You are a testicular cancer survivor. How did you find out?
I was 26. I was at a bar and a few of my buddies and I were shooting pool. All of a sudden it was like, “Bam!” and it felt like somebody took a needle and stabbed me right in the left testicle. I dropped the pool stick immediately and doubled over in pain, my body crippled. I waddled out of the bar and at one point I started staring at the pavement and froze because I couldn’t move. Finally I got my bearings and got in the car but couldn’t even reach the pedals because the pain was so intense and my legs were locked. Ten percent [of those who get testicular cancer] don’t have any pain at all, 90 percent have zero. If I hadn’t had that pain I would not be here [today]. It could have killed me. It’s crazy how life sometimes plucks you out of the normal flow. You think you are going on this path and life teaches you that there is a calling out there for you that is bigger, whether you want to do it or not.
When did the light bulb go off that led you to create your non-profit, Imerman Angels?
I had the best network of family and friends. I had 15 people around me everyday during my eight hours of chemo. They were there every minute, I was never alone. I was lucky and blessed. When I walked down the hallway and looked in the other rooms through the glass it bothered me so much to see people who were alone everyday. At one point I felt so guilty I literally walked into rooms and said, “Hey, I’ve got testicular cancer. What are you going through?” I just marched in because I was thinking about how these people are so alone and how they looked like they had lost the will to fight. Our whole idea is so simple, there is nothing complicated about what we’re doing. We make friendships.
What brought you to Chicago from Michigan?
At 27 I had beat the cancer, they scanned me and everything was great. A year later, during a check up they found four tumors on my kidneys so I had to go back into surgery. At 29 I just looked at life and thought, “Who knows if I’m gonna see 30 or not.” I was thinking, “I’m lucky that I am alive,” and that gave me the courage to move. I wanted a cooler, bigger city. I love Chicago, it is the best.
You’re known for your fun and positive events around town. How did those begin?
When I moved here I knew like three people, one of which was Arturo Gomez. Artie was one of my fraternity brothers and we had lived together in college. We would not be where we are without Arturo. At that point I had an idea I wanted to build this non-profit. I still didn’t know if I would do it full-time but I was already matching people and I wanted to spread the word and build the organization just in my free time. Artie said, “Look, I’m gonna help you.” I didn’t know anyone else who owned a bar and Rockit was brand new. He goes, “I’m gonna give you the upstairs with open bar, free food, free drinks. Whatever you want, as many parties as you want. Just keep throwing parties and we’ll hook it up.” So literally we did one party, two, three, five parties in a row every two months there. Finally at the fifth party we had a following and had survivors that spread the word so we were gaining some momentum. You’ll never forget the people who were there for you when you were a peanut. I had an idea and a concept. Now there are 4,000 survivors in this network alone and we’ve had 1,590 families last year that were matched and helped.
You’re a regular at Protein Bar and East Bank Club.
I am really healthy. I’m pretty much vegan. No meat, no fish and no dairy. I don’t judge anyone but for me it makes my body feel good. Vegetables, rice and quinoa, that’s my diet. I love that food. I try to go to the gym five or six days a week. I’ve never smoked cigarettes in my life. I smoked pot twice, I’m super open. In college I was in a fraternity of about 55 guys, it was a pot smoking house.
Where else can we find you in the city?
On Sunday I went to Old Town Social and watched some football. I love Old Town Social. We go there for the sporting stuff. I love hotel bars and places like the Wit that are chill.
Probably Karyn’s. This weekend I went to Karyn’s on Green. It’s a vegan restaurant, it’s awesome.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I live downtown. I live around Michigan and Chestnut and my office is six blocks north of there. I’m a minimalist in every way. I live in a studio. I love that it’s small and simple. Stuff doesn’t make people happy in my opinion. It’s never my goal to have the biggest house or live in the tallest high-rise or have the fanciest car or the most expensive suits and clothing. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I wear a t-shirt everyday. Life is all about people and experiences and relationships. Living in the moment, that is living life at its fullest.
Are you single?
I am single. Somewhat recently single. I was dating someone for a while but we just broke up a few months ago. Now I’m in that place where I’m just livin’ life, enjoying life and not searching. I’m a big believer that if you do good things in the world and help people as much as you can, you’ll attract good energy.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
There are so many amazing people out there. These two are very similar but it would be Gandhi or the Dalai Lama. I love a lot of the Buddhist ideals of living, I think people live so much happier and in the moment.
Photography by Natalie Probst
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