We’re unlikely friends for many reasons. You won’t catch me trying to climb snow covered mountains or dragging truck tires around my neighborhood as a training exercise. But when Sean Swarner and I met, first on social media and later, in person, it was like meeting a hero for me.
Most people have not escaped death twice before the age of 17. Most people don’t climb to the edges of the earth — scaling the highest peaks. Most people are not two-time cancer survivor Sean Swarner — who headed to the North Pole to raise money for cancer institutions and survivorship programs on April 1, 2017.
“You can go 30 days without food, you can live three days without water, but can’t go 30 seconds without hope, because without hope, we truly have nothing,” Sean Swarner says while looking back on his life.
Sean has always had hope. Sean has always wanted to live another day. So did my late husband – also diagnosed with Hodgkins…but his was a different ending. To me, Sean was a spark of hope – that a young man could walk away from Hodgkins and not just survive, but thrive. He got the second chance my late husband, Gary, did not…and he’s making the most of it!
His childhood began the ordinary way – running, playing sports, hanging with friends, typical kid activities. Until one day, while shooting hoops, his knees buckled, he collapsed, and his mom rushed him to the hospital. The end result? His first cancer diagnosis – Hodgkins.
Despite all odds, Sean made a full recovery. He was a normal kid again; until, at the age of 16, he was diagnosed with Askin’s Sarcoma — a cancer combination that’s never been recorded again. This time, he was read his last rites and given 14 days to live, but once again, Sean proved the doctors wrong.
Not only did Sean survive, he grew determined that no challenge would ever be too great, no peak to high.
So he put his determination to the test. He climbed Mt. Everest with one functioning lung (he lost the other one to radiation) — the first cancer survivor to do so. In fact, not only did Sean climb to the highest peak on earth, he took as many people with him as possible, as he packed a flag with of names of people who were touched by cancer with him.
When he reached the world’s highest point, Sean grabbed his flag, with the names of everyone touched by cancer, and dug it into the ice proving, once again, anything is possible when you have hope.
For most people, Everest would have been enough. Sean isn’t most people. Since then, he’s kept climbing, topping the highest peaks in Africa, Europe, South America, Australia, Antarctica, and North America, thus completing the 7-Summits, in addition to conquering the South Pole and the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii.
I was not surprised to learn Sean’s response to all these accomplishments was, “I’m not finished yet.”
On April 1, Sean Swarner landed on the ice of the Arctic with his flag in hand. He skied, one step at a time, and reached the North Pole, officially completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
Not only does Sean wake up every, single day, he lives each one to the max. Many people are alive, but not all are living. Sean should have been dead many times over. His differentiator? Hope. My differentiator? Possibility. What’s possible now? That is where we can begin. That is the space from which we can choose who we will be and how we will rise to the challenges of life.