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“Survivor: Africa” winner Ethan Zohn details his journey with cancer and discovering that it isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.
In 2009, “Survivor: Africa” winner and former professional soccer player Ethan Zohn was diagnosed with CD20 positive Hodgkin’s lymphoma— at age 35. “My only connection to cancer at that time was through my father, who died of colorectal cancer when I was 14 years old,” said Zohn, in a recent interview with CURE®. “And so, when I heard those three words, you have cancer, I instantly just thought cancer equals death.”
But according to Zohn, his time on the hit reality show and on the soccer, field equipped him with the right outlook for taking on multiple rounds of chemotherapy, 22 radiation sessions and two stem cell transplants.
CURE®: What was it like having two different stem cell transplants?
Zohn: You know, for me, it was a very difficult process. It was painful. It was lonely. It was frightening. However, I had a mindset of, this is what I needed to do to get better. When a doctor tells you to do something, you'll die, you pretty much do it. There aren't too many choices when you're diagnosed with this type of protocol. So, for me, I just had to do it. And I had to set my mind. I had to accept the fact that this was going on, so I could move on to the next phase, which is to map out how I wanted to live this next six, 12, or 18 months of my life.
And so for me, knowing it was a curative process made it a little bit more easy to accept, I guess you could say. However, the actual recovery from these transplants, picking my life up after you're in remission, that's where life got difficult for me. But the actual transplants themselves, it's just kind of something I set my mind to.
I'm an athlete, I grew up as a competitive athlete. I'm a former professional soccer player, so, I like setting goals and challenges for myself. Not that this is the one I chose for myself, however, taking the attitude of an athlete and understanding that like, this is not a sprint, it's a marathon. There's a beginning, there's a middle, there's an end. And I looked at this like I was just training for the biggest game of my life.
I literally got in shape to go into the stem cell transplant. If you can believe it: mentally, physically, spiritually, I got in shape, so I could go into the transplant because I knew the stronger, I was going in, the stronger I would be going out.
How did being a professional soccer player and winning the third season of Survivor all prepare you for cancer, would you say?
Well, exactly that: having a winning mentality. Also, on the flip side, is understanding how to fail or lose and still be able to pick yourself up to come back as a stronger, better person.
Like, as an athlete, I'm a goalkeeper in soccer. So, it's a pretty high-pressure situation and position on the field of soccer. However, you win some games, I can have the best game of my life, and when we lose, everyone hates me. Or I could have the best game of my life and everyone loves me. So like, I understand what it's like to lose, and have to pick yourself up after that to be able to come back and perform at a high level again.
So, I took that kind of same attitude into my fight with cancer, where I normally have some ups and some downs, but over the long time, I'll be a winner in this thing. And for me, that was that was a big part of it, to have that that mentality of going into it.