Hey everybody! Welcome to Conversations with Doc Martin, where we talk to extraordinary people doing extraordinary things!
In today’s interview, we talk to Sean Swarner!
Sean is a philanthropist, author, and public speaker. He’s a two-time terminal cancer survivor who’s dedicated his life to helping others reach their full potential. He and his brother created Cancer Climber in 2001, which is a non-profit that pays for, and travels with, cancer survivors to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Sean’s passion for climbing and adventure blossomed when he was the first cancer survivor to ever summit Mount Everest. Since then he’s climbed all seven summits, and skied to both north and south poles, making him the first cancer survivor ever, and one of only 56 people in the world, to have completed the Explorer’s Grand Slam. This led to his final trip in the Explorer’s Grand Slam, the North Pole, being followed and filmed by a team to create the documentary called True North.
Finally, and far from least, Sean has also completed the World Championship Iron Man in Hawaii and was voted one of the top 8 most inspirational people in history, for which he was the recipient of the Don’t Ever Give Up Award presented by the Jimmy V Foundation and ESPN.
The beginning of our interview doesn’t start off on the best of notes, as Sean reveals to us that while he and his wife were driving cross-country to visit his 98-year-old grandmother, he received a call from his doctor and was told that he’s been diagnosed with cancer for the 3rd time.
But, for those of us that are lucky enough to know Sean, it was no surprise that despite the news not being good, his sense of optimism (and sarcasm) remained as he jokingly stated, “Well, I guess I’m an overachiever; one’s not enough, I had to go for two, had to go for three.” While being in seemingly good spirits, Sean does however admit that when he first got the news, he simply broke down and wept.
As we continue our conversation, Sean tells us how his reactions have differed over the years as he’s gotten unfortunate news like this, and both how those reactions have progressed as well as what he’s learned from each one.
Sean takes us back to being a 13-year-old in mid-Western Ohio, in which he mentions how up until that point, he had been your regular, healthy teenager. He was known for playing many sports, from swimming, to running cross-country, to pole vaulting. One day while he was playing basketball, he noticed an odd sound start coming out of his knee. He said he hobbled home from school that day, and woke up the next morning to find that every joint in his body was so swollen, that he “looked like the Pillsbury dough boy.”
After being brought to their local hospital and initially being diagnosed with pneumonia, he was later brought to a hospital in Columbus where, after several tests, was diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Sean recalls how despite the news his parents got, which was that their first-born 13-year-old son had roughly 3 months to live, they decided that wasn’t the answer they were going to accept. Because one of his family members had recently passed from cancer, they mutually decided not to tell Sean that it was cancer, simply because they did not want him to associate “cancer” with “death.”
Discussing the 2nd diagnosis, which happened a couple years down the road, Sean reveals how he learned he is the only person in the world that has had both of these two types of cancer. Furthermore, he points out that the chances of him surviving both cancers was the equivalent of one’s chances to win the lottery 4 times in a row using the same numbers.
Sean’s story is truly inspiring, and I am so grateful to have been able to spend some time with him and hear his story. I wish him nothing but the best of luck and health!
You can watch the full interview on my YouTube channel, Conversations with Doc Martin.
This is Part 1 of a two-part interview with Sean, of which Part 2 will be released next week! So be sure to subscribe to my channel for notifications of my newest interviews!
Find More of Sean’s Work and Content:
The Summit Challenge
Books and Movies
Everest, Being Unstoppable
True North (Documentar)