“ Hang in there. It’s not going to be easy but there are tons of resources out there to help you along the way. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically, and (the toughest part for me) accept help when it is offered.
Jasan Zimmerman is a mAss Kicker on a mission! With a background in molecular biology and the experiences of a cancer survivor he could be considered a “Scientific Rambo” in the fight against all forms of tumors/cancer. Jasan graduated from Loma Linda University in 1999 with a Master of Science in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. His experiences as both a scientist and survivor givs him a unique perspective in tumor/cancer advocacy! In 2012, he earned his Master of Nonprofit Administration from the University of San Francisco. Jasan currently sits on numerous cancer advocacy boards/ committees and is very active in the young adult cancer survivor movement. We were very honored to find time in his busy schedule to ask him a few questions.
mK: Thanks for doing this Jasan! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
JZ: The first diagnosis was neuroblastoma in 1976 when I was six months old. My mom originally found it. Then I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1991 when I was 15, most likely caused by the radiation treatments for the neuroblastoma. Growing up, my doctors were really concerned about my thyroid after the radiation treatments I had as a baby, so I was tested regularly, and finally the tests came back suspicious for thyroid cancer. A biopsy confirmed it. I had a thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment. The thyroid cancer came back when I was 21, in 1997, and I had more radioactive iodine.
mK: Wow! 3 times! What were your symptoms for thyroid cancer?
JZ: I didn’t really have any symptoms that I was aware of, besides a goiter (enlarged thyroid).
mK: Why did you get involved in cancer advocacy? What organizations are you involved with?
JZ: I found out about a local young adult patient/survivor support group in about 2004, and I felt compelled to attend. A couple people from the group were pretty involved in advocacy, and that’s how I learned about the advocacy world. Since then, amongst other things, I’ve been involved with Make A Wish as a wish granter; National Coalition for Cancer Advocacy as a Super Advocate; Yoga Bear on the Board of Advisors; The Wellness Community/Cancer Support Community Silicon Valley on the Board of Directors and Leadership Council; First Descents as a camper and now an Alumni Advisory Board member; and the co-facilitator of Healthy Young Attitude, the young adult patient/survivor support group that I originally attended in 2004.
mK: You are a busy guy! What motivates you?
JZ: After I started to feel a little bit comfortable with talking about being sick, I felt like I had a lot to share based on my experiences and didn’t want people to have the psychosocial problems that I had when I was going through everything. My passion has become sharing resources with people to make their journey on the cancer continuum easier, and I’m motivated by making things better and easier for the next person, especially young adult, who is diagnosed.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
JZ: I was sick as a baby before I have any memories, so I’ve always had the specter of cancer hanging over my head. I don’t what it’s like to not have cancer in my life, so I haven’t felt much different before or after. I have, however, felt much more comfortable talking about my history the more times I share my story and the more I’ve been involved in the cancer advocacy world.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
JZ: Silly, corny jokes with my wife make me laugh. I get angry when I lose a friend, hear about a recurrence, or hear about people struggling because of a lack of access to resources that they should’ve learned about from their medical team (there’s still tons of work to do on that front). Don’t tell my wife but I’ve cried reading books or watching movies (Fault in Our Stars in both cases).
mK: HAHAHA! We know some survivors that get “allergy attacks” that make their eyes water when they hear those type of stories. What would you say is the one non- cancer related thing that you are most proud of?
JZ: Marrying my wife.
mK: What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
JZ: Depression and some PTSD have been pretty difficult. I still get stressed (heart rate increases and blood pressure goes up) and a bit road rage-y when I head to doctor’s appointments, depending on what the appointment is for. Being aware of why I’m stressed helps to lessen the impact, but I don’t think it’ll ever go away. Many years and many thousands of dollars of therapy have also helped.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
JZ: Peanut butter and chocolate and bad reality TV.
mK: HAHAHA! If you could trade places with anyone famous in the world for a day, who would it be? What would you do?
JZ: DJ Jazzy Jeff. I’d rock a huge party and just have fun. He’s such an awesome DJ that I would love to have a glimpse into his genius, if only for one day.
mK: So that would make you, “DJ Jazzy Jasan” or “The Fresh Prince of San Francisco?” What do you like to do in your spare time?
JZ: Hang out with my wife, read, work out, do yoga, ride my bike, run, tend to our balcony garden, and volunteer with my favorite cancer organizations.
mK: What are you up to now?
JZ: Sitting on the couch watching HGTV, answering these questions while I send some other emails.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
JZ: Hang in there. It’s not going to be easy but there are tons of resources out there to help you along the way. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically, and (the toughest part for me) accept help when it is offered. It’s so much easier to get through this with a team.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
JZ: My wife calls me a “survivorship sherpa” because of the work I do to help people on their cancer journeys.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
JZ: Keep being awesome and kicking mass!
Jasan Zimmerman: “Survivor Sherpa”, HGTV Tool-Time Man, the “Fresh Prince of San Francisco”, accomplished post treatment thriver, reality TV junkie, and all-around cool dude! Check out Make A Wish, National Coalition for Cancer Advocacy,Yoga Bear, The Wellness Community/Cancer Support Community Silicon Valley, First Descents, and Healthy Young Attitude when you get the chance! Thanks Jasan! We’ll keep an eye on what you do next!