My name is Mike Davidoff. This past month, I hit my twenty-three year anniversary of being a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was twenty-two years old and treated with chemotherapy at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. As I have taken some time to reflect over the past few weeks, I realize that I have now lived more of my life as a cancer survivor than I have as a normal, everyday, non-cancer person. That’s crazy.
I am deeply grateful to so many people and organizations during this time who have helped me to emotionally heal, grow mentally and physically stronger, and find purpose and meaning out of a very challenging time in my life. Imerman Angels and so many of the special people at the organization I have met over the years have played a very important role in my personal journey.
My cancer story was experienced through the eyes of a young adult. I was twenty-two years, had just graduated college from the University of Michigan, and was preparing to enter the “real world” with the typical emotions of my peers…fear, excitement and a boatload of naivety. It was only two months later, following symptoms of severe breathing pains and a deep chronic cough, that the biopsy results of diagnostic surgery revealed that I had a tumor the size of a golf ball sitting between my lungs. The surgeon told my dad on the phone that I had stage 1, low grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. I was devastated and in complete shock.
Over the next five months, I endured six rounds of chemotherapy, lost my hair (I looked like Dr. Evil with my bald head, bald eyebrows, and persistent scowl on my face!), hallucinated once or twice while playing Sega hockey due to an adverse reaction to a high dose of prednisone, and generally felt bummed, scared and angry. I was fortunate that my tumor responded very well to the chemo, and I was pronounced to be in remission following my last treatment.
Being a cancer patient is a lonely experience. I was blessed with a deep and loving support system in my parents, my brother, my friends, and all of the doctors and nurses. Still, there were many long, anxious nights where I would cry myself to sleep and ask, “why me?” I tried out a couple of organizations that offered peer-to-peer connections including local hospital support groups, but I did not find good matches in terms of people I felt comfortable confiding in. This was before I knew about Imerman Angels (after all, they did not exist yet!).
I first met Jonny Imerman and learned about Imerman Angels a little over ten years ago as we agreed to meet for coffee in Chicago after Jonny had randomly met my brother in New York. We shared our personal stories which had much in common as we were both young adult cancer survivors, huge sports fans and went to the same college. I was deeply moved by the Imerman Angels mission and felt an immediate sense of belonging and need to get involved. This was as much for my healing journey as it was to help others who were going through a similar brutal challenge that I had faced a few years ago.
Since that initial meeting with Jonny, I have been involved with Imerman Angels in a few different ways. I have served as a Mentor Angel, which allows me the extraordinary privilege to speak with members of the Imerman Angels community who seek a current connection where I may be a helpful fit. I have raised money for the organization through 5K and half marathons (I love to run), and I always make sure to spread the word about IA whenever I learn of new people in my life who are impacted by the challenges of cancer in their immediate world. I recently moved back to Ann Arbor, and my wife and I joined the local IA Detroit Free Press marathon team to help raise funds – this time to honor my father-in-law who recently passed away following a six year fight with a brain tumor. I am excited to join the professionals board for IA in Michigan and help to raise local awareness.
Today, I am a forty-five year old man with an amazingly supportive wife, two great sons (ages 11 and 13), a cuddly dog, a career in wealth management, a mortgage…well, you get the picture. Time has passed and the mental vulnerability and frequent fear of the cancer returning has dissipated. My connection with Imerman Angels is a great source of pride and meaning to me in my life and a constant reminder of how important it is to help others who are impacted by cancer. I am so grateful to all of the people at the organization who provide the energy and support that is deeply needed by so many others. I look forward to continuing to play my small part in helping to sustain and grow a mission that is so near and dear to my heart.
By Michael Davidoff, Mentor Angel