Sean Swarner: Interview With The Survivor, Hero And One Of The Most Inspiring Human Beings.

Zuvius: It is not often that one is called the most powerful speaker by IBM, how does it feel to know that you have such a powerful influence on people?

Sean: It’s something I don’t think I have ever let truly sink in. I try to remain humble about my experiences. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and I think we can all learn something from everyone because everyone has a story that’s unique. I’m just like everyone else, except my life-path has gone down a different road and I’ve done things that aren’t exactly “normal.” I’m very fortunate and grateful for my life and experiences, and enjoy helping others with their goals.

Zuvius: You were diagnosed with cancer when you were 13, what was your immediate response when you were diagnosed again at 16?

Sean: I thought my life was over. I battled through one cancer and nearly lost my life, I didn’t want to do it again. I knew I was going to lose most of my life until I got better, if I got better. Eventually I realized I basically only had two choices in the matter: fight for my life, or give up and die. The choice was obvious.

Also read: In Conversation With A Cancer Brave Heart: Anita Gupta

Zuvius: Tell us more about the types of cancer you were diagnosed with?

Sean: The first cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lymph system, and since I was diagnosed in advanced Stage IV, I had cancer from head to toe. It’s called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The second disease/illness is called Askin’s Sarcoma, which is a branch of a very rare Ewing’s Sarcoma (which makes Askin’s even more rare). It was a soft-cell cancer that attacked my right lung, leaving me with only one fully-functioning lung because of the treatments. It’s also a type of cancer that affects a very small percentage of the population, and I’m the only person in history to have ever been diagnosed with both cancers. Lucky me, right?  

Zuvius: What were the physical changes seen in yourself, in your daily life and how did you cope with those?

Sean: For starters, from the initial surgery when they removed the tumour, the surgeons had to cut through my right latissimus muscle, so I basically have an incredibly damaged back muscle. When I do pull-ups I look really weird, that’s for sure. Other physical changes aren’t as noticeable, but the biggest one is my one lung. Because of the radiation therapy, I only have the use of my left lung, which definitely makes climbing into high altitude difficult to say the least. Coping with it is like anything else, either you complain about your situation and make excuses, or you find a way to deal with it. I have found a way to deal with it through my mental strength.

Zuvius: Who and what kept your spirits up and gave you hope throughout the journey?

Sean: Numerous people including my family and friends, but also my faith. Belief in myself and my abilities also helped me continue forward, but faith kept me together when I went to bed some nights not knowing if I was going to wake up the next day.

Zuvius: What did you learn about your friends and family during this different phase of defeating the disease? 

Sean: I learned that the ones who truly love and support me are the ones who were there for me during the darkest moments. They are true friends.

Zuvius: You were given a prognosis of 14 days to live? Yet here you are. Your thoughts on being able to beat cancer, not once but twice?

Sean: As I said before, I’m very blessed and grateful for my life. I believe I’m alive for a reason and that’s to help others. I’ve used everything I have learned in life and put them in my new eBook ( to help others achieve amazing things, and I want to inspire the impossible.

Zuvius: You would have met many diagnosed with cancer, in their quest to beat it, is there someone special?

Sean: There was a lady a few years ago who was in the queue to meet me after one of my corporate talks. She was at her company’s annual conference, and I could see that she had been crying. Her makeup was running down her face and her eyes were bloodshot. When she came up to me, she hugged me, buried her face in my chest and started crying again. I held her tight as she continued sobbing until she composed herself. She told me that in the past 6 months, she lost her son to cancer. She lost her husband to cancer. And she was diagnosed the third time with cancer herself. She went to the conference knowing that she wasn’t going to go home and she had a suicide note written in her hotel room. She was going to kill herself that night. She had everything ready, but went to my talk and what I said spoke to her, and she told me I saved her life.

Zuvius: Living with only one fully functioning lung is indeed an accomplishment. Do you feel any difficulty in your daily life because of this?

Sean: In my daily life? No. I think my baseline has been moved up and I have pushed myself for so long and so hard, that it feels normal now. In the mountains, however that’s a different story!

Zuvius: What would you say to those currently undergoing cancer treatment and are on the verge of giving up?

Sean: You never know what could possibly be ahead of you tomorrow, next month or next year, but also you never know what the next moment may bring. Always have a positive outlook and a sense of humour, even in the direst situations. That and the human body can live for about 30 days without food. The human condition can sustain itself for roughly 3 days without water, but no human alive can live for more than 30 seconds without hope. Never give up hope.

Zuvius: You are the first cancer survivor to climb Mt. Everest, what was the first thought you had after successfully completing the “7 Summits”?

Sean: Since I completed the highest mountain on every continent, when I reached the top of Denali (highest mountain in North America), it was my last of the 7. The first thought I had was “wait…. I still have to get back down!!!??”  Initially, I fell to my knees and wept like a baby because I had a flag that had names of people touched by cancer on it. They are my inspiration, my hope, and they carried me to the top. I’m doing the same thing to the North Pole next year and my goal is to take 1,000,000 names of people touched by cancer to the top of the world. Maybe we can get some names here?

Zuvius: What or who instilled the idea of climbing Mt. Everest?

Sean: I think it is a million or more “whos” because it’s everyone who’s ever been touched by cancer. If they can continue the fight, I can continue the climb. If I give up, I’m giving up on them.

Zuvius: The CancerClimber Association, a Non-Profit Organisation you founded, tell us more about it.

Sean: It’s all about hope and inspiring people through others touched by the illness. I’m only one person, but we are a family and we can all help one another through the amazing things we do every day. CancerClimber does just that, it inspires people touched by cancer through inspirational stories, adventures and other survivors to encourage patients to always have hope.

Zuvius: What would be your advice to those who feel life is not worth living because of failed career setbacks, failed relationships, financial burdens etc.?

Sean: Tomorrow is a new day filled with different chances and new opportunities. Always focus on your “summit” and make it real in your mind before you begin. Believe in your abilities, believe that you’re already successful and make it real before you begin. My new book helps people achieve just that, and helps them be aware of the negative self-talk, because it can be so damaging to your spirit. You spend more time with yourself than anyone else on earth; shouldn’t that person be your biggest support with the best sayings and encouragement?

Zuvius: Any thoughts on Zuvius and its initiative of cancer awareness by travelling across the country and spreading awareness about Cancer in schools, universities and rural India?

Sean: I do. We should team up and make a country-wide tour to reach more people, and do so on a personal, emotional level to help one another and others. Keep doing great things because education, knowledge, and belief/faith are so important. Hope cannot be measured, but it’s one of the most important things for human beings to have, keep giving hope and keep it alive!

To know more: Sean Swarner – Cancer, Everest, Ironman, South Pole

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