Ethan Zohn, Nov. 6, 2011
Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty
11/07/2011 at 08:05 AM EST
Running the New York City Marathon
on Sunday, former Survivor
winner Ethan Zohn spotted his girlfriend of eight years, Jenna Morasca, cheering him on outside of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he has spent countless hours battling his Hodgkin's lymphoma
"I jogged over to her and gave her a big giant hug. And there may have been some tears shed," says Zohn, 37.
Calling it "a really emotional moment," Morasca adds: "It was just an overwhelming sense of pride on my side and for him, just a feeling of being supported. There were a lot of emotions packed into that one hug."
That support carried Zohn through the last eight miles of the race, when he really began to feel the wear on his body.
"My quads were burning, my hamstrings felt like they were about to rip off," he says. "But I knew with every step I was crushing little cancer cells on the road. I even wrote 'f--k canzer' on the bottom of my shoes. That's what kept me going."
Rounding each corner, Zohn was met by thunderous cheers from fans. "Literally it was like walking into a surprise party that was organized just for me. 'Go Ethan! Keep running! Outrun cancer!' It was really an incredible experience," he says.
"Everyone in New York City came out to support so many people. Everything was happy, everything was positive, and you don't see that that often."
Zohn finished the race in 4:20:46, and Morasca was waiting for him at the finish line. "She was right there, by my side, as always," says Zohn. "I gave her a big fat hug and a big sweaty kiss and it was worth every second of it."
Morasca insists the moment was bigger than the both of them. "I was just so happy to see him. There's nothing he could ever do that could make me feel like he's any stronger because he's already accomplished so much," she says. "I never have any doubt that he's going to overcome any obstacles he's presented with."
And with his second marathon now under his belt, Zohn will undergo his next chemo treatment on Tuesday. "I'm not thinking about it, I don't want to. Jenna and I just look at it as another check-up and I'll get a little infusion," he says.
"Right now, I feel incredible. Finishing the marathon gave me more confidence and strength. It really felt like all of New York was cheering for me today. And I am going to get through this."