Ethan Zohn, An Inspiring Survivor Contestant

If you’re a reality TV junkie like me, then chances are you’ve probably watched Survivor at some point during its 20-year (and counting) run.

And if you’ve never seen a single episode, it’s still highly likely that you’re familiar with the concept of the show:

  1. Find a group of strangers willing to be stranded on an island for 40 days
  2. Make them compete against one another in tribes, then individually, for food/other rewards and “immunity” from tribal council
  3. Force the losing tribe to go to tribal council and vote one of their own off the island (“the tribe has spoken”, anyone?)
  4. Watch as a jury of voted-off contestants selects a winner, also known as the sole survivor
  5. Plunk a bunch of cameras in front of these people and watch all of their antics, including plenty of twists and turns introduced by the producers, that happen in-between
  6. Marvel over how Jeff Probst has not aged a day in the 20-year time span and looks like a million bucks in front of these dirty, hungry people who are actually competing for a million bucks

So yeah, that’s the basic premise…it might sound like a stupid show to some, but I know that Survivor has a devout and large fan following that includes my dad.

Growing up, my dad, my brother, and I watched Survivor almost religiously. We’d ooh and ahh when tribes pulled off unsuspected victories and make bets on who would be voted off the show each week. We’d have our favorites and our far-from-favorites that we rooted for and against. The three of us were nuts about the show for years, until one day we weren’t and only my dad continued to tune in.

Ethan Zohn_ A Survivor Contestant Who Inspires
Yes, that it is a photo of me on the last day of 5th grade, wearing my very own Survivor buff around my head…a buff that I still actually own.

Things changed for me this season, though…Survivor, Season 40 (!), takes previous winners and pits them against each other for the title of perhaps the ultimate sole survivor. The prize is a cool two million this time around, and I decided to start watching because I wanted to see how winners from when I watched fared in a show that would be a very different experience for them compared to when they first played.

And I’m having a lot more fun watching than I expected. Even though a couple of my early favorites were voted off too soon, there’s a chance for someone to re-enter the game thanks to the “edge of extinction” rules. This means that, for a few minutes each episode (so far), the camera focuses on the voted-off survivors who are trying to earn a way back into the game by surviving the edge of extinction.

Again…I get that this all sounds hokey so far. But what’s actually pretty cool to me is that I found a bit of inspiration from one of the survivors who is trying to fight the edge of extinction.

And that survivor is Ethan. I remember watching Ethan in two previous seasons of Survivor. I tooooootally had a crush on him (my brother made fun of me for it and yes, I know Ethan is happily married now) in his first season, which he won, and I remember being thrilled when it was announced that he’d compete a second time in an all-star contestant season. On TV, he came across as a friendly, smart guy who wasn’t cutthroat like some of the other contestants, but just as determined to win, so rooting for him was natural and it was crushing when he was eventually voted off.

It’s been 16 years since he last played the game, and a lot has happened to the guy in that span of time. In 2009, Ethan was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. From what I’ve read, he endured a difficult battle with cancer that lasted four years. Obviously, I don’t know details about that time in his life, but I can only imagine how emotionally and physically challenging it was to face that ordeal…certainly, though, it was much more difficult than competing on Survivor.

Fast-forward to the present: Ethan’s back in the game after that long gap of time away from it in which he’s faced a serious health condition. He might be on the Survivor-dubbed edge of extinction right now, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fighting to stay in the game.

In fact, during last week’s episode, Ethan was struggling to complete the challenge that he and the other voted-off contestants had to do before sundown. It was a physically grueling task that required Ethan and the others to climb up and down a treacherous, steep path over and over again. As a viewer, seeing him lose his balance, become super pale, and admit to the other contestants that he wasn’t okay was hard to watch – he looked like what it feels like to have a severe low blood sugar. I was practically convinced that he was going to be forced to tap out of the game altogether, especially when he was visited by one of the show’s paramedics.

But then…he turned it all around, drawing on the strength he gleaned from literally fighting his way back from a different kind of edge of extinction from his cancer battle, and finished the challenge. It was a pretty spectacular comeback.

On-camera, Ethan explained how he was able to push through:

I wanted to complete this for myself, I did not want to quit. I want to set a good example for everyone who’s been through a health challenge and thinks that they can’t do it anymore…you can do it, you can get through those hard moments.

I kept saying to myself, remember when you were getting spinal taps, radiation…I started saying the mantras I was saying when I was going through chemotherapy to get me through those moments.

Watching this, I felt incredibly awe-struck by Ethan’s courage and resilience…and I felt like he was speaking directly to me, as well as any other person who is dealing with a health problem, whether it’s type 1 diabetes, cancer, or anything else. While all of these conditions vary greatly from each other, it’s amazing just how much the right mindset can help fight against whatever it may be.

So I’m writing this post to say thank you to Ethan for sending some inspiration my way, and undoubtedly, the ways of so many other individuals who struggle with the mental and physical side effects of an illness. Thank you for reminding us that we have to just keep going and do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles we face.

Watch the clip in question below:

Who Inspires Me from the DOC

It’s November 22nd which means that it’s Day 22 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today is called #FollowFriday and we’re encouraged to share who inspires us from the diabetes community. Rather than capture the dozens upon dozens of names in a blog post (because truly, there’s practically an endless list of people who inspire me in the DOC), I’m going to write about what I think makes someone in the DOC inspiring…

I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve been involved with the diabetes online community (DOC).

It’s somewhere between five and eight. Regardless of what the true number is, I can tell you this: I’ve “met” and interacted with countless people who’ve shared their stories with me. Each story is unique and marked by different struggles and victories, but the common theme is diabetes.

But what else do these storytellers share that make them so inspiring to me?

Happy Independence Day!
Chances are that if you’re reading this post…you’ve inspired me in some way. Thank you.

Here are three qualities of people with diabetes who inspire me:

  1. Vulnerability. I’ve come to value this more than just about any other trait when it comes to talking about diabetes in an online space. Nothing makes a person more relatable (or more human) than when they speak uninhibited and honestly. In a social media world where everyone is so concerned with capturing and filtering the “perfect” photo with the “flawless” caption to go with it, I find that it’s the stories that are raw and obviously imperfect that pack more of a punch. It’s important to stay grounded, and those who aren’t afraid to share their tribulations as much as they share their successes are truly inspiring to me.

2. Kindness. The Internet can be harsh and judgmental. (Okay, that’s a total understatement). It’s brutal out here in cyberspace, and unfortunately, the DOC isn’t immune to all brands of savagery. In the past, I’ve seen disputes erupt because of hateful comments made about all aspects of life with diabetes. So when I notice thoughtful, supportive, and downright nice comments between perfect strangers in an online space, it restores a bit of my faith in humanity. Those who take the time to send a tweet to another PWD in need or who use their presence online to do some good don’t go unnoticed by me, and I applaud each and every single person who does their best to reduce the negativity in the diabetes online community.

3. Willingness to listen and learn from differing perspectives. Those of us who live with diabetes can be wildly, passionately opinionated. Pumps! No, MDI! Carbs! No, keto diet! Your diabetes is just like mine! No, it’s not! – Those are just a few examples. While some may be quick to judge others for dealing with diabetes in a way that is different or just plain “wrong” to them, I’m far more impressed by those who remain open to having conversations and learning from those who disagree. After all, what matters most is that a person finds what works best for them. It shouldn’t matter that it’s different from what I or anyone else might do. So I really admire those who are able to put aside differences and focus on learning and growing from others.

Thank you to each and every single person out there in the diabetes online community who possesses one or all of these qualities. This means you’ve inspired me in some way, and I am incredibly grateful for you and your willingness to share part of yourself with strangers online. Keep doing what you’re doing and I can guarantee that you’ll continue to inspire many more people.

TypeOneNation, Boston: A Wicked Fun Family Reunion

St. Patrick’s Day is a favorite holiday of mine because I enjoy celebrating my Irish heritage. Almost every year, I eat a traditional boiled dinner, listen to Irish music, and wear an excessive amount of green.

This year, though, was a little different. In addition to all of the above, I attended the TypeOneNation summit in Boston. The event was organized by JDRF and just about 900 people with diabetes attended, along with their families and caregivers.

There’s nothing like being in Boston on St. Paddy’s day, even if it is for an event that has nothing to do with the holiday’s shenanigans. The spirit of the day made it slightly less painful to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to catch an early morning commuter rail into the city. As I sipped an Irish cream iced coffee from Honey Dew (absolutely delicious) on the ride, I got myself pumped up for what would surely be a fun day.

Once we arrived at the Back Bay station, I was one frigid (and mercifully short) walk away from the event space: the Boston Marriott Copley hotel. I went straight to the registration table so I could receive a name tag and itinerary, then made a beeline for the vendor hall. You can never have too much free diabetes swag, am I right?

Within the hall, I recognized many familiar faces and happily made the rounds to chat with some of my T1D friends in attendance. I couldn’t help but feel like I was at a family reunion of sorts as I reconnected with people who I don’t get to see often enough.

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I was pumped to see some friends I’ve made through the CDN at the summit!

Before long, the events of the day got into full swing as the keynote speaker, Nicole Johnson, addressed the crowd. Nicole won the Miss America pageant in 1999 soon after she received her diabetes diagnosis. She’s done many incredible things since earning that accolade, and she delivered an inspiring speech about living life with diabetes to the fullest. As she spoke, I looked around the room and noticed all the little kids who were there. It warmed my heart to see how they received Nicole’s words. Many of them looked at her in absolute awe. It was obvious that they thought she was pretty great, and I bet that having diabetes in common with her helped them to feel just as cool. Nicole is definitely a wonderful role model!

The rest of the day went by much too quickly as I went to two different talks offered at the summit. One was about going to college with diabetes, and the other was about sex and drugs – the “taboo” diabetes topics. Even though I’ve already experienced what it’s like to go off to college with diabetes, I wanted to go to this talk because it was given by my friends from the CDN. I also wanted to meet the parents and children at the session because I was curious to learn about their concerns. As someone who went to a very similar talk seven (?!) years ago, I felt that I could potentially offer reassurance to these families, especially since the whole college experience was so recent for me. And it turned out that the woman seated next to me was an anxious mom who seemed receptive to the words of encouragement I spoke to her at the end of the panel. While I believe that the session could’ve lasted many more hours (everyone was so engaged in the conversation), I think that the session acted as a good launching point into future discussions for many families who are going to make this transition soon.

I wolfed down a quick lunch – I loved seeing the food labeled with carb counts – before heading to the next session. I chose it because, c’mon, a title like “Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll” can get anyone’s attention. Plus, I feel very strongly that the touchier diabetes topics SHOULD be talked about more often. They can be scary to approach, but it’s important to know what to expect in certain situations in which diabetes can play a major role. I had to duck out of this one a bit early to catch the commuter rail back home, but they were delving into some pretty juicy stuff when I got up to leave. I give major credit to all of the panelists in that one – it can’t be easy to talk about highly personal intimate matters in a room filled with strangers!

Although my time at the summit was truncated, I’m so glad that I took the time to go to it. It’s no secret that I enjoy talking with other people with diabetes. Hearing their stories and sharing experiences makes diabetes feel less isolating. And I’m thrilled that I finally got to meet a few people I knew from the DOC but had yet to see in person!

Diabetes conferences, meet-ups, summits…they’re the types of family reunions you actually get excited about and want to attend.