updated 01/25/2010 AT 1:05 PM ET
•originally published 01/25/2010 AT 1:20 PM ET
While a special Ethan Zohn cam at the Jan. 9 Survivor 10-year anniversary party in L.A. was set up so well-wishers could send greetings to the Africa winner – who was on the East Coast recuperating from a stem-cell transplant for a rare form of Hodgkin’s disease – Zohn’s friend from the Palau season, Jenn Lyon, was receiving visitors in a small room, fragile from her weakening battle against breast cancer.
Among those Lyon wanted to see was Zohn’s girlfriend and Amazon winner Jenna Morasca. “When she saw her,” says Lyon’s sister Kim, “they definitely had their own good cry together. Jenna and Ethan are going through so much.”
“She couldn’t have looked more beautiful,” Morasca says of Lyon. “I can’t imagine how draining that was for her, to be surrounded by so many people that loved her, but her spirit could light up an entire room.”
Ten days later, on Jan, 19, Lyon died at the age of 37.
“I think Ethan and Jenn became strong allies for each other as they both battled their cancer,” says series host Jeff Probst. “Ethan was there for Jenn at times when she really needed to talk to someone who could understand the struggle on a level the rest of us just couldn’t. Ethan is such a strong willed and inspiring person; their friendship offered a lot of comfort to Jenn.”
Such was the pair’s camaraderie that “towards the end, when Jenn would be at long treatments or was too tired to talk,” says friend and Palau contestant Coby Archa, “she would still find the energy to show me all the powerful texts that Ethan would send to her, beautiful poems and encouragement for her to fight as a warrior against this thing called cancer. She always found strength in Ethan, and I know he did the same of her.”
Says Morasca, “I know Ethan has been reluctant to speak about what they shared because it is deeper than what any of us could share. They are the only people that understand. I feel that they were fueling each other’s fire.”
As soon as Zohn was diagnosed with cancer in late April 2009, Lyon “called immediately,” Morasca says, “but said, ‘You don’t have to call me back,’ everything that the person who has been through it knows that you want to hear, you know, ‘no pressure, I’m just here for you. I know what you’re going through.’ Cancer is a rough road. There’s ups and downs and for someone to understand that is comforting.”
Morasca adds, “They were connected right from the start and they were connected ever since and will still remain connected even though she’s not here any more.”
In regard to Zohn’s progress, Morasca says, “He is doing good. He is on schedule and we are moving forward with life but obviously this is an emotional setback for the both of us and for him, it’s very personal. It’s the loss the he’s feeling now – you’re fighting the same opponent – but this will fuel him more. Jenn is now watching him from above instead of on Facebook or on the phone.”
As for the best way to remember Lyon, Morasca says, “Donate to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, get mammograms and always remember Jenn’s story. When you are having a bad day, and you don’t feel good or can’t get a taxicab, just remember what life is really about. She had a smile on her face until the day she left this world, and that to me is a true sign of an angel.”