Facing the Challenges of Young Adult Cancer By Finding a Community


Being a young adult with cancer can feel like an isolating journey, but "Survivor: Africa" winner Ethan Zohn details how a community can form even in the unlikeliest of places.

When Ethan Zohn was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2009 at age 35, he did not anticipate the isolation he experienced as a young adult patient with cancer. But by reaching out to advocacy organizations and other individuals like him, he found a community that helped him through the overwhelming anxiety that nearly consumed his life.

In a recent interview with CURE®, “Survivor: Africa” winner Zohn opened up about the fears and insecurities that he experienced as a young adult with cancer and shared how “nothing creates comfort and confidence more than knowing you're not alone when facing life challenge”.


CURE: What would you say was the hardest part of having cancer?

Zohn: The hardest part for me was the recovery, the survivorship, and just being a young adult, going through cancer was difficult.

I think we have a whole host of problems or concerns that pediatrics and older cancer patients don't necessarily have to go through. Pediatric (patients), you’ve got your parents, they're taking care of you. As you get older, maybe you're married, you’ve got health insurance, you’ve got a job, you’ve got a partner, things might be a little bit settled.

But as a young adult, I was 35 years old. I survived this thing. And now all of a sudden, I’ve got to live the rest of my life. Who's going to want to date me? Can I have kids? Am I going to lose my job? Have health insurance? I'm different than all my friends. I pressed the pause button on my life while all my other friends are just starting. They're having kids, jobs, marriage, adventures; not for me at that time.

So, those hosts of psychosocial issues that go through your mind as a young adult. Going through cancer was just debilitating for me, and the anxiety and the fear of relapse, for me, was overwhelming and totally consumed my life. It was really difficult for me to come back from cancer.

So then, how did you combat those challenges?

I talked to a shrink a lot. I leaned on the community around me and other cancer survivors who had been through a similar situation. I started talking with them and got into focus groups and doing all these incredible programs like First Ascent, which is an outdoor adventure camp for young adult cancer survivors. (I also like) Epic Experience, Stupid Cancer, Twist Out Cancer, all these things really made me feel like I'm not alone.

When you go through cancer, it's a really lonely feeling. I was never surrounded by so many people that loved me more than anything in the world. But I felt so alone at that time. And I've learned that nothing creates comfort and confidence more than knowing you're not alone when facing life challenge.

So, I encourage anyone out there who is feeling sad or lonely or depressed or anything, to reach out to other people and connect with them. And if you’ve got to call up someone or go to a shrink, or there are organizations like Imerman Angels out there, which is one-to-one, peer-to-peer cancer support, that was a game changer for me.

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