updated 09/11/2010 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/11/2010 AT 3:45 PM ET
Now that Ethan Zohn’s rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is in remission, the former Survivor contestant is savoring every healthy moment, and even took a triumphant run past the hospital where he spent months fighting for his life.
“I just – for the first time ever – jogged past the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City,” Zohn told PEOPLE at the Stand Up to Cancer telecast in L.A. Friday, “and that was a big moment for me.”
A robust-looking Zohn, once again sporting the trademark dark curls he lost after chemotherapy treatments, said the experience was exhilarating. “When I left that hospital on Jan. 12, 2010, I couldn’t even walk,” he said. “I had to be taken out in a wheelchair. So to be able to run by there, healthy, that was the best feeling in the world!”
Zohn, 36, has been in remission since April, but still goes for regular checkups. “Until you get to five years, it’s not considered cured,” he explained. “But now I’m just happy to wake up in the morning [and] go for a jog.”
The reality star appreciates “Stand Up to Cancer” for funding treatments and research like the experimental stem cell transplant that saved his life when chemotherapy failed. But he also has the support of girlfriend (and fellow Survivor alum) Jenna Morasca.
A Support System
“I never, ever doubted he was going to beat it,” she told PEOPLE. “But there were times when I felt like I just wanted to throw my hands up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s too much.’ ”
“Those were the times when I’d call my girlfriends and say Can I just come over to your house and cry? Please don’t talk to me. Just let me cry,’ ” Morasca recalled. “If I didn’t have good friends, I wouldn’t be able to make it through that.”
One positive out of the experience: Morasa is newly smitten with her beau’s much-shorter hair.
“I’m excited about the faux-hawk, because I wasn’t too into the curls,” she said, teasing. “It was too preppy-good-guy. This is like a badass look for me, so it’s kind of like having a new boyfriend. So it’s like a win-win for me.”
The couple hopes to return to television together – and possibly even try Survivor again.
“I don t know – maybe in another year or so, when I’m healthier,” Zohn said. “Just so I can beat Jenna.”
Reporting By DAHVI SHIRA