Ethan Zohn: Cancer and World Cup Survivor
July 10, 2014
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. But in the United States it’s a polarizing topic of discussion, not unlike the issue of abortion, Michael Bay reboots and fanny packs at theme parks. (They’re practical, y’all.) This summer, I’ve come down with Soccer Fever. Not since the World Cup in 1994 have I been so into the sport.
I wanted to talk about the World Cup, so I went to the only former soccer pro I know: Ethan Zohn. A co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, canzer crusher and Survivor Africa winner shares his thoughts on HIV, this year’s World Cup tournament and what it means to truly survive life. (NOTE: Ethan’s answers submitted before the Semi-Final matches between Brazil/Germany and The Netherlands/Argentina. He knows his shit.)
So, I gotta know, Ethan: do you have any favorites in the World Cup?
Of course I do, I live for World Cup. I have been to every World Cup since 1994. Before the cup, I felt Brazil would crush everyone. But now, I’m leaning towards an Argentina / Germany final with Argentina winning. Plus I love yelling out the name Schweinsteiger at random moments throughout the day.
What’s up with that dude who bit the other dude?
That dude is Suarez, probably one of the best players in the world. To be honest I think he in love with Giorgio Chiellini. That was a love bite, not a foul. Plus Uraguay, where Suarez is from is the first country to regulate legal production, sale and consumption of marijuana. What do you expect?
I’d expect a more chill Suarez, but I’ve known people who freak out on the pot… a friend of mine… someone I know quite personally. He becomes a panicky mess… anyway…
After winning Survivor, you used the prize money to found Grassroot Soccer and help utilize the world’s love of soccer in the fight against HIV. Several years later, you were diagnosed with cancer. I know you didn’t found Grassroot to gain cosmic favor, but… you getting cancer after going to bat, er, going to kick ball for the HIV community, was one of the lamest fouls I’ve ever seen in the sport of life. How are you feeling these days?
Ha! True, I need to have a word with the referee of this game of my life…who is that? God? David Hasselhoff?
I’m feeling great and excited I’m alive and strong enough to drink beer and watch soccer all month. In the years leading up to my cancer diagnosis I have been working hard through Grassroot Soccer, to help prevent young kids in Africa from contracting this life threatening disease. I do not know what it is like to have HIV, nor do I have HIV. But, I do know what it’s like to walk into an office and get handed a very scary life ending diagnosis. Getting cancer gave me some street cred. Now I just want to do everything in my power to make sure others do not have to go through the same crap we went through. Can I get a “hell yeah”….
Hell yeah! Lastly, any big goals for Grassroot Soccer during this World Cup season, or any of your other charitable efforts?
Where do I begin! We always have cool events and fundraising campaigns. Right now, WHEATIES (the iconic cereal that always has amazing athletes on their boxes) is running a contest #WheatiesNext – 5 up-and-coming athletes in a voting contest for who gets on the next box. Each picks a charity to benefit.
Our newest Pro Ambassador, Christen Press, is in the contest and we are her charity – this is a big contest and we are one of the 5 chosen charities – woo-hoo! Check it out here:
Thanks, Ethan! Enjoy the rest of the World Cup. And the beer, you’ve earned it!
Interview w/ Merce’s Charles Sanchez
June 30, 2014
A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Merce- a humorous web series that is centered around an HIV positive character living in NYC. I recently sat down with co-creator, Charles Sanchez… meaning, I sat at my laptop and fired him some questions and he sat at his and answered them. Enjoy!
Donate to the project here!
(anyone who donates $25 or more can get a signed copy of My Pet Virus… I have 5 available, so just leave a Comment on this blog entry to let me know you donated and I’ll make contact to get a mailing address! -SD)
Hey Charles! Love the concept for Merce- how long have you had the idea and what inspired it?
Hey, Shawn! Let me just say how happy I am to have met you and how much I enjoyed your book. I’m totally a fan.
I brought in my pal Tyne Firmin, who’s an amazing director and actor, but had zero filming or editing experience. We shot what ended up being a whole web series, called Manhattan Man-Travels, truly ghetto-style, mostly for the joy of creating. Absolutely no budget. Very Judy and Mickey “Let’s-put-the-show-on-right-
Merce spoke directly to the camera and we followed him through many crazy romantic situations, from dating and trolling the internet for sex to him being in an actual relationship. We feel like we have something really special in this character, and want to up the production values and see if we can reach a wider audience. We’ve added characters for him to interact with and focused the musical fantasy elements (every episode will have a short musical number). We decided to put Merce’s HIV status more to the forefront, since there’s no character in mainstream American media that’s HIV positive.
And an HIV comedy? Well, that’s crazy, right? We didn’t set out to, but we lucked into doing something that no one else is doing.
Do you have a favorite HIV positive character from a movie?
But I haven’t answered the question. Buzz from the play and movie of Love! Valour! Compassion! He deals with his status with humor, sometimes acidic humor, but he’s authentic and courageous and funny, and doesn’t let his HIV change who he is.
If you could give any character from a mainstream movie HIV (to make them more interesting) who would it be?
Oh, gosh! I don’t know! Maybe Bridget Jones. With all her pouty angst and weight issues, and yet those dreamy men still seem to fall for her. What would happen if she also had to worry about whether her panties were still white, because maybe her Kaletra was causing some poops-a-daisy problems?
That would make for some good comedy. Or someone ridiculous maybe, like Wolverine or Harry Potter. Of course, if Harry Potter had HIV, he could just zap it right out of himself. He’d just take his wand and say, “Heenis-a-penis-a, no HIV-ness-a!”
I like that idea! How is fundraising for Merce going? Deadline? And what’s the plan if you make your goal, and what’s the plan if you don’t?
Tyne and I are determined. We’re going to make Merce happen no matter what. It’s inevitable.
(Check the link for other incentives to donate… and don’t forget, anyone who donates $25 or more can get a signed copy of My Pet Virus… (while supplies last!) I have 5 available, so just leave a Comment on this blog entry to let me know you donated and I’ll make contact to get a mailing address! Let’s make Merce happen! -SD)
National Nurses Week
May 7, 2014
Every day is Day, every week is a Week, and every month is a Month of one type of recognition or another. It’s not a bad thing- there are lots of causes that need more attention than they can get. Especially in this great age of great distractions.
I miss a lot of it. But when I noticed that we were halfway through National Nurses Week, I felt the call to pull out the ol’ laptop and punch out a blog post of love and gratitude for my lifelong friend and ally: the nurse.
As a kid with a bleeding disorder, I found myself visiting the hospital a lot more than the rest of my friends. It could be a scary place. Initially, I hated having my blood drawn. That was until I noticed a pattern: Nurse Gail never missed a vein. And I enjoyed talking to her. Having a needle in my arm went from, well, having a needle in my arm to having a friend by my side. I’d always request Gail, and since she worked a lot, she was usually there for a quick catch-up session over vials of plasma.
In the bigger picture with regards to the HIV epidemic, it was often nurses who cared for the first generation of people who succumbed to the onslaught of HIV. When friends and family were too scared to show up, it was the nurse who provided comfort, which surely meant a lot when doctors were providing no answers or solutions to what was happening back then. The strength of the nurse was and will always be a simple, if elusive and rare, trait: tireless compassion.
It’s not an easy job to turn a hospital into a home away from home, but somehow nurses pull it off. I know I’m forever grateful for all of the nurses who have shown me kindness and care when I needed it most.
Ripley’s You Better Believe It
April 28, 2014
Vaughn Ripley is a man on a mission. With over 30 years of living with HIV under his bike shorts, the avid cyclist, dad and author of Survivor: One Man’s Battle With HIV, Hemophilia and Hepatitis C is ready to tackle his next goal: be the first openly HIV positive man to grace the cover of Men’s Health Magazine.
The cool part about all of this? We can help make it happen. Go here to vote for Vaughn. He got a retweet on Twitter from William Shatner, but if he’s going to get beamed up to the cover he’s going to need your help, too!
Labtest Contest X: Win Body Counts By Sean Strub
February 21, 2014
The Labtest Contest is back! And the grand prize has never been better- guess closest to my t-cell count and win a signed copy of Sean Strub’s incredible new book, Body Counts! The rules are posted below… be sure to follow them and good luck!
Shawn’s Guess: 422
Shawn’s Doctor’s Guess: 670
March-July 2010: Charles Oliff (guess: 567 actual count: 565)
July-December 2010: Aimee Lee (guess: 516 actual: 511)
December 2010- March 2011: “Satan” (guess: 666 actual: 662)
March-July 2011: Sharon Paul (guess:
520 actual: 508)
August-January 2012: Justin Starkenburg (guess: 570 actual count: 579)
February- June: Bob Geise (guess: 595 actual count: 590)
July-September: Sahara Frog (guess: 515 actual count: 512)
September-January 2014: Scott Anderson (guess: 620 actual count: 620)
February-October: Mary (guess: actual count:585 actual count: 583)
NOVEMBER RESULTS: 538 (No Contest)
1. You have to post your guess (between 400 and 700 t-cells) on my Poz blog Comments section
2. Relatives are allowed to guess! Bribes accepted!
3. Closest guess wins- if it’s a tie, the closest guess that DID NOT go over the actual count wins.
4. One vote/guess per person. Must have a valid email address.
5. Deadline is Friday, February 28, 2014 12:01 am EST
Body Counts by Sean Strub
January 14, 2014
Sean Strub’s memoir, Body Counts, hit stores yesterday, and Gwenn and I were fortunate enough to get to our local bookstore just in time to nab the last three copies: one for us, one for my mom (who is a huge fan) and one for a future Labtest Contest prize.
But, don’t wait around for me to get labwork done in March for a chance to win this book, if you have any interest in the history of the gay community, the politics of sex and the realities of living with HIV- you’ve gotta get this book. Click on Sean’s face to read an excerpt of Body Counts in the latest issue of Poz.
Sean has been one of the most influential people in my life as a positoid. Without him, I really have no idea what I’d be doing right now. In 1996, after nearly a decade of living with HIV, I decided to speak out about being positive for the first time; I was 20, still living with my parents in Waynesboro, Virginia, and had just put up a website chronicling my thoughts on living with HIV. My doctor fed me a few issues of Poz Magazine and I was stunned that a magazine solely about HIV existed. I poured through its pages and loved what I read. I sent a fan letter to the editor-in-chief, Sean, and shared where I was at in my own journey with HIV.
A month or so later, I was watching wrestling and the phone rang. “Shawn, telephone!” My dad/secretary called out through my bedroom door. My beloved Ric Flair had just lost his World Title; I was bummed but took the call anyway. It was Sean. He invited me to NYC to be interviewed for the magazine and shortly thereafter I started writing my Positoid column.
When I learned that my original godparents had broken ties with my family in the 1980s after my diagnosis because their church said AIDS was God’s punishment against gay people, I asked Sean and Steve Schalchlin (another beloved mentor) to be my surrogate Godparents. They both readily accepted.
All of that personal history and admiration aside, it was hard to tear myself from Body Counts to post this blog- it really is an incredible book and an honest, forthcoming account from someone who has a truly unique set of experiences to draw from.
Operation AIDS Elves
December 19, 2013
And that’s how Operation AIDS Elves was born.
It’s a simple, fun way to spread some HIV/AIDS awareness during the craziness that is the holiday season… so, if you have a few extra red ribbons lying around, put them to good use! Here’s my friend and all-around good positoid, Rob Quinn, working his AIDS elf magic during a visit to NYC. And that’s me sneaking a ribbon onto a tree at the coffee shop and one onto the tree on the downtown mall.
Post-Show Attack of the Hemophilia!
August 12, 2013
Me with Andy, Tony and Gopal of Bella Morte moments after the show (photo by Angel Miranda)
At the Infusion Center at UVA, about a week after the show. (photo by Gwenn)
So the big show on August 3 with my friends went well… very well! It was unbelievable how many people showed up- close to 400. There was such a great energy, it was by far the best show I’ve ever played or have been involved with.
The venue was very surprised by the turnout, too- we are all local (Synthetic Division, Lauren Hoffman and Bella Morte), but had quite a few in attendance who traveled great distances for the show. One couple drove from Massachusetts to Virginia. So many friends and strangers, from far and wide, made the night an unforgettable one. Included were my good friends from AIDS Services Group, who were kindly on hand to give out free condoms at the Synthetic Division merch table.
I got choked up a couple of times during the night- once on stage. The third song of our set, “Borrowed Time”, is about the notion of not knowing how long you have left… I wrote it about ten years ago, and as it started I thought about friends I’ve lost… and how lucky I was to be standing on that stage. There have been a lot of times in my life where things could have gone the other way.
The next time was during Bella Morte’s set. I scrambled up close to the stage and stood on the right side with my shoulder resting against the wall. This was Gopal’s first show in seven years with the band he helped found. As I watched him play, a memory came back of one of the first times I saw them play in the basement of Tokyo Rose. I went there sick, by myself, in my pajama bottoms… and leaned against the right-side wall. When that memory hit, tears just started to flow, and I let them.
Another unforgettable moment- the last song in my set was “Close To Me”, a cover of the Cure’s song. My goddaughter, who is almost 5, loves my version. Whenever the original comes on and Robert Smith starts singing, she asks. “Who’s that? Where’s Shawn???” It’s too cute. She was in attendance at the show, and I dedicated the song to her- which I kind of botched. After we were done, I heard that when the Cure song started my goddaughter- who was wearing protective headphones- tore off her headphones and listened to the whole song without them.
There are so many moments that were great, but those are just a few and I have to get to the aftermath at some point, so….
About five days before the show I bumped my side. It’s embarrassing, as many hemophilia-related injuries can be… I was out to eat with friends, there were five of us, and I got to the booth first and slid in… I didn’t see that there was a steel beam coming down from the wall into the booth and I slid right into it. It hurt like hell, but only momentarily. I knew it would leave a mark, and the next day a small bruise appeared.
After a couple of days I forgot about it.
A few days later was the day of the show, which includes hauling equipment out of your house, into the car, and into the venue. Then the show itself- which I hopped around onstage for and even engaged in a pratfall where I gingerly fell to the ground before leaping to my feet just in time for the last chorus. Later that night, when my goddaughter was ready to go, I helped carry her to the car…
Anyway, the day after the show my side was killing me. And that little bruise? Now it was huge. I ended up treating it with clotting factor at home- which I quickly ran out of. Then when I went into the hemo clinic to show my hematologist, she kind of freaked out over it. It’s been quite the adventure, not only treating this wound but also trying to get the mail order pharmacy to actually send me more clotting factor. So, this week I have more treatments lined up…
Which begs the question: was it worth it?
Abso-fucking-lutely. A little reality check after an unreal night seems cosmically appropriate, and I’m okay with that… the only thing I’d change is how the injury started. Sliding into a booth is pretty damn lame.
The night before our big show, Josh and I pose with Lauren before taking in some Yacht Rock
The view from the Infusion Center. I turned my bleed into a skyscape.