Acceptance is Vital to Getting Through Cancer and COVID-19, Says Survivor Ethan Zohn

In an interview with CURE, “Survivor: Africa” winner Ethan Zohn talks about how his cancer journey changed his perspective on life and helps him to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

In many ways, former professional soccer player and “Survivor: Africa” winner Ethan Zohn feels that cancer prepared him for the isolation and uncertainty that has been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer to navigating the chaos, he explained, is to find acceptance.

In a recent interview with CURE®, Zohn opened up about how his experience with a rare form of Hodgkin lymphoma — and the intense treatments he went through to fight it – taught him how to not only deal with isolation but how to find a way to grow beyond it.


CURE: You went through a lot of chemotherapy, radiation, two stem cell transplants. That’s a lot of aggressive treatment, and there’s a lot of isolation that goes with that. Did that experience, in your opinion, make this whole COVID-19, social distancing (that we're slowly coming out of now), did that kind of make it a little bit easier for you or prepare you in any way?

Zohn: I feel like I've been preparing my whole life for this. (Laughs) Like, three times on “Survivor”, 260 days in isolation and like years of (being) socially isolated because of the transplants. You know, this was the life I was living: no crowds, no public places, taxis, can’t eat in restaurants, mask and gloves everywhere you go. That's the life I lived.

And it's interesting because as a cancer patient, I'm protecting myself from the world. And I'm educating people about what's going on with me to try to protect myself from everyone. I think the silver lining, and what's going on right now with this pandemic, is the fact that we are all going through the same thing at the same exact time in some shape.

So, it gets back to that whole thing of just feeling isolated and alone, if you are feeling that, now is the perfect time to lean on the communities now more so than ever before. It's good to lean on community.

And then the other part of that, I think was for me, is just acceptance. The first step to anything you can't control is acceptance. Because all the denial, and this rush to be productive and get things online and take your yoga class. Everything is so organized and prepared in life and we'd like to control things as human beings, but now we can't control anything.

And feeling out of control creates anxiety and uncertainty, and that stuff can cause destructive decisions. So, living in denial is not a good place to be. Of course, I didn't want to accept there was this cancer inside me trying to kill me. But I had to, in order to move on to that next phase, which was, like I said, to map out how I want to live for the rest of this time.

So, I encourage everyone to just try to work on ways to accept what's going on, because then you can map out the next phase of your life, which was important for me.