Greeting Odds With A Smile
How a cancer-survivor’s quest to challenge life’s uncertainties took him to the top of the world.By Lidiya Prasad
Imagine a bedridden cancer patient, making slow, careful steps, almost crawling, in an attempt to reach the bathroom eight feet away. Now imagine the same person, standing tall and strong at 29,000ft on top of the Everest, managing this feat with a single lung. World, meet Sean Swarner—cancer survivor, author, motivational speaker, record-holding mountaineer and a human being with untiring determination.
Having beaten cancer, not once but twice, Swarner gave life’s seemingly impossible feats a new dimension. “Every morning on waking up, I would decide for myself that I was going to take advantage of the day before me and use every second to make conscious choices to guide my life to where I wanted it to go,” says Swarner, about how he got his ship sailing. Having led a perfectly normal, healthy childhood, Swarner was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 13 and given three months to live, which left him and his family completely bewildered. But thanks to his “youthful naiveté,” he was completely positive about a comeback. And so it was, until 2015, when cancer came knocking on his doors once again. A totally unrelated cancer, Swarner was diagnosed with Askin’s Sarcoma in the lining of his right lung, following a routine checkup. For almost a year, he underwent chemotherapy and aggressive radiation sessions which left the lung dysfunctional.
And just what was a single-lunged person doing climbing mountains, we wonder. Swarner replies, with a smile: “I could have done many other things, considering my background is rooted in swimming and running. But I wanted to try something difficult, something no cancer survivor had ever done before. I wanted to scream from the top of the world that there is always hope, and if a guy who has had two terminal cancers, been in a coma for a year, and has survived so far with one lung could climb Mt Everest then anything is possible.”
Today, Swarner has topped the highest peaks in Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, and Australia, thus completing the 7-Summits. He has also skied to both the South and the North Poles, completing the coveted Explorer’s Grand Slam. With the completion of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, Swarner has also earned the title of being the only person in history to have earned these achievements.
“Initially, I was told by numerous people that what I was trying to accomplish was physiologically impossible,” he says.“Climbing the Everest with half your lung capacity just couldn’t be done. But on the other side of fear lies an entire world: your world. So when I went into that world with passion and strength and used fear as a motivator to not just be alive, but to truly live, I was able to do the extraordinary.”
Apart from mountaineering, Swarner runs an NGO, The Cancer Climber Association, to inspire others to lead a full and positive life. He has also authored a book and is currently awaiting the release of his book series titled The 7 Summits to Success. And if those weren’t enough, he is currently broadcasting a documentary titled True North across the US about his journey through cancer and after. His latest inspirational tool, The Next 7 Days, is a success guide for cancer survivors, reminding them to focus on one week at a time, and repeat the process until they are ready to face the world once again. His goal is certain: to inspire and be inspired till the end of life. And if resilience and determination needed a face, Swarner’s would be the one that perfectly fits the bill
“EVERY MORNING ON WAKING UP, I WOULD DECIDE FOR MYSELF THAT I WAS GOING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE DAY BEFORE ME AND USE EVERY SECOND TO MAKE CONSCIOUS CHOICES TO GUIDE MY LIFE TO WHERE I WANTED IT TO GO.”Sean Swarner Cabcer Survivor