Cancer Survivor “Save the Species that Saved My Life”

Ethan Zohn is the winner of “Survivor: Africa,” a cancer survivor and co-founder of Grassroots Soccer. Ethan is currently working with the Alliance for Global Conservation and other cancer survivors to raise awareness of the links between international conservation and treatments for deadly diseases.

The world of professional soccer certainly has its share of stars — players who’ve elevated themselves to hero status with an incredible save or game-winning goal. But as anyone who’s ever played soccer will tell you, this beautiful game truly is a team sport.

In fact, the lessons I learned as a player and coach on the soccer field proved invaluable both as a competitor in “Survivor: Africa” and in my later struggle with cancer. Yet while a reality show competition and a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma may not seem to have much in common at first glance, I was able to survive both due to an invaluable assist from nature.

According to an ever growing body of research, however, the last remnants of the world’s natural areas are quickly disappearing. And I’m now speaking out in an effort to get others to join me in the effort to save these last wild areas.

It all started on Survivor: Africa
I’m alive today due to a drug derived from the rosy periwinkle, a rare African flower found on the island of Madagascar. Yet in 2002, while competing in “Survivor: Africa,” this delicate pink flower was the farthest thing from my mind.

We were expected to live off the land, and survival meant working with nature. We discovered that the thorny acacia plants could keep predators away from our camp in the Shaba Natural Reserve. And we learned the best times to drink from the local watering hole — sharing it with the wildlife which also relied on this tiny stream to survive.

Cancer changes everything                                                           Then, in 2009, any thought of Africa vanished when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Being treated with chemotherapy drugs made me feel like a living laboratory. Yet, I was comforted when I discovered that one of these drugs, vincristine, was actually derived from Africa’s rosy periwinkle. But unlike the watering hole in the African nature reserve I depended on, the rosy periwinkle and countless other plants and animals are not protected.

The last remnants of the world’s natural areas are quickly disappearing. Over the last 300 years, global forest area has shrunk by almost half. Today more than 16,000 species — plants and animals alike — are in danger of extinction. This could have a disastrous impact on human health.

Half of all prescription drugs developed in the past 25 years are based on natural sources like rainforest plants and marine sponges. Indeed, chemical compounds synthesized from nature have provided the basis for the drugs that today help millions of Americans combat a myriad of diseases — including cancer.

Possible cures destroyed                                                                   As ecosystems and species are destroyed, the habitats of natural compounds that could one day prove useful to medicine are lost forever. In fact, the United Nations Environment Programme predicts that with current extinction rates we could see the loss of one major new drug every two years. And that’s why we must act now.

Save species, save lives                                                                     Currently there is a bill in Congress, the Global Conservation Act of 2010, which seeks to address extinction and natural resource depletion worldwide. Among other things, this bill will help protect millions of square miles of land and sea, stop the worst wildlife trafficking operations and address illegal and unregulated fishing around the world.

Please join me in my effort to urge Congress to pass the Global Conservation Act. You can help by writing your representative or senator and asking them to support this measure to help save endangered places and natural areas around the world. We may be fighting the clock in this struggle, but if we can come together as a team in facing this challenge we might yet be able to turn the tide.

I won “Survivor: Africa,” and I’ve won my battle against cancer. In each case, though, I didn’t do it alone. I had the most unlikely of partners: a trickle of water, a flower.

But now nature needs some help. And I need yours — because life, like soccer, is a team sport, and when you can transform a group of individuals into a team you can make miracles happen. If you need proof, just take a look at Spain, which defied the odds to win the World Cup.

Alliance for Global Conservation
by Ethan Zohn


John Repsch
John Repsch6 years ago

I have often wondered, if most drugs were originally plant based, where are the scientists now? Where are the multi-billion $ pharmaceutical companies? Why the hell aren't they doing something to stop rainforest destruction?

Barbara U.
Barbara U6 years ago

Although I'm diminishing this cancers survivor's difficulty and survival of this horrible disease, but isn't ironic that people finally see the correlation between a healthy environment and their survival when it's destruction effects them personally?

I have a family member who is a republican/conservative who once said that people should come before the environment - with this attitude that the many people seem to have, there will be nothting left. Like it or not, we are connected to the environment, when and if we destroy it (which seems to be the way we are heading), we will eventually destroy ourselves. Doesn't anyone remember the story of Easter Island? I remember learning about this in elementary school, even then I was already a nature-lover and this story had a profound affect on my outlook.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

poor flower isn't pretty enough. maybe if it were a wolf people would save it.

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

Signed and shared. We need to protect our world and all it's species.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W7 years ago

It's horrible what you're saying, Caroline. Let's hope it will never take place.

Caroline M.
Caroline M.7 years ago

We give gratitude for the healing properties of the natural world. I work in protection with the Amazonian Cosmovision, forests and life in all it facets of beauty. I enclose this information below sent by a co-mind. We implore anyone who cares about the rights, healing, bienstar and biodiversity of indigenous people, plants and ecosystems to speak out against this travesty of toxic meds and the tyranny of phony pharmas and their psych(o)s.
Mother Nature has all the cures we need to survive and thrive.
We speak our truth freely and frankly, aligned with healing light and love. (article below)

Big Pharma Scores Big Win: Medicinal Herbs Will Disappear in EU.
Posted by Rainbow Warrior Mariah on September 15, 2010 at 12:48am in General
Big Pharma Scores Big Win: Medicinal Herbs Will Disappear in EU
It's almost a done deal. We are about to see herbal preparations disappear, and the ability of herbalists to prescribe them will also be lost.
by Heidi Stevenson
12 September 2010
Big Pharma has almost reached the finish line of its decades-long battle to wipe out all competition. As of 1 April 2011—less than eight months from now—virtually all medicinal herbs will become
illegal in the European Union. The approach in the United States is a
bit different, but it's having the same devastating effect. The people
have become nothing more than sinks for whatever swill Big Pharma and
Agribusiness choose to send our way, and we have no option but to pay
whatever r

Alison A.
Alison A7 years ago

Interesting, thanks for posting.

wizzy wizard
wiz wi7 years ago

i trust herbal than man made medicine any day(who know what harmfull chemicals they put into there medicine

Michele C.
Michele C7 years ago

Thank you for the information. I contacted state my state officials to urge them to support this cause.

paula D.
paula B7 years ago

great info...thanks!