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Cancer survivor inspires hope with Explorers Grand Slam

Cancer climber
Cancer climber 02:29

NEW YORK -- Sean Swarner is the kind of guy who could easily give the rest of us a complex.

“Every morning I wake up I tell myself this is the best day ever,” Swarner said.

“And you believe that?” asked CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

“I believe it. I mean, looking back at my life, how could I not?” he replied.

Swarner goes for a run CBS News

Right now, Swarner is training for his trip next month to the North Pole. Having already climbed the highest mountain on each continent and trekked to the South Pole, this will be the last leg of what’s known as the Explorers Grand Slam.

“What are you proving?” Axelrod asked.

“There’s life after cancer. And it can be a fantastic life,” Swarner said.

Sean Swarner CBS News

That’s right -- what would be impressive for anyone becomes almost inconceivable when you realize Sean Swarner is a cancer survivor.

“I was literally on death’s door,” he said.

Twice. As a teenager he was given weeks to live, but he fought back. The radiation that helped save his life ravaged his body.

Swarner during his cancer battle Sean Swarner

“As if surviving cancer, not once but twice, isn’t enough, you’re also doing this with one functioning lung,” Axelrod said.

“I have one big bulldog lung over here apparently,” Swarner saud.

So all that training, pulling tires up slopes and his Jeep around the neighborhood, is done with one lung.

The trek of more than 100 miles, in -40 degree temperatures while hoisting a 200-pound sled loaded with supplies behind him, will be done with one lung, as well.

“People are limited by this,” he said, pointing to his head, “Not their bodies. If you don’t think it’s possible, it’s not possible.”

Swarner at the South Pole Sean Swarner

At the North Pole, he will plant a flag with the names of people battling cancer arranged to spell out “hope.”

“We’re all going there together. It’s not about me, it’s not about my story, it’s about people who are fighting for their lives and people who need that hope,” he said.

Swarner often envisions the end of this remarkable journey.

“I get done with the North Pole, I collapse to my knees, you know, cry like a baby and all of a sudden I think to myself, ok well now what?” he said.

Whatever he decides, chances are he will rise above it.

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