I do not know of many people who beat the odds and allowed nothing hold them back, especially life threatening issues. Many of us say to ourselves that we can and we will, we know we can, but we don’t do the ‘we will’ part. We let fear take away our will to do what we can do. We create excuses as to why we can’t do things and we also use statistics to stop ourselves. We look at the many people that tried to do something and couldn’t and we use them as our yardstick. We easily forget that a few people have done those seemingly impossible things and have somehow managed to be in the short list of those who dream crazy dreams and take crazy steps to match their crazy dreams.
Well, I am privileged to share the story of an odd beater, of a survivor and of a goal getter. I am overjoyed to start ‘Their Stories Thursday’ this year by sharing the story of Sean Swarner.
Sean was born on the 2nd of September 1974. He is the first son of two boys. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at the age of thirteen and at the age of sixteen, he was diagnosed with Askin’s Sarcoma. He was an athlete who showed no signs of cancer. The first cancer was discovered when he injured his knee while playing pick- up basketball in school and he was taken to the hospital for the injury which inflamed his whole body. It was at the hospital that it was discovered that the deadly cancer had spread throughout Sean’s entire Lymphatic system. The Doctors gave him three months to live without really explaining the severity of the condition to him. He only knew it was Hodgkin Lymphoma.
As expected, the diagnosis changed his life. As an adolescent who wanted to play sports, he was unable to do this as he had to go through radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments sapped the energy out of him, caused him to gain weight and to give up athletics and lose his friends. He was placed in remission after nine months of treatment. As if the first cancer was not enough, he was diagnosed with an unrelated second cancer twenty months into remission. This time, he was given 14 days to live because of the aggressive nature of the cancer. He had to undergo three months of radiation and ten months of chemotherapy. He was placed in a medically induced coma during some of his treatments so he wouldn’t remember the experience.
Sean is a survivor. He went through life threatening diseases that stretched his whole being, but he survived. He refused to be defined by cancer and refused to be a subject of people’s pity and so he didn’t really tell anyone at College about the experience.
Climb to Mount Everest.
Sean heard that no cancer survivor had ever climbed Mt. Everest, not to talk of one with just one lung. But that was not a negative report for him, rather it was an incentive that made him determined to be the first to do something no one in his ‘category’ had ever done. He started training for the climb by repeatedly trekking with heavy rocks in his backpack. Unlike many with fully functional lungs who take years to train for this big climb, Sean was ready after eight months. He reached the top of Mount Everest on May 16, 2002 and he planted a flag in the ice and snow with names of over 100 cancer patients who had helped him in his journey. One of his motivations for deciding to go on the big climb was that he wanted to help other cancer victims through the raising of funds. He wasn’t satisfied with the amount of funds raised because it wasn’t enough to help cancer patients and cancer survivors. He therefore embarked on another journey. He climbed all the seven summits (these are the highest peaks in each of the seven continents of the world) so he could engage a larger audience and raise more money. He planted a flag on each of the seven summits he reached.
You would think Sean would rest after all these uncommon achievements, but he just keeps setting new challenges for himself. That is someone that is not merely alive, but is also living. When asked, Sean stated that what got him through those horrific times in his life was the ability to stay positive. He was surrounded by family and is grateful for the impact prayer and modern medicine had in his life. He is the author of the book ‘keep climbing’.
Sean shows me that we live and survive not only for ourselves, but also for the people connected to us who need to hear our story and be encouraged by our story. He now helps others who see no hope in cancer or whatever they are plagued by, to see that there is nothing stopping them from surviving. They just need to have a positive outlook to their circumstances. Together with his brother, Sean founded the Cancer Climber Association in 2001. It’s a non- profit organisation aimed at helping cancer patients see that there is more to their lives than cancer and they shouldn’t let Cancer take their dreams away from them.
He had this to say to the cancer patients and I think it applies to all of us: ‘The human body can survive for roughly 30 days without food. The human body can live for three days without water. But no human can survive for more than 30 seconds without hope, because without hope we have nothing’. Sean climbed for himself, as well as for others. It takes crazy determination to go on the kind of journey he embarked on.
There is no point if you say you can do something, but you never do it. There is no difference between you, a dreamer who does nothing about your dreams, and someone who doesn’t have dreams. Don’t say you can if you won’t. Ask people that have done it about how they did it, instead of focusing so much on people that couldn’t do it.
You keep getting one bad news after the other and you let it weigh you down so much that you don’t even bother fighting. If you don’t fight for yourself, no one will fight for you. Learn from this fighter and pick up the pieces that are left. Pray, stand up and start again. There is nothing impossible to a man who will never give up; mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Hodgkin Lymphoma is an uncommon form of cancer which develops in the Lymphatic system. This disease attacks lymphocytes which is part of the immune system and makes it less able to fight infections
Askin’s sarcoma is also an uncommon tumor which arises from the chest wall. It is signaled by small round blue cells.
Mount Everest: This is the highest mountain on earth. It is located between Nepal and Tibet. It’s 29, 029 ft above sea level. It is reported that many corpses of people that attempted to climb the mountain are found along the way to the mountain.