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Cancer survivor to summit Colorado peak for others

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Contributed by: Deborah Méndez-Wilson on 7/19/2006

Sean Swarner, the first cancer survivor to have summited Mount Everest, will climb Colorado's Bergen Peak on Aug. 5 alongside dozens of other hikers who have pledged to raise funds for research, education and therapy for cancer patients at University of Colorado Hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine.

The eighth annual See You at the Top Summit to Conquer Cancer will take place 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Bergen Peak in Evergreen, only a 30-minute drive from Denver. At an elevation of 9,708 feet above sea level, the peak affords hikers a spectacular 360-degree view of Colorado's Front Range. Swarner has made the hike every year for the past seven years, and this year hopes to raise awareness of the need for more research and treatment options for cancer patients fighting for their lives.

"Sean has been a quiet inspiration to everyone who knows him," said Ben Meyerhoff, who manages the integrative medicine program at University of Colorado Hospital. "This year, he decided to draw attention to our fund-raising efforts by telling his own survival story, beginning with his battles against two deadly types of cancer when he was just a teenager. What Sean has accomplished since then is awe-inspiring. We appreciate having him around."

Swarner, 31, born in Willard, Ohio, moved to Colorado six years ago to pursue his love of mountain climbing. From his Rocky Mountain "base camp" in Boulder, he has traveled around the globe to summit some of the earth's highest peaks, including Asia's Everest, South America's Aconcagua, Africa's Kilimanjaro, Australia's Kosciusko, and Europe's Elbrus. He plans to climb Antarctica's Mount Vinson and North America's Denali/Mount McKinley in the coming months to complete each continent's highest summit.

Though his athletic feats alone are impressive, it is Swarner's own cancer stories - and his efforts to help inspire others to attain their goals after conquering the disease - that separate him from other mountain climbers. When he was only 13, Swarner was diagnosed with stage-four Hodgkins lymphoma, and doctors gave him only a few months to live. Refusing to accept the prognosis, Swarner overcame the disease only to be diagnosed two years later with Askin's sarcoma, a deadly form of lung cancer. This time, doctors gave the then 15-year-old Swarner only two weeks to live.

Against all odds, he overcame a second bout of cancer after doctors removed a golf-ball sized tumor and most of his lung. "I had to learn how to breathe again," he said.

On May 16, 2002, at age 27, Swarner breathed in some of the world's thinnest air, becoming the world's first cancer survivor to summit Mount Everest. He still remembers the satellite call he made to his brother, Seth, back at base camp, and the call his brother placed a few minutes later to their parents back in Jacksonville, Fla. "Seth called them and said, 'Your son is now at the top of the world.' We just cried," Swarner said.

Conquering two forms of a destructive disease and summiting some of the world's most formidable peaks wasn't enough for Swarner, who decided to use his experience to help other people fighting cancer. He co-founded the CancerClimber Association, a not-for-profit group whose mission is to inspire other cancer survivors to reach for their dreams. "After everything that happened to me, I wanted to give back," Swarner said.

This month, Swarner traveled to California to hike Mount Whitney alongside the CancerClimber Association's first grant recipient, an 18-year-old cancer survivor, and the teen's father. Later this summer he will head back to Africa for a planned summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, on which Swarner guides tours to raise funds for his expeditions.

In early August, he will return to Colorado to hike Bergen Peak for a worthy cause. Though the mountain is not one of Colorado's legendary fourteeners, he hopes his story of survival will inspire others to lace up their hiking boots and reach for the top, overcoming any real or imagined obstacles in their path.

The public is encouraged to participate in the 2006 See You at the Top Summit to Conquer Cancer. To register, visit http://www.active.com/event_detail.cfm?event_id=1322264 or call (720) 848-1090 for more information. Online registration ends on Aug. 3. All funds raised during the hike will go toward cancer research, education and therapy at the University of Colorado Hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine, which offers the best forms of complementary and alternative medicine treatments in a fully integrated model with all of the University's allopathic medical services for total patient care.

For more information about the University of Colorado Hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine, visit http://www.uch.edu/integrativemed. To read more about the CancerClimber Association and Sean Swarner, visit www.cancerclimber.org and www.seanswarner.com

University of Colorado Hospital is the Rocky Mountain region's leading academic tertiary care and referral center, and has been recognized as one of the United States' best hospitals, according to U.S.News & World Report. Located in Denver and Aurora, Colo., the hospital is part of the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, in the University of Colorado system. For more information, visit the Web site at www.uch.edu or the UCDHSC Newsroom at http://www.uchsc.edu/news.

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