In order to get better acquainted with the amazing people here at Imerman Angels, each week I’m going to highlight and celebrate a different member of our community. This week I want you to meet Jackie Herigodt. She is a 37-year-old single mom who has been a brilliant caregiver and apart of the Imerman Angels community for one year. Jackie, thank you for your friendship and incredible work!
“I first became a caregiver to my grandmother when I was 13 years old. She was diagnosed with “cancer” one minute and the next she was this person I did not recognize. I spent at least 3 days a week with her cute, smiley, chubby, rosy cheek grandma face for most of my life and then I found out that she was sick. I had to take several busses to see her. The first visit to the hospital- I will never forget. I nearly fainted. It was this woman of no color and just skin and bones. I fell to the ground while she slept so that she would not see or hear my reaction of tears. We were there everyday, I started skipping school to be with her. I would bring her food in my backpack from home thinking if I made her meals she would eat and gain the weight back with her favorite honey and butter sandwiches. I would brush her hair and put makeup on her daily. I would read to her and try to make her laugh. My sister and I spent lots of time just sitting next to her bed talking about our memories. With her final breath, my sister holding one hand and I, holding the other, I felt the first loss of a caregiver.
My mother, the same woman who lost her father, mother, brother and eventually her sister to cancer, was like a chimney. From the age of 12- she smoked cigarettes. I warned her a million and fourteen times to stop smoking. I drafted out a contract for her to sign after my aunt was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was detailed with the sucker pouch amount of how much money she would save a year- if she stopped. Nine years ago, when my daughter was only 4 months old, my mother was diagnosed with Oat lung cancer. Not entirely shocked but still upset and hit with the whirlwind of thoughts. I lived in California at the time, how was I going to do this? I tried to do the long distance caregiving with talking to the Dr’s. on the phone but that did not work. Fortunately, I worked for the airlines at that point, my company was amazing. My sister and a few other family members, really stepped up to the plate as well. My daughter and I basically moved back to Chicago for that time. Once I did, it was Dr. appointments, hospital stays, back home and hospice. It was runs to Walgreen’s pharmacy, arguing with oncologists, and dealing with healthcare staff with very little bedside manner. It was no sleep, taking care of my baby and my mother at the same time. I was married at the time and arguing with my daughter’s father about me getting back “home” to California. It was overwhelmingly stressful. If it were not for my sister and brother in law, I don’t know what would have happened. One day, while in chemo,my mom started touching my hair. She said, it was beautiful and she wished that she had hair again. I told her that I would cut it off and have a wig made of it for her. My poor mother only lived 2 and a half months after that. I have donated my hair a total of 6 times since then and my daughter has donated her hair twice.
In 2008, I was miserable that I was away from my family knowing my Aunt was struggling again with cancer. She was not going to recover from this one. My sister called me with updates and I would call my aunt nearly everyday. She would always request that I bring the “baby” to see her because she knew she would make her feel better. It was a battle right from the beginning, I was the one working, how could I go? After months, and daily arguments, I left with my daughter to be with my aunt in her final days. I am so thankful for our last moments. It is an awakening experience when you begin to spoon feed a woman that spoon fed you. She passed a few days after I returned to California.
Most recently, I helped my best friend with her mother’s passing from breast cancer. Being that I have gone through the experience of losing loved ones as much as I have. I felt that I could use my knowledge for her benefit. I visited her mom quite often and when her final days came, I suggested the hospice services to be called be the one that we used for my mother. I did the initial research to help the family. I was happy that I could actually help her in her dark times.
My RELAY FOR LIFE experience has provided so much to me and to my daughter. I can not say that is has been all joyous but it absolutely has been healing. I have met many wonderful friends and have heard so many stories. It has allowed me the strength to talk about cancer and my experiences without crying. It has given me the means to feel that I am making a difference in the fight against cancer. It has given my daughter a way to feel that she is making her Grandmother proud. It has given me the methods to talk to people that have lost someone and ask the right questions. The RELAY FOR LIFE could not have a better title because once you RELAY, you are in it for LIFE. It has given me the opportunity to be introduced to Imerman Angels.”
Why do I love being at Imerman Angels? The office culture is amazing. We have a great crew. It is like family! A whole staff of survivors and me, the caregiver! Everyday is such an up and down roller coaster because I can talk to one person and feel so sad for them and their situation and the next person I speak with can be such an inspiring story to provide me with hope again. My goal for every call is to try to make the person on the end at least giggle. This is one of the worst times in their lives, it’s my opportunity to provide them a second of joy. The matching of people is the best! The feeling that I get when I hear that the people are happy with their match. The relief in their voice or their emotions that are expressed via email showing their appreciation. The mission that no one should face cancer alone can be reached. So every new mentor angel or caregiver mentor angel that registers with us- excites me.
I hope this message finds you well. My name is Brian Hastings and I have been appointed the new writer for Imerman Angels cancer blog. I greet you with the warmest of welcomes as I set out to motivate, educate, and inspire through words and action. The path I am on now is paved with those exact intentions, although it has not always been that way. You see, for nearly the past two years, I sat in an office working a nine to five job as a graphic designer. The stress was high and the deadlines were tight, but at twenty-five, I thought that was necessary to succeed in the industry. I kept up with that pattern, as I had for most of my life; go-go-go, until December 2012 when my body said no more. I spent New Year’s Eve enduring a series of scans. My worst fears were soon confirmed. You have cancer…
I was diagnosed with stage 3 advanced testicular cancer and two months to live. In the next five days I was wheeled into my first-ever surgery. Blood tests revealed that my tumor markers had soared well beyond three hundred thousand; the highest my nurse said she had ever seen. Normal levels are below ten. These guys needed to work fast and I was beyond determined. What was expected to be an outpatient procedure took a bit of a twist. Sitting twenty pounds lighter, I spent the next seven days in the hospital receiving immediate chemotherapy. This process continued on for three months and was known for being one of the most nauseating regimens on the market. However, because of a strict, organic, vegetarian diet which consisted of loads of juicing, the best positive attitude, and the most incredible family and friends, my nurse said I was the first she had seen to never get sick from treatment. It’s all a mental game. Positivity is a majority of the battle. You’re body will heal if you believe it will and allow it to do so. The power of intention is amazing! Nonetheless, this was a major accomplishment for me as I have always had deep roots in holistic sensibilities. This was proof that there is true magic in nature and the results have opened up so many doors. As I sit in remission, I’ll be starting school in the fall to pursue my masters in holistic medicine and soon, one day obtain my Ph.D. Health and wellness is my passion and it is now my time to give back and help others heal as I continue to heal myself. I’m so grateful for these opportunities and will continue to follow my instincts down the road to happiness. Keep smiling, stay well, and remember “Life is 10% what happens to you & 90% how you react to it.”
All the best,
Why do you run for Imerman Angels?
Deep down inside I wish that I could be a caregiver mentor angel, but I’ve never had the courage to do so. I run because I can. I run with Team IA because I am so impressed by those that can open themselves up by sharing their stories and being there for another person facing cancer. I wish that I could put cancer behind me and pretend like it never happened and that it didn’t create a new normal, but I’ll never get away from it. So I make the best from the worst. I run and fundraise because it is the least that I can do for such a great organization. I am overwhelmingly impressed by the Mentor Angels, they blow my mind.
What is it about running that connects you to the mission?
The journey and the training up to and including the race reminds me of those that face cancer. Every effort is put into making sure that you remain strong and push yourself to the end. When the finish line is in sight, you can drag yourself, tired and empty, across the finish line knowing that you can finally rest. What strikes me is the fact that you are surrounded by supporters the entire race. Unless you have someone running with you the whole way, it is easy to feel alone. We need people who will join us on the path who really understand how hard the race is and who will celebrate with you as you cross the finish line.
Tell us about your connection to the Chicago Marathon?
The 2007 Chicago Marathon was my first Marathon; at the time I was running for the Young Survival Coalition which was a wonderful source of support for my wife. For those that remember, 2007 was so hot that they cancelled it midway through the race. Fortunately, I was less than a quarter mile away from the finish line, so nothing was going to stop me. I learned that day that marathons are unpredictable. The best we could do was give everything we had and try to not look surprised.
What’s your favorite race?
Chicago Marathon will always have a special place in my heart. 2013 will be my 7th Chicago Marathon and hopefully my 21st Marathon overall. I have never run a race with so much spectator support. The opportunity to run through all the different neighborhoods in Chicago is what makes this such an incredible race. It is the biggest race that I have ever run at 45,000 capacity, compared to the Stone Bridge Marathon, where I have only ran past two people, which is at 200 capacity.
What’s your favorite Team IA moment?
It is hard to pinpoint my favorite moment, but running with wings and a big pink puff on your head is always a good time. I think it is awesome when runners talk with me during the marathon about why I am wearing the wings. I actually love all the attention around the wing and wig. They laugh, point, and take pictures. Plus I get to talk about how much I love Imerman Angels.
Join Team Imerman Angels in our biggest race of the year, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
In 2012, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon sold out in six days. Register today as a Team Imerman Angels athlete. As one of the World Marathon Majors, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is a premier race for elite runners. Chicago is also a great choice for a first-time marathoner. It is a fast and flat course with over 1.7 million spectators to keep you motivated as you run through 29 of Chicago’s great neighborhoods. On Sunday, October 13, 45,000 runners from all 50 states and more than 100 countries will set out to accomplish this big goal.
Benefits for our Chicago Marathon runners include:
Team Membership in all 2013 Events
- A Team Imerman Angels tech shirt or t-shirt
- A personalized fundraising page with support
- Complimentary marathon training with CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association)
- Access to Chicago Marathon specific events such as our pre-race Pasta Dinner & Post-Race Bash
- The knowledge that all money raised will help provide 1-on-1 support to cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers
All interested runners are encouraged to register for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon when registration opens on February 19th at 12:00pm CST. This race will sell out quickly this year.
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The cancer community is full of stories of fighters that overcome even the greatest challenges, and our Programs Manager, Jemma, is no exception. First diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23, and again for the second time at 24, Jemma rose to the challenge and beat both by the age of 25. You could say she was her own “healer” in the process, using her own stem cells to save her life through an Autologus Stem Cell Transplant.
Her battle left her stronger, not weaker, which is clear to see through her previous work. She has dedicated her life to cancer advocacy. Jemma began her work as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society for 9 years. There she has contributed in several ways from bringing passion to the organization through meeting with political leaders about cancer issues to speaking at various events. A champion for life, Jemma confided that the organization was meaningful enough to her that she wrote them into her will.
In 2007, Jemma met Jonny at an Imerman Angels event, and the rest is history! She became a Mentor Angel in 2009, sharing her experience with other cancer fighters through 1-on-1 support relationships, then became a full time staff member in 2011. Managing 6-12 volunteers and staff members, she works around the clock to promote the mission of Imerman Angels while doing her best to give back to the cancer community.
Like we find with many of the cancer survivors in our community, strength, courage, and perseverance seem to be written into Jemma’s DNA. When she is not spending time with her 12 year old son, who she raises as a single parent, she enjoys staying active. 14,000 mountain climbs, 2 half marathons, 2 sprint triathlons, 3 stair climbs, multiple running competitions, whitewater kayaking and CrossFit are just a few things that Jemma has already accomplished.
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