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The Tale of Two Angels

The Tale of Two Angels

For those of you who were at Opening Ceremony last year, you may remember the story of Ethan Zohn, a cancer survivor, who took it up a notch when he won $1 million on a show you may have heard of, Survivor.

Ethan Zohn

 

Living without food and water for 39 days while on Survivor, was most likely torture, but his real challenge in life was his battle with cancer.

When he was 14 years old, cancer came into his home and took his father. “I watched him battle this disease, suffer, and ultimately he passed away. To me, cancer always equaled death.” He knows now that there is more hope than ever before for cancer patients.

At the age of 35, Ethan was an ex-pro soccer player, training for the NYC Marathon and was literally “on top of the world.” However, he was suffering from itchy skin, night sweats and unfortunately his doctors couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong with him.  Finally, after months of tests, doctor appointments and plenty of questions, he was diagnosed with a rare form of CD+ Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“I was gung-ho on beating this disease. I wasn’t going to let cancer take me. I had everyone rallying behind me and I was ready to beat this.”

Immediately Ethan was placed into six rounds of R-Chop Chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

Plan B. Inpatient chemotherapy called ICE. Again, it didn’t work.

Plan C. 22 blasts of radiation and an autologous stem cell transplant to get him into remission. It worked, “or so we thought,” but just 20 months later the cancer returned.

“It’s very hard to articulate how you feel at that point. Nothing was working.  You panic. You freak out. You finally get to the point where you’re scared for your life. I was frustrated and running out of options. I truly felt like there was no hope for me. But little did I know that, at that exact moment, smart targeted therapy was emerging and was available for people in my exact situation.”

This smart targeted therapy treatment was approved by the FDA in September, and Ethan was fortunate enough to have a brother, Lee, who could be his donor. “I now go by the name of Leethan and I’m no longer my moms favorite son” he said with a laugh. “I was extremely lucky that this became available due to research.”

Throughout his treatments, Ethan needed someone to talk to, someone who could relate to what he was going through. This is when he met Gavin.

Ethan connected with Imerman Angels, a one-on-one cancer support group. “It’s basically a dating service for cancer patients” he joked. “They pair you up with your best match and look at your age, gender, sexuality, hobbies, your type of cancer, basically everything that would come into account when trying to see how well you would connect with someone. Once you are matched, this person becomes your angel. You can chat with them via texts, phone calls, email – however you two decide to communicate -and this “angel” helps you get through your journey.”

Ethan was matched with Gavin.  “I didn’t know Gavin before this. He didn’t know me. But it was so nice to know that he knew what I was going through and could relate. It became a true, genuine friendship, as we literally talked about everything. And I mean everything!”

Gavin mentored Ethan throughout his rounds of chemo, as Gavin was in remission.  “When I was sick I kept telling him that once I was in remission, we would meet and run the New York Marathon together. We talked for 11 months as I got better, and 9 months post-transplant we finally met. We met for the first time at the start line of the New York City Marathon. A promise is a promise. It was an amazing bonding experience.”

Ethan and Gavin

Ethan and Gavin ran and finished the New York City Marathon togetherr.  Just like they conquered the marathon, they each conquered cancer and made it into remission. Throughout all of this, they continued to stay in touch and when Gavin created his own non-profit organization, called The Cancer Cooperative, a life-coach program for those who were cancer survivors Ethan was one of the first to step up to be a part of his Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, soon after starting his non-profit, Gavin relapsed.  “It all happened very quickly,” Ethan recalled.

Gavin had Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, a type of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was originally diagnosed in 1998, and it recurred in 1999, 2006 and then again in 2016. In 2017 he had a stem cell transplant in Seattle using his sister’s cells. There was hope that this would work,  however, 6 months later, the cancer returned. Unfortunately, Gavin and his family were out of options.

At that time, Carrie, Gavin’s wife, had heard of a recently approved Yescarta therapy which “sounded promising.” Carrie and her father-in-law, Pledger, contacted all 16 hospital locations that had access to the treatment and the only one that was willing to see him, due to his condition, was The James. She immediately contacted Ethan to let him know what she had found.

“That’s where Pelotonia and The James came into play,”  Ethan recalled. “I had just been to Pelotonia.  I spoke at Opening Ceremony and rode 45 miles with other cancer survivors and advocates, and I had seen first-hand what this powerful community of cancer supporters could do.”  Ethan immediately called Doug Ulman, President and CEO of Pelotonia, and another cancer survivor he had met while at Pelotonia, Aaron Conley. “The two of them personally jumped into action and made calls to help.”

Gavin and Carrie flew to The James on December 27th and Gavin was immediately admitted to the James.  “The James was so welcoming and willing to help us. Dr. Jaglowski and Tara Hoelscher, our therapy coordinator, were so incredibly helpful, positive, and they gave us so much hope. They were willing to try new things and take risks to help my husband. It was our glimmer of hope.  It was exactly what we needed.” Carrie said with a smile.

GavinFam

While visiting the hospital from Boise, Gavin’s son, Pledger, was having his 9th birthday. One of the nurses on the floor of The James caught wind of this and decided they needed to throw Pledger a birthday party. They reserved the visitor’s lounge, brought in a huge cake, pizza, and even gave each of the kids a cozy OSU fleece blanket. “It was an amazing and incredibly special birthday celebration for all of us. And one that we will never forget.”

Unfortunately, this was the last birthday that Gavin was able to celebrate with his son.  On March 27th, 2018, Gavin passed away. His cancer was too advanced, and they weren’t able to completely clear his body of the lymphoma in his blood.

Gavin Fishing

Looking back on the memories of Gavin’s time spent throughout his cancer treatments, Carrie mentions that his time spent at the James was one of the best experiences their family could have asked for.

“I think so highly of the James. Every single person, everyone was so passionate, hopeful, and helpful. It was truly as good of an as an experience as we could have received given the circumstances. We had been living in and out of hospitals for years and the James truly went above and beyond. They were willing to take a risk, to give us hope, when no one else was, and I know it’s because of Pelotonia that they were able to do this. And I’m so incredibly thankful that Ethan was able to help him through all of this.”

“To me, it was amazing to see everything come full circle,” Ethan recalls.  “Gavin started as my angel, and I turned into his. I had come to Pelotonia to speak about my cancer experience, and now Gavin was coming to Ohio State and getting treated due to Pelotonia dollars. It was amazing to see how everyone wanted to help, no matter what their role.”

“I truly don’t know how anyone could not want to be a part of Pelotonia when this is what the community is like.”

This year, Ethan Zohn will be returning to Pelotonia.  He will be welcoming cancer survivors during Opening Ceremony and helping to hand out their jersey’s as they check-in. We welcome you to say hello, ask him about Gavin, or even make a donation to his ride.

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