Sean Swarner has beaten cancer (twice!) and the world's highest mountains. Top that, Lance Armstrong.
With avalanches, torrential winds, snowstorms, sub-zero temperatures, and sheer, icy cliffs, the summit of Mount Everest is no place for the weak. Just over 2,000 climbers have successfully reached Everest’s highest point and lived to tell about it.
Colorado native Sean Swarner, 32, scaled Mount Everest in 2002, but that wasn’t enough of a challenge: he’s since climbed the highest peaks on each continent, concluding his global expedition on June 19th, with the ascent of Mount Denali in Alaska.
Swarner is one of less than 200 people in the world to have climbed all seven peaks — but that’s not the only reason his story is so remarkable: Swarner is also a two-time cancer survivor.
At fourteen, Swarner was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He beat the odds with a full recovery — but two years later, doctors discovered a rare Askin’s tumor on his lung. This time, it seemed, his luck had run out. He was told he had just two weeks to live.
But with surgery and months of treatment, Swarner not only survived, but blossomed. After entering remission, he returned to the athletic activities he’d loved as a child, and soon picked up a new favorite sport: mountain climbing.
Swarner’s mountain climbing expeditions, he says, “are a way to give hope and inspiration to people with cancer. I wanted to prove that if you set your mind to something, you can do it.”
On each mountain’s summit, Swarner plants a flag bearing the names of thousands of people affected by cancer in honor of their struggles. And when he descends from a mountain, his first stop is always the children’s ward of a local hospital, where he shares his adventures with young cancer patients. “Watching their faces light up with hope is the best feeling in the world,” says Swarner. Even better than watching a sunrise from the peak of Mount Everest.