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.