Eventually, Swarner returned to athletics, and eventually he was breaking swimming records and harboring hopes of ?making the U.S. Olympic Team. Two years later, though, during one of his frequent checkups, ?doctors discovered a fast-growing tumor on his right lung. This time, he was diagnosed with an Askin tumor. Swarner was given two weeks to live and was read his last rites. But again, he fought. He spent much of his 16th year in “a medically induced coma” and additional time in the hospital thereafter for treatments.
But, after a second miraculous recovery, “I definitely knew I had a new lease on life. I looked at things differently,” he says. “I wasn’t afraid to go after the hottest girl because if she said no, I don’t care. I’m still alive.”
College went by in a blur. He got good grades while partying hard; he competed in track and swimming even though scarring in his right lung made it almost useless. And after college, he then headed to Florida to get his Ph.D. in psychology; his ultimate goal was to counsel cancer patients.
During his time in graduate school, though, he realized he had never stopped to contemplate the ordeals that had consumed half his life. He was not prepared to face the emotional tolls of his own cancer, let alone those of others, so he left school.
Searching for a new challenge, he decided on one of the greatest of them all: to climb Mount Everest.
“He said he wanted to be an inspiration to cancer patients and cancer survivors around the world,” recalls his brother, Seth, “to show them that cancer isn’t the last event of your life. It can be overcome.”
In Katmandu, on his way to Everest, Swarner visited his first cancer ward, the Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital, and he realized he was ready to not only confront his own past, but also to work with those who were undergoing similar suffering. Since then, he has visited hundreds of hospitals around the world, showing people who are at low points in their lives that they can still accomplish great things.
Through CancerClimber, he has helped patients and survivors get into the outdoors. He is also currently raising money to build a mobile activity camp that will travel to hospitals to get patients moving and instill in them the confidence to fight emotionally and physically against their diseases.
“The pain I endure while climbing is not nearly like the pain they are going through,” Swarner said. “They’re the true climbers in life. They’re the ones who can’t go back to base camp and regroup.”