Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ethan Zohn, winner of Survivor Africa, Talks About Hodgkin’s Lymphoma


Most reality TV stars have their fifteen minutes of fame and then are never heard from again (unless of course they later appear on the Surreal World). But Not Ethan Zohn. In 2002 Ethan took home $1,000,000 for winning Survivor Africa and instead of wasting his money like so many others, he used it to help start a non-profit called Grass Roots Soccer that fights the spread of HIV/AIDS. Today, the organization has helped educate over 300,000 young people in 15 different countries around the world and has some pretty heavy hitters like Bill and Melinda Gates, Nike and the Ford Foundation backing it.

But conquering reality TV and co-founding a global non-profit pale in comparison with Ethan’s most recent challenge – a battle with cancer. Since last April, Ethan has been publicly battling a rare form of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fortunately, Ethan had some great news recently. As reported by People Magazine on December 10, Ethan’s most recent PET scan showed that this Survivor is crushing cancer and for the first time since his diagnosis he has no active cancer cells in his body.

Not only did Ethan beat cancer, but by taking his battle public he has helped others get diagnosed including a 25-year-old GiveForward user who raised $1800 on GiveForward for his Hodgkin’s treatments after reading an article about Ethan in People magazine.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ethan about his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and how young adults are falling through the cracks in the fight against cancer. You can also read the original unedited interview on PlayCity

Ethan Austin: In your battle with Hodgkin’s Disease you’ve managed to keep a positive attitude throughout. How does fighting cancer compare with some of the other things you’ve done in your life like winning Survivor or starting a global non-profit?

EZ: It doesn’t even compare at all. This is by far the most difficult thing I have ever faced. I mean this is the closest I’ve ever come to death. You might look okay on the outside but inside your body, there is a war of the worlds going on. It’s a challenge. But I just got some really good news the other day so I’m feeling okay.

EA: You’ve been very public about your fight. A lot of people with cancer choose to keep the matter private. Is there anything you want to say to other young people out there battling Hodgkin’s?

EZ: I’ve been fortunate enough to have this platform to speak and I hope to be a megaphone for this generation. By being so public my goal has really just been to bring awareness to the issue. Young people in their 20s and 30s are often forgotten in the fight against cancer. There’s been huge improvements in survival rates for older adults and with pediatric cancers but survivor rates for young adults haven’t improved in 30 years. Today, a young adult has the same chance of getting and dying of cancer as they did in the 1970s. Our demographic has fallen through the cracks on every front including clinical, research, financial and pychosocial.

EA: In your opinion, what needs to be done so our generation stops falling through the cracks so to speak?

EZ: We need more money to go to research for treatment. For those with cancer or those who will diagnosed with it, new treatments can literally be a matter of life and death. But improving survival rates is not just about more money for research. It’s also about early detection.

Early detection is one of the biggest keys to surviving cancer, but most young adults are diagnosed with Stage IV when it’s often too late. One of the problems is that our generation thinks we’re invincible. Many students and young professionals either don’t have access to doctors or choose not to see them. Part of the problem also lies with the health care providers. A lot of doctors misdiagnose cancer. They think the patient is too young to have cancer so they don’t diagnose it until its too late. We need to train health care providers to consider cancer as a possibility to ensure earlier diagnosis.

There are other issues that we need to work on as well such as lack of access to clinical trials and the lack of age-appropriate support for young adults with cancer. At treatment, I see older and younger. Diapers and dentures. I feel like I’m the only going through this because I never see anyone like myself. But on the positive side, I think the voice of the young adult with cancer is now being heard. We each have a role to play in supporting research and it’s urgent that everyone continues to support this effort.
EA: Last Question. This one is non-cancer relatated: I’ve heard you appeared on an episode of Discovery Channel’s Pitchmen with the late, great Billy Mays to pitch the EZCrunch Bowl (a bowl that is supposed to keep cereal from getting soggy). Please indulge us. Does this thing really work, or did you just come up with the idea because you wanted to meet the one and only, supremely awesome Billy Mays?

Ha. Yeah it really works. I had the idea back in college in 1994. I was just trying to come up with something fun that makes people happy.

[editors note: Ethan was too modest to plug EZ crunch bowl but I have done an independent investigation and early reports indicate that the bowl is going to be awesome to quite awesome. You can be the first on your block to own this revolutionary cereal-saving device by pre-ordering yours today at EZcrunchbowl.com]

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