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Episode 15: A 29,000 Foot Platform of Hope: Meet Cancer Survivor and Adventurer, Sean Swarner

Sean Swarner has many athletic accomplishments under his belt and uses them to spread a message of hope. Despite being in a medically-induced coma for a year, with only one functioning lung and a prognosis of fourteen days to live, Sean became the first cancer survivor to stand on top of Mt. Everest. Diagnosed with two deadly and unrelated forms of cancer, once age thirteen and again at age sixteen, Sean astounded the medical community when he survived both. He realized that after defeating cancer twice, no challenge would ever be too great, no peak too high. He has since topped the “7-Summits” and skied both the South and the North Poles. He continues to test his own endurance and inspire and motivate people around the world with his message of hope. He founded the non-profit organization, The CancerClimber Association, and is now an author, speaker, and most recently the feature of the documentary True North.

You can’t go through a traumatic event without it changing who you are, but the greatest thing about life is you can choose how you see that. You can always choose your own perspective.”

The episode opens with Sean discussing his childhood. He talks about growing up in the Midwest with a rather typical upbringing, including engaging in sports like running cross country, soccer, and swimming. At age 13, a knee injury that led to complications the doctors ended up finding his first cancer-advanced stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was given 3 months to live. His treatment began immediately and this overtook everything in his life.

Coming to terms with his diagnosis was also a challenge. As his hair fell out and he gained weight from the treatments, Sean was suddenly thrust into living a life completely unlike his friends and peers. Constantly in the hospital, he was alone and scared. But he had to take stock of his situation:

“I could either fight or die.”

At age 15, while in remission, a second cancer was discovered — totally unrelated to the first. This one was even more rare and the prognosis was a 6% chance of survival. Sean described the odds of survival as winning the lottery four times in a row with the same numbers.

At that point, it would have been easy for Sean to lose hope but he attributes his fighting spirit and the fact that he survived to a number of factors, including modern medicine, family support, prayer, and an inner will to not give up…to go one day at a time to make those days become a habit, instead of focusing on the negative.

“I wasn’t focused on not dying, I was focused on living.”

This time around, according to his doctors, Sean had two weeks to live. Treatments included more chemo and a medically induced coma. But once he came out the other side he realized he had learned so much about himself and what drives him. Erik asks if he still feels fear or trauma based on his experiences and Sean responds that at least once a year when he goes in for a yearly check up he feels those sensations but realizes that worrying about it ultimately does not do any good. He makes the decision to think positively. For example, from his time as a cancer patient, Sean still uses the power of positive affirmations. Always believing today will be the best day ever for the mere fact that you are still alive.

After his teen years, and recovering from two cancers, Sean headed to college. He changed his course a few times which he discusses. Realizing he wanted to help others touched by cancer – to provide them hope, he decides to climb Mt. Everest. He knew that if someone who had overcome cancer reached the top of the highest peak in the world it would be a huge beacon of hope for so many people around the world who were struggling with their own illnesses.

So, with one functioning lung, Sean started training. He was living at sea level in Florida but despite his location and the doubts of almost everyone he knew, he poured his heart and soul into his effort. Nine months later he was at Everest basecamp, ready to make his way up the mountain.

Sean treated every step along the way as a new PR (Personal Record) and felt blessed with each passing day. Jeff and Erik discuss the various physical difficulties they personally encountered on Everest and how Sean had similar experiences, but his were only amplified by having just one lung.

Despite it all, Sean reached the summit on a beautiful day, surpassing everyone’s expectations.

Erik and Jeff want to know how Sean builds this positive mindset; how he was able to channel his focus. Sean discusses the significance of having folks who are struggling with cancer cheering him on from all around the world. Cancer patients can’t just take a day off. For Sean, that was the ultimate push forward.

When Sean returned he was hoping his message would catch on in the media but he realized he had to do even more. He ended up doing the “Grand Slam” of adventures and then started visiting hospitals around the globe to meet patients with cancer. He formed relationships and kept in contact with so many folks to pass along his message of hope.

Jeff continues to probe into Sean’s psyche. How does he live the way he does? How doesn’t he let his circumstances get him down? Sean talks about making “micro-changes” in his life and also always having gratitude. After all, it was his conditions that led to the trajectory of his career and have enabled him to help so many others.

“So many people are fixated on what’s comfortable. Life begins outside your comfort zone but fear holds them back.”

Sean put together a program that includes micro-changes that was created for cancer patients but is applicable to anyone. The changes help you tap into what is your value system and to stay true to that vision. The link is at the bottom of this show description.

Sean now speaks to groups to spread his message of hope, has authored a book, is starring in a documentary, has created his 7 day (free!) program for cancer patients, and most importantly co-founded his non-profit: The Cancer Climber Association. Sean continues to advocate for others. Please check out his latest cause as part of The Cancer Climber Association in the links below.

Sean’s documentary: True North
Help Sean raise funds for The Cancer Climber Association
Download Sean’s 7 day guide to jumpstart your own journey.
Learn more about Sean and book him to speak here.
Find Sean on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn: @SeanSwarner

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————————— EPISODE TRANSCRIPT —————————–

Sean: You can’t go through something traumatic without a change in who you are. But you can choose how you want to see that. I think one of the greatest freedoms in life is the freedom of choice. You can choose your perspective, you can always choose your own perspective.

Erik: It’s easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn’t get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I’ve gotten the chance to ascend Mt. Everest. To climb the tallest mountain in every continent. To kayak the grand canyon, and I happen to be blind. It’s been a struggle to live what I call a No Barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And on unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

(singing)

Dave: Today we’ll meet Sean Swarner, the first cancer survivor to stand on top of Mount Everest. Diagnosed with two deadly, different and unrelated forms of cancer, once at age 13 and again at age 16, Sean astounded the medical community when he survived both. He realized that after defeating cancer twice, no challenge would ever be too great. No peak too high. He has since topped the seven summits and skied both the south and north poles. He continues to test his own endurance and inspire and motivate people around the world with his message of hope.

He founded the non-profit organization the Cancer Climber Association and is now an author, speaker and most recently the feature of the documentary True North.

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