Sean Swarner conquered the world’s seven highest peaks — but his greatest feat may be overcoming cancer twice.
Swarner, who lived through two bouts of cancer as a teenager and went on to become the world’s first cancer survivor to climb Mount Everest, will bring his inspirational message of hope to Red Deer on Thursday night.
Proceeds will benefit the Staff Education Fund on Unit 32, the oncology and palliative ward of Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
Swarner learned at a young age that no challenge is too great.
At 13, doctors didn’t expect him to live more than three months after being diagnosed with an advanced stage of Hodgkin’s disease.
Three years later, doctors gave Swarner two weeks to live after a cancerous tumour was found in his chest wall.
It was Askin’s sarcoma.
After being read his last rites and essentially put into a medically-induced coma for a year, Swarner recovered.
The 37-year-old recalls how he managed to pull through.
“The reason I’m alive is because of modern medicine, family support, prayers — whatever it took to keep moving,” said Swarner by phone from his home just outside Breckenridge, Colo. “It just wasn’t my time.”
Swarner became motivated to challenge himself with the world’s toughest terrain.
With only partial use of his lungs, Swarner became the first cancer survivor to summit Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,850 metres (29,035 feet) in 2002. It was so beautiful that morning, he and the rest of the climbing team were on top for 30 minutes.
“I really wanted to use Everest as the highest platform in the world to bring hope,” Swarner said.
He’s since climbed Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Vinson Massif, Kosciusko, and Denali/Mount McKinley (the highest peaks in Africa, Europe, South America, Antarctica, Australia, and North America). His next big goals: trek the North and South poles.
Swarner co-founded the CancerClimber Association, which solely aims to give hope to those affected by cancer.
Every summer, he takes a group to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as a fundraiser for the climber association.
He’s deeply inspired by the “true climbers in life” — the individuals who are fighting cancer. He tries to visit cancer patients during his expeditions and presentations.
“Without hope, you cannot survive,” said Swarner.
While a human body can live about 30 days without food and about three days without water, Swarner said an individual can’t live without hope for about 30 seconds because “without hope, we truly have nothing.” The chance of getting cancer again does cross his mind, particularly when he’s getting bloodwork done as part of his annual physical checkup.
“I just try to take advantage of every day I have,” said Swarner, who is single. “The main message I want to give (to people in Red Deer) is that we should live a positive life, we should live a generous life to help other people. We should all live a life that matters.”
This is Swarner’s first trip to Red Deer.
The event, an Evening to Remember, runs at the Harvest Centre’s Marquis Room at Westerner Park. Doors open at 5 p.m. and includes dinner, cash bar, silent auction and book signing. Dinner starts at 6 p.m., followed by Swarner’s speech at about 7:30 p.m. Raffle tickets will be sold for $2 a piece.
Tickets are $60 and can be bought online, by phone or in person through Red Deer’s Black Knight Inn ticket office.
Lisa Bailey, a registered nurse who works on Unit 32 and organizer of the event, encouraged members of the public to attend.
“He’s interesting in regards to the mountaineering aspect, but he’s also motivating and inspiring to patients and their families,” she said.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate