By Kelly Werthmann
DENVER (CBS4) – Sean Swarner has literally been on top of the world and recently wrapped up a journey few people have accomplished.
“It’s basically like icebergs, big chunks of ice floating around,” Swarner told CB4’s Kelly Werthmann.
Just last month, Swarner spent a week lugging a 200-pound sled across 100 miles of ice and snow to the North Pole.
“It was 80 below with the wind chill,” he said. “I’m still waiting to get sensation back in these four fingers and thumb. There’s definitely some nerve damage.”
Having already climbed the tallest mountain on every continent — often referred to as the Seven Summits — and trekked to the South Pole, Swarner is now the 57th person to ever complete what’s called the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
“If you add in the Hawaii Ironman, which I did a few years ago, I’m actually the only person in history who has done this,” Swarner said.
What is perhaps most impressive — he did it all with one functioning lung.
“I’ve pretty much looked death in the eye a few times and scoffed,” he said.
Swarner is a two-time cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 13 and given three months to live. With the help of chemotherapy and a supportive family, he said, Swarner defied the odds and survived.
“I went in for a checkup and doctor’s found a second cancer,” Swarner said. “The prognosis this time was a lot worse. They gave me 14 days to live.”
Just 16 years old, Swarner was read his last rites.
“My friends were out chasing girls having a great time with their lives, I was literally worried about my future,” he said.
Yet once again, Swarner defied all odds and beat cancer. In doing so, Swarner was determined to share his message of hope with the world.
“My brother and I did some research and found out no cancer survivor had ever summited Everest. I figured if somebody’s going to do it, why not me?” Swarner said. “Why not for the right reasons and use it literally as a 29,000 foot platform to scream hope?”
In 2002, Swarner did just that. He reached the top of Everest, bringing with him a flag with names of people affected by cancer.
“It was an unbelievable moment,” Swarner said recalling that historic achievement. “I left that flag on top of the world forever commemorating cancer patients worldwide.”
Swarner has also left a flag on top of the other six of the Seven Summits, the South Pole, and now the North Pole. With each journey, Swarner said, he makes sure to go to hospitals to visit cancer patients.
“I stand above them as they’re lying in the bed and explain to them my story,” he said. “When I talk to someone who’s battling for their lives, they see someone who was in their shoes and has climbed to the top of the highest mountains in the world. I try to give hope to other people to inspire them to go climb their Everest.”
It’s a message now planted on top of the world.
“I wake up every morning and tell myself today is the best day ever because there’s nothing I can do about yesterday, tomorrow might not ever be here,” Swarner said.
As Swarner continues to defy all odds, he motivates people around the globe with his non-profit organization The Cancer Climber Association, as well as in his book “Keep Climbing.” For more information, visit seanswarner.com.
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 Weekend Morning News and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.