, Elizabeth, and several of their close friends plan to run the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in his memory alongside Team Imerman Angels. Team Imerman Angels currently has over 230 members that actively participate in various sports and events around the city in order to gain awareness for their mission of providing personalized connections that enable 1-on-1 support among cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers.
“Getting a cancer diagnosis was shocking, but it has made me a more positive and productive person.”
By Ed Giampietro, as told to Jo Cavallo
“I’ve been blessed with good health for most of my life, and I was careful to keep it that way. I don’t smoke, I eat a healthy diet, and I maintain a healthy weight. I also was fortunate to be born with pretty good genes and have no family history of cancer. In fact, except for an occasional flare-up of gout, I’ve never had any serious illnesses. So it was a complete shock in the fall of 2009 when my wife Ann Marie and I came home from having dinner out and I found blood in my urine.
At first I thought it was probably a bladder infection and made an appointment the next morning to see my primary care physician. Although she didn’t say anything at the time, I was sure she suspected that I had something more serious than a bladder infection. She ordered an ultrasound test for the next day, which was followed by a CT scan and other diagnostic tests. Finally, I was told that there was a 12-cm tumor sitting on my right kidney and that there was a high probability that it was cancer.
Coping With Cancer Metastases
Until blood appeared in my urine, I hadn’t had any symptoms that anything was wrong. But soon after the diagnosis, I started experiencing chronic shortness of breath, an irritating cough, and small blood clots in my urine. It felt as though the tumor was sucking the life out of me.
I was told I needed a radical nephrectomy and that one of my ribs would need to be removed. The biopsy showed that the tumor was stage II kidney cancer. My doctor said that he removed all signs of the cancer and that I wouldn’t need further treatment.
But a month later, when I went back for a follow-up CT scan, the test showed hundreds of nodules on both lungs—the cancer had metastasized. Now I was scared.
The diagnosis was changed to stage IV disease, and I was offered treatment with high-dose interleukin-2 (Proleukin). Although my prognosis wasn’t good, and I had just a 7% to 15% chance for a durable full recovery, I underwent the treatment, and within a few months the tumors starting shrinking. Today, I am cancer-free.
While I am so thankful to my oncology team for taking such good care of my medical needs, I wish that they had paid more attention to my emotional needs. I was looking for some encouraging words while I was going through treatment—and even now that I’m in remission—but they never came.
I try to put myself in my doctors’ shoes and realize how difficult it must be to treat cancer patients, especially when their disease is as advanced as mine was, and you can’t be sure of the outcome. I know that if I hadn’t gotten such great medical treatment, I wouldn’t still be here, but I felt that the lack of an emotional connection was the missing piece in my care.
Living the Best Possible Life
I have always been a positive person, but the experience of having cancer has made me even more determined to live a purposeful life. I don’t concern myself with life’s small inconveniences, and I don’t have patience for chronic complainers.
I am so grateful for having survived cancer, I decided to help others going through a similar circumstance and joined Imerman Angels, a one-on-one cancer support group that matches a newly diagnosed patient with a survivor of the same type of cancer. So far, I have talked with a dozen kidney cancer patients around the country, and the experience has been very gratifying.
Now that I’ve been a survivor for 4 years, I don’t live in constant fear that the cancer will recur, but I know that it is a possibility. If I am faced with a recurrence, I will once again put my trust in my oncology team and be open to any treatments they recommend. In the meantime, I’m living the best life I can, and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Ed Giampietro is an operations manager for a global technology company in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
We had an emotional, but joyful day at the Imerman Angels office yesterday, December 3. Long time cancer fighter, mentor angel and dear friend of founder Jonny Imerman, Jennifer Smith, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the young age of 30. At the time of her diagnosis, Jen was a new mother to now seven-year-old Corbin. She turned her negative news into a source of deep motivation and began working closely with Imerman Angels.
In addition to her work as a mentor angel, Jen mentored young women with breast cancer as a founding member and organizer of the local Champaign-Urbana Affiliate Chapter of the Young Survivor Coalition. Everything Jen was involved with was dedicated to raising breast cancer awareness in young women.
Because of Jen’s dedication and strength as a mother and in her fight against breast cancer, Jen was selected as one of eight women to be awarded for her inspiration by the Kids II foundation Pink Power Mom program in 2013. Kids II is a small family owned corporation that creates children’s toys. When they started receiving an overwhelming amount of letters from mothers stating how thankful they were for their products that kept their children occupied during their breast cancer treatment, Kids II took action.
Around Mother’s Day every year nominations are sent to the Pink Power Mom program from across the country for courageous mothers who suffer from breast cancer that are making a difference in their community. Each year, the eight winners are flown to Atlanta for a spa weekend and are presented with a check to give to a non-profit of their choice.
Earlier this year, Jen’s breast cancer came back strong. She fought hard until the end, but passed away in late September. Yesterday, Heidi Floyd, the Executive Director of Pink Power Mom, Jen’s mother, Nancy Arnold and Jen’s sister Sara joined us at the Imerman Angels office for Jen’s check presentation. We were all saddened that Jen wasn’t with us, but it was her wish that the donation be made to Imerman Angels. This $5,000 check is the first of five donations, which will be awarded once a year.
For more information on Pink Power Moms, visit pinkpowermom.com.
Any Sport, Any Race, Anywhere!
$150,000 in funds raised as 90 members of Team IA cross the finish line benefitting Imerman Angels’ mission to enable 1-on-1 cancer support for cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers
Congratulations, Team Imerman Angels, for completing the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. We believe that every fundraising page created, jersey worn while training, and each individual informed of the Imerman Angels mission helps raise awareness to ensure that no one faces cancer alone.
Our marathon weekend began with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Health and Fitness Expo at McCormick Place Convention Center. Guests were invited to browse more than 200 exhibitors of marathon apparel, footwear, and latest fitness technology. On Saturday evening, Team Imerman Angels members and their families were invited to enjoy a protein-packed pasta dinner at Bongiorno’s courtesy of Imerman Angels.
Team Imerman Angels, headed by first time marathon runner and head of Team IA recruiting Khitam Masoud, was comprised of 90 members from all over the United States and beyond. Masoud, a two-time cancer survivor, first decided to run with Imerman Angels last year when she met Israel Antonio, a blind athlete who runs for various organizations. His determination to overcome challenges inspired Khitam to train hard and cross the finish line in support of Imerman Angel’s cause.
Team Imerman Angels runners who participated in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon include: Matthew Abeles, Jessica Alger, Israel Antonio, Shilpa Anturkar, James Auste, Lisa Baranuska, Christina Bayer, Suzanne Blaising, Danielle Blount, Adam Callans, Michael Camerano, Prashant K Chawla, Isabel Chung, Brianne M Connolly, Pascale Dargis, Katie Donnewald, James R Escobar, Caitlin Fitzpatrick, Caroline Frost, Sean Gallagher, Heidi H. Gerhardt, Nicholas Gow, Christopher J. Hemzacek, Samantha J. Herink, Eric S Horng, Heather A. Hoskin, Brennan Hughes, Becky Ives, Daniel Jacobsen, Andrew D. Johnson, Stephen Johnson, Courtney Joseph, Mergim Kacija, Lysee Kaye, Christopher M. Klotz, Kimberly Koetter, Beth A. Kosar, Kristen Kostka, Daniel Krueger, Arlena Larocca, David S. Lautenbach, Helen M. Liggett, Ted A. Liggett, Matthew F. Logan, Sean Mansfield, Tyler Mansfield, Stacie Marshall, Khitam Masoud, Brandan Mccanna, Allison Mecher, Michael P Minogue, Paul T. Minogue, Mike Moreau, Kerry Morris, Aaron Mulvaney, Janelle Myers, Jonathon Nagle, Catherine Napier, Andy Nesheim, Michael Nickes, Gabrielle Niewinski, Grant A Niewinski, Hector Nunez, Devlin O’Connor, Erick N. Perez, Jessica Perez, Christopher Pilat, Jennifer Pilat, Eli Polites, Deanna Poneman, Todd M. Rubin, Lidsay Rufa, Mary Sanders, Richard Schad, Jay Schiesser, Tony Schirmang, Jennifer Shulkin, Brent Smyth, Anne Marie Stephen, Timothy Swindle, Kaleb Taylor, Coree K. Thomas, Cheryl A. Trace, Stacey L. Vallarta, Laura Walker, Kevin J. Ware, Stephanie Wedel, Bobby Weil, Sarah Werner, David M. Wolf, Kathleen G. Yagihashi, and Lynn M. Yakoweshen.
Factor 75, a healthy meal delivery service, was waiting at the finish line to feed all the hungry members of Team IA a protein packed meal.
Coming up, Team Imerman Angels will be participating in the Hot Chocolate 15/5K run in Grant Park on November 3 as well as the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in April 2014.
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In case you missed out on the Imerman Angel’s Annual Tuxes and Tee’s Fundraiser or are curious as to what took place during the VIP hours of the evening, have a look at this inspirational speech given by our newest member of the Board of Directors, Nimesh Jhaveri. He is the executive director of pharmacy and healthcare experience of Walgreens and is the holder of four federal patents in pharmacy technology and methodology. Nimesh has also played an integral role in Walgreen’s new corporate sponsorship with Imerman Angels. We cannot thank him enough for his support and are very excited to have him on board!
It is an amazing honor to be here … to welcome all of you … and to thank all of you for supporting
Imerman’s Angels – past, present and we hope, in the future. Most of all, it’s a great honor to join in paying tribute to our cancer fighters, survivors, caregivers and supporters.
The late Italian writer, actor and director Luciano De Crescenzo … pardon my Italian … once expressed an insight about angels. And what he said has special meaning for me tonight. He said, “We are each of us angels with only one wing. And we can only fly by embracing one another.” [repeat for emphasis] … We can only fly by embracing one another …. What a beautiful way of looking at life – and all of its challenges – and all of the chances that life brings to fly together.
That’s the whole point of Imerman’s Angels, of course. The incredible power of one-on-one. It’s also something that I think about a lot in my profession. As a pharmacist, like most healthcare professionals, I was trained in medicine. But I was also fortunate to have professors and colleagues who emphasized the power of one-on-one. You can call it “bedside manner.” Or if you’re a healthcare systems consultant, you can call it “optimal human engagement leveraging emotional intelligence.” Or something like that. Whatever you call it, the value of embracing one another in healthcare and recovery is hard to quantify.
That’s a problem in today’s healthcare system, when everyone is trying to put a cost-benefit analysis on everything. That makes sense when healthcare needs and costs continue to balloon.
But what’s the dollar value when someone is there for you? I mean, really THERE for you. Someone who listens to you … hears you … “gets” you … gets your pain … gets your fear … or even just knows when to leave you alone. Because sometimes even angels don’t feel like flying. The point is, even though it’s hard to quantify the value of the one-on-one, that does not mean it lacks value. Sometimes you can’t put a price on something simply because it’s priceless.
To press the point, let me read from an article posted by an association of physician’s assistants. … As a sidebar, let me say, in my humble view, physician’s assistants are the unsung heroes of the medical profession. … They’re the healthcare providers that my company, Walgreens, is anxiously counting on to help us deliver convenient and affordable community healthcare.
… And I know, first hand, from working with these women and men, they are – excuse my language – freaking amazing people. No ego. All care. Pure angels. I’m generalizing, but it’s true. Their article is titled, “The Psychological Importance of Bedside Manner, Trust, and Teamwork.” It’s from July of this year. It says:
“Technology is changing the world of medicine in drastic ways every day. New diagnostic tools, laser therapies, and an ever-increasing arsenal of pharmaceuticals help doctors deliver innovative answers to age-old problems. But some old-fashioned values are becoming lost in the mix of modern technology, especially bedside manner, trust, and teamwork. The human touch has profound psychological value to a patient, especially someone suffering from an acute or terminal condition. While modern tools can monitor his condition and advanced therapies offer a patient more hope than ever, patients today feel increasingly lost in the healthcare system. A good bedside manner, trust, and teamwork encourage the patient to interact with those taking care of him, and increase participation in his own care.”
I agree. And my company, Walgreens, takes that concept to heart. It’s what our pharmacies are all about. The
human interaction. In fact, in our cutting-edge Well Experience stores, we’ve moved the pharmacist out from behind the
counter, out into the store, to engage patients, in person, on their healthcare needs. One on one.
It reminds me of that old Seinfeld routine, where he says, “Why does that pharmacist have to be two and a half feet higher than everybody else? Who the hell is this guy?” Good question. So we’re breaking down the pharmacy wall and putting the pharmacist out in the store. You can see for yourself at our flagship stores over on State and Randolph or in Bucktown. There’s a simple reason why Walgreens embraces the power of the one-on-one in healthcare. And why we’re fighting the notion by some bean-counters that community pharmacies can be replaced by robots putting pills in bottles and sending them through the mail.
Why are we so hot about the one-on-one? Once again – human interaction leads to better care. Let me illustrate by looking at “medication adherence” – the term we use for whether people follow their prescriptions as directed. So they can get better. Live better. Or live longer. You’d be amazed by how many otherwise responsible people don’t take their medicine. In fact, medication NON-adherence costs the healthcare system almost three billion dollars a year in needless services. That includes the cost of people going to the hospital or emergency room. That’s three billion dollars wasted because people did not take their medicine. And that’s wasted money we can recover … and harness to deliver more care to more people … if we could just get people to get on track and stay on track.
Sure, we can fire-hose people with information about their healthcare needs, options, and care choices. We can email them. Snail-mail them. Send them to our websites. Leave them voice mails. Text them. We have all kinds of ways now to contact patients to remind them to take their pills. We do it all. But nothing – nothing – beats the old one-on-one. Nothing beats the human interaction with the pharmacist to promote adherence.
Let me give you one proof point. Walgreens recently sponsored a study to learn about what happens when people DO take their medicine. We looked at statin-takers – you know, people with high cholesterol who can lower their chance of heart attack or stroke if they just take a little white pill every day with breakfast. We found that new statin-takers who had face-to-face counseling with their pharmacist about their regimen increased their adherence by more than a 7 percent. Compared to patients without one-on-one counseling.
Now, 7 percent might not sound like a lot. But if your 401K had been returning 7 percent a year for the past 10 years, you would be pretty happy about that, right? We’re lucky if we get half that. So when it comes to the power of one-on-one … the power of personal connection and interaction …even if it’s hard to quantify … maybe the healthcare system is catching up to a concept that Imerman’s Angels has known all along. And you’re built on. That’s a big reason why Walgreens supports Imerman’s Angels. Our missions dovetail perfectly. Yes, like you, Walgreens also wants people to get well. Stay well. And live well. Yes, like you, we also help cancer fighters and caregivers, through our growing in-home infusion services. Yes, like you, we stand with the thousands of cancer fighters and survivors and supporters on the Walgreens team across the country. Our team is almost a quarter of a million people. Probably over a million when you count family members. And yes, like all of you, we want to help cancer fighters become survivors. And help cancer survivors help other fighters. We believe in the concept of the “virtuous circle.” And we’re working on programs to help cancer survivors to become “angels” for other cancer fighters.
So Walgreens finds it a privilege to be a corporate sponsor of Imerman’s Angels. And it’s a point of humble pride for me to have the chance to serve on the Board of Directors. Rest assured: Walgreens will be promoting the service you provide to our patients and customers in the near future. And we could not be happier to provide this support. That’s because our whole company … our bone-marrow ethos for more than 100 years … and our purpose, vision and mission to this day … have been founded on – we’re driven by – a sense that we all fly by embracing one another.
To close on that note, let me share a fun factoid. Today, September 28, is the birthday of Paul Villard, the French chemist and physicist. He was born on this day in the year 1860. Doctor Villard gets a lot of credit for discovering the gamma ray in 1900.
He discovered this new force of nature as he was messing around with atoms and particles and other nuclear stuff. Stuff I don’t remember from my physics classes. But if you Google it, you see that gamma rays have given us incredible breakthroughs in cancer treatment. Cancer doctors have used gamma rays to kill bad cells before they kill us. And if you’ve had surgery, gamma rays might have sterilized the scalpel your surgeon used to cut you open and fix your problem. Doctor Villard, naturally, didn’t know he would save millions of lives with his discovery. But that’s not the best part of the story. The best part is that Doctor Villard was pretty modest, especially by today’s standards. He didn’t call his discovery the “Villard Ray.” Later on, it was another physicist, Ernest Rutherford, who suggested the name “gamma ray.” The new ray was more penetrating than alpha rays and beta rays. Alpha and beta were the first two letters of the Greek alphabet. Gamma was the third. There you go – “gamma ray.”
The point is that Doctor Villard, who discovered amazing new force of nature, didn’t make his discovery about himself.
He didn’t seem to care about being famous. He just seemed to care about advancing human discovery. And he did. He sounds pretty much like an angel to me. All of you here are angels. All of you give more than you want credit for. And we’re all here because we believe that science and medicine are unstoppable forces. Forces that give from humankind. For humankind. But only because of angels like you. In my humble aspiration, I hope that we can continue to fly together, as angels do, by embracing one another. Here tonight. And as long as we live.
Thank you. Oh – and one more thing. Please – if you have a prescription – please take it as directed!
Have a great evening.