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Sean Swarner Keeps Climbing

Posted on July 13, 2012, 2:56 PM
Sean Swarner Keeps Climbing

Sean Swarner was diagnosed with cancer. Twice. To celebrate his beating the odds he climbed the seven summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents – in honor of everyone touched by cancer. Here, he shares a part of that journey, excerpted from his book: Keep Climbing: How I Beat Cancer and Reached the Top of the World.

The silk-screened flag flaps in the stiff breeze at the top of the world. I can already tell that by week’s end, its edges will be tattered from the constant battering, looking worse for the wear but still mostly intact. In a few weeks it will be skeletal, a mere shadow of itself; in a few months it will be a little more than a stick in the snow and some frayed fabric.

But that’s ok.

This close to heaven, what are a few loose ends right?

The funny thing is, even with all these months of preparation, training, and planning, I’d naively assumed mine would be the only flag up here. It’s not; the top of Everest is like one of those roadside shrines you see everywhere these days, where someone has died in a horrible accident. Only, instead of teddy bears and plastic daisies, you see prayer flags, pickets, and Perlon stacked in an unceremonial, if colorful, heap on the snowy, narrow summit.

I ignore the tackiness, the gaudiness, and admire the flag anyway. People climb Everest for dozens of reasons, but for me this is more than some mere personal odyssey. The flag, tattered though it soon may be, represents the hopes, the dreams, and in some cases the dying wishes of countless people diagnosed with cancer.

I know I’m one of the incredibly lucky ones.

It’s 9:32AM on the sixteenth of May 2002, and I’m standing at the highest point on the planet. The summit of Everest: 29,035 feet. Below me is the globe, that thing you spin in elementary school, never looking past the big, red star that marks the capital of your home state.

That’s the view from the top.
The silk-screened flag flaps in the stiff breeze at the top of the world. Its sound is subtle, instantly recognizable, and reassuring. It brags, “You made it, Sean. You did it. You’ve made history. First cancer survivor to summit the world’s tallest mountain.”

Then it whispers, “And we climbed it with you, all of us. Every name on this flag, every person ever affected by cancer in any way; we’re here with you, here for you, right now and always.”

Then another eighty-mile-an-hour gust at the top of the world scatters the whispers to all four corners of the globe. I look around to see if anybody else hears it. Nothing.

I’ve overextended my stay. I look back at the flag, bearing the names of all those affected by cancer, dozens of them, hundreds, thousands, stacked one on top of the other like the climbers in their queue. The breeze picks up and the flag flaps; already it’s bending to the blur of the elements, its edges starting to tatter its ink starting to fade.

But that’s ok.

This close to heaven, what are a few loose ends, right?

An excerpt from, Keep Climbing: How I Beat Cancer and Reached the Top of the World. by Sean Swarner

About Sean Swarner
When I was only 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Advanced Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and given only three months to live. I went through a year of chemo, lost all the hair on my body, lost all my friends, gained 60lbs, and when I was placed in remission, I had to start my life all over again. I lived life to the fullest by joining my friends playing soccer, swimming, football, cross-country, and track. It was a wonderful life, but it was short-lived. About 18 months in remission, I was going in for a check-up for the Hodgkin’s and in less than 24 hours they found a tumor on an x-ray, did a needle biopsy, took out a lymph node, cracked open my ribs, removed the tumor, inserted a drainage tube, and started chemotherapy. I was 16 and the doctors gave me less than 14 days to live. I went through three months of intense chemo, one month of radiation, and then 10 more months of chemo. The medicine this time around was so harsh, the doctors actually put me in a medically induced coma. I literally don’t remember being 16 years old.

When I was finally placed in remission, I celebrated and am still celebrating my survivorship by trying to give people something I never had… hope. I started trying to give hope to others at a very young age, when during my first cancer experience I was approached by the Make A Wish Foundation and my wish was to give it to others else so that they could enjoy something.  To this day, I’ve been told I am still the only person who has ever given his or her wish to someone else. As an adult I wanted to help more than just one or two people. Because of my past and my goal of giving everyone affected by cancer hope, my brother and I founded The Cancer Climber Association, where we help others by sharing inspirational stories, giving survivors an opportunity to join us on a climb, providing a mobile camp for kids with cancer, and facilitating personal visits to patients by survivors.

At the end of the day it’s about enjoying each day you have with the ones you love and celebrating life. Cancer may have been the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but it’s also ended up being one of the best things to have survived. My book is dedicated, to all those affected by cancer. I couldn’t have done anything without you… including climbing the highest mountain on each continent (the 7-Summits) and completing the Hawaii Ironman… all with only one functioning lung. Thank you for being my inspiration, my hope, and the driving force behind everything I’ve done in my life.  At the end of the day, for anyone affected by cancer, it’s about cherishing the time with those you love and powering through every day. Embracing your survivorship is one of the greatest experiences you could ever imagine. It’s a new lease on life, and can be absolutely anything you ever wanted. Keep Climbing!

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Posted by Yolanda | July 15, 2012 8:17 AM

Beautiful,your story gives me a lots of hope.I had breast cancer and im on my 2nd year of treatment 3 more to go.Many,many blessings for you and your family.Keep up the great work!!

Posted by Carmo Melvill de Araújo | July 15, 2012 8:21 AM

Sean Swarner has my greatest admiration for what he has done!!! It is just extrordinary his genorisity, his solidarity towards all of those touched by cancer, as he,himself, has been touched. He shows a great character!!!
God bless him, always!!! He deserves all the best he can get!!!

Posted by laurie colella | July 15, 2012 8:26 AM

God Bless you Sean Swarner. Can you acceptt me on FB if your on here pls. I cant get into my email.

Posted by debbie masko | July 15, 2012 8:28 AM

i too am a throat cancer survivor of 15 months they had to remove my voicebox and i cant talk but iam alive been thru hell and back but i thank god everyday for giving me a second chance at life iam 47 yrs old and i have two wonderful children john 28 and heather 15 iam just glad iam still here to watch my 15 yr old grow into a lovly young lady god bless you

Posted by Nicky Lopez | July 15, 2012 8:32 AM

I was diagnosed summer 2010 with stage III NHL. I haven’t beaten it into remission yet but I know I will. I’m doing the London Marathon on 21st April 2013 after a series of half marathons I’m currently amidst. I will think of you as I run. You ARE an inspiration. You make me feel like I can do this. Thank you SO much! X

Posted by Teri J | July 15, 2012 9:20 AM

Wow!  What an inspirational story!  I get down in the dumps sometimes, but your story makes me forget any problems and makes me forge ahead!  Thanks Sean for sharing and caring about others!  smile

Posted by Shirley | July 15, 2012 10:05 AM

Excellent video and article.

Posted by Andrea poyser | July 15, 2012 11:10 AM

Wow, I have just read this and what an amazing story and such inspiration. I totally agree to reach the highest point of peace. My son laughlin aged 5 has got three more rounds of chemo and clear scans from having a brain tumour removed. At the age of five he is amazing and he has a huge perception if nature and strength thats just amazing. He is a fighter in every sense but also has such a side of sensitivity to life which is just wow. what you have achieved gives us all a focus and a goal of hope. I would love my son to come and some climbing with you guys I think it would be amazing. Thankyou for this message and for all you do sunflowers of positive hope xandrea

Posted by Kim yeo | July 24, 2012 7:05 PM

I am so glad that you have come this far! When I was 20 yrs old,
One of my best friends was diagnosed with the same cancer. We had a tradition of hanging the first week before we went back to school. However, this time was different. She told me before i went in vacation that she had been coughing up blood. I was like you have to go to the doctor, as did her mom and sister!! So I go out of state and she goes to the doctor. She dud the tests, and they found a tumor inside her chest under her rib cage the size of a baseball. It makes me cry reliving this! Anyway, we were supopose to meet up that week, unfortunately, she had to stay in the hospital for a week. Then she underwent chemo and radiation, an experimental approach by doing both. She lost all if her hair, went through alot, and should have written a book!!!! That was her dream, seeing as this was not her only life challenge! An amazing woman and girl!  She fought it and unfortunately at the age of 37 it came back! 17 years she beat it!!! But the radiation was just too hard on her heart!
7/7/2007….. Kristine Vollbrecht Hill
Love her forever, and she lived life and was seriously a gift from above!!!
I do not know anyone else in 42 years that has even remotely come close to her life experiences and heart and yearning for life!!! Fact! Unfortunately she is not my only angel taken by cancer, however, she is beyond amazing!

Posted by Kim yeo | July 24, 2012 7:13 PM

Hope that was my my mom’s motto! I am so glad that you have embraced life the way you have!!! Life is far too unpredictable and definately too short!!! I relish un any day that includes a positive adventure. My best to you, trust me, i have seen things I wish I had not, but believe me, i have learned from my mom, my best friend, and my aunt .. And my kitty:)!!!
They are just a few of the amazing people in my life that have not survived the cancer. But they fought it and lived the life they wanted too! They did not falter when given the verdict! They chose to luve and go in the adventures! I am so proud of all if them! Back to you, granted I do not know you but i promise we would be friends!! We recognize life and opportunity and challenges! One day at a time!!! Beat wishes to you and remember everyone comes in to your ife for a season, a reason , or a lifetime!!!!
Kim Yeo

Posted by Mel Thoman | January 07, 2013 10:26 AM

I’m a 3x cancer survivor after 2 rounds of prostate cancer and then lung cancer in the last 4 years…never smoked in my life…been bodysurfing my whole life and mostly at The Wedge in Newport Beach…it really is about loving & cherishing life and never giving up…plus having as many people as possible praying and sending positive thoughts & vibes your way…keep up the great work!!! smile

Posted by Sam | March 08, 2014 2:09 PM

Great respect for all of you!! You are all very strong people and know the true value of being a human being. Keep up the Great Work!!!

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