His fans were shocked when Ethan Zohn became the fourth player voted off of “Survivor: Winners at War” last week. The news brought messages of support from members of the cancer community, revealing how deeply Zohn – who has beaten cancer twice and endured two stem-cell transplants – has inspired them.Read More
Edge of Extinction: A Second Chance
Zohn now heads to “The Edge of Extinction,” a separate island where ousted players compete to return to the game. “My dad has cancer (angiosarcoma) and is currently going through chemo,” another fan wrote. “You are an inspiration to me and him. ❤️”
“Ethan, last year my mom had cancer and she has completed chemo and is cancer free now,” said another. “You are such an inspiration of life after cancer and we love you so much.❤️ you’re my number one pick and I’m rooting for you on edge.”
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The thought of Zohn getting a second chance touched those familiar with his two-time cancer journey. “You comparing edge of extinction to cancer got me,” Erica Griffin writes on Zohn’s post. “I felt it hit down deep. Cancer survivor and fighter here too … Hoping you make an amazing comeback!!!⬅️That would be an awesome cancer comparison too…the comeback of Ethan????”
Now 47, Zohn is not your average reality-tv star. The founder of Grassroot Soccer, an organization that leverages the power of soccer to raise awareness — and money — to fight HIV/AIDS, Zohn is also a medical cannabis advocate and ambassador for Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research.
Beating Cancer Twice: “It’s Just a Lot…”
In 2009, eight years after Zohn won “Survivor: Africa,” he was 35 and training for the New York City Marathon when he experienced, “debilitatingly itchy skin.” A doctor confirmed the itching was an early symptom of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was diagnosed with CD20-positive Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare form of the disease. After months of treatment — including chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem-cell transplant — doctors determined that Zohn was cancer-free.
But 20 months into his remission, Zohn’s cancer returned, this time in his chest. After a second stem-cell transplant, Zohn says it was an experimental drug that ultimately saved his life. In 2013, he was (once again) officially cancer-free.
But cancer takes a toll, he explains, both physically and emotionally: “The survivorship for a young adult going through cancer is harder than actually going through cancer,” he told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. During cancer, “when a doctor tells you to do something or you’ll die, you do it — it’s easy. There’s no choice.”
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I may be an Old School Survivor. But I also like all things old school! Check out our 1920’s house and Wonder Hut, our bad ass 1940 vintage stove (that my wife found on Craigslist), our tub with vintage faucet is our only way of getting clean, we don’t have a shower, controversial I know! Our 1961 Vintage camper and my dads 1963 vintage Vespa that we fixed up for our wedding getaway vehicle. Do you consider yourself old school or new school in Survivor and in life? P.S. my wife Lisa actually gets credit for all this cool stuff. #OldSchool #NewSchool #newhampshire #LiveFreeOrDie #newhampshirelife #vintagecamper #survivor #vespa #vintagestove #tinyhouse @survivorcbs #cbssurvivor #cottage #lakehouse #blackhouse
For Young Adult Cancer Survivors: The Power of Second Chances
Zahn has been outspoken about the challenges of being a young adult cancer survivor. Once in remission, he said, it was a challenge to re-start his life. “When you’re a young adult, all of a sudden, you have gone through cancer twice, you’re 35 years old, and you have your whole life to live. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t really have good health insurance. At the time, I was single, I was infertile, I didn’t have a lot of money…I could die in five years.”
Dating after cancer is even more challenging, Zohn says: “Like, I’m not the guy you want to take home to your mom,” he says, recalling to his 35-year-old post-cancer self. “’Hey, meet this guy — he looks like shit, he feels like shit, he has no hair.’”
What Turned Him Around: Mentorship and Cannabis
Zohn pulled through, in part thanks to a mentor from Imerman Angels, which pairs individuals seeking cancer support with a mentor. “I had a mentor who would help me through my deepest fears at all hours of the night,” Zohn says. “That was a really great service.”
And Zohn discovered medical cannabis — which he says had, and has, a profound effect on his wellbeing. “This first helped while I was going through cancer,” Zohn shares. “I could eat, I could go to sleep. … And then post-cancer, it really helps me with my anxiety. The cancer stuff is always in the back of mind, and the cannabis kind of helped free me from that so I could start feeling like myself and living without so many fears.”
Dr. Junella Chin is an Integrative Cannabis Physician at MedLeafRX says medical cannabis can relieve a range of side-effects associated with cancer treatment.
“This first helped while I was going through cancer,” Zohn shares. “I could eat, I could go to sleep. And then post-cancer, it really helps me with my anxiety. The cancer stuff is always in the back of mind, and the cannabis kind of helped free me from that so I could start feeling like myself and living without so many fears.”
“I Tried to Push Her Away”
Zohn met his future wife, Lisa Heywood, about a week before he went in for his second stem cell transplant. They became friends. Once Zohn recovered from treatment, he shares, “we started a long courting relationship.” At the beginning, he says, “there were moments when I tried to push her away because I didn’t want to bring her into my crazy life and all the sh*t I was going through.”
Ultimately, though, Zohn recalls something Heywood told him that really resonated. “She said, ‘Cancer has taken enough from you, don’t let it take this, too.’”
That was when he knew, he says, “that she was a keeper.”
At the time, Zohn says, there were few resources addressing the challenges of dating and sex after cancer, so he and Heywood collaborated with Dr. Sage Bolte, an oncology counselor specializing in sexual health and recovery, on a series of talks called, “The Ultimate Threesome: Cancer, Your Partner, and You.”
The two were married in 2015 and, together, they renovated a house in a remote area of New Hampshire — where Zohn continues to inspire those undergoing cancer treatment and survivors alike by reminding them that, yes, second chances are possible.