By Martine Bigos (IV)

On October 21st, Pingry’s Middle and Upper School students attended an assembly where guest speaker Sean Swarmer shared his inspiring life journey. Sean has survived cancer twice and is the first cancer survivor to climb the highest mountains on each continent (with only one fully-functional lung). In addition, he has completed the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. 

Sean’s battle with cancer began when he was just thirteen years old. Diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Sean was told that he only had three months to live. Intense chemotherapy resulted in weight gain and hair loss. Life seemed grim, but Sean had two choices: he could either give up, or choose to fight for his life. He chose the latter. 

“I could either fight for my life or give up and die,” he says. “I wasn’t focused on ‘not dying.’ I focused on living.” Keeping a positive mindset during his battle, he survived.

However, the fight was not over. Three years later, doctors discovered a second cancer known as an Askin’s tumor and informed Sean that he had only fourteen days to live. The thought of having a two weeks’ notice on your life sounded like too much to bear, but Sean knew that once again he had the choice to keep moving with a positive mindset or to give in to cancer. Though one of his lungs lost its function due to radiation treatment, Sean survived. 

Sean then set out on a new adventure. He wanted to become the first cancer survivor to summit Mt. Everest. Through intense training, Sean prepared himself for the climb and succeeded. Carrying a flag signed by cancer patients up to the summit, he climbed the mountain for them. 

While in Nepal, Sean visited a cancer hospital where, on average, ninety-five percent of the patients pass away. Sean gave one patient his lucky green t-shirt that had carried him through countless treatments and told the patient to pass it on to another patient once they recover. According to Sean, all patients in the hospital who have worn the t-shirt have survived, a miracle ostensibly caused by the boost in confidence it inspires. 

In addition to climbing Mt. Everest, Sean has summited Mt. Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Denali, Elbrus, Vinson, and Puncak Jaya. 

Mrs. Marotto, the chair of the Health Department, coordinated the assembly along with Dr. Rosen and said that “the theme for this year’s strategic plan is student wellness.  Dr. Rosen and I thought Sean’s inspirational message of resilience and accomplishment in the face of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis was valuable for our community to hear.  There are so many life lessons to be learned from someone like Sean, and we hope our community was inspired by his story and his courage.”

Sean taught the Pingry community a lot of lessons, the most important of which was to choose to fight rather than to give up.