To my left, the ground disappears over a mile down into the country of Nepal. To my immediate right, there’s nothing except Tibet… straight down 1.5 miles. I’m precariously balanced on a knife ridge 28,900-feet into the sky. The only things keeping my body from sliding down this 80-degree ice slope are thin pieces of metal strapped to the bottoms of my feet. Every breath feels like it’s my last as the cold air bites into my lung, while the altitude makes my brain fight off vertigo because it’s starved for oxygen. One tiny mistake and I rocket to my death. Yes, I’m climbing Everest with one lung and it’s one of the most magical moments of my life…
MAY 18, SATURDAY
I’m laying in my sleeping bag. It’s 6:56 AM on Saturday the 18th of May, one day after I climbed down from Camp 4 (~ 26,000 ft). A day before that at 9:32 AM on Thursday the 16th I touched the roof of the world and stepped into the record books. That’s right. I made it to the summit of Mt. Everest and became the first cancer survivor to set foot on top of the world. Not only that, but I did so with only one fully functioning lung! To sum up the feelings of standing on top of Everest in a few words… emotional, spiritual, and absolutely amazing.
Let me rewind from age 28 and the Everest expedition to my teen years…
At the ripe age of 13 when I should have been out chasing girls and worrying about the pimples on my face, I was forced to deal with my own mortality and the possibility of dying. I was diagnosed with advanced Stage IV Hodgkin's Disease and given a mere three months to live. With my family’s support, prayer, modern medicine, and resolute determination, I beat the disease. I was placed into remission and started to enjoy all those hormones every “normal” teen has the joys of experiencing. However, it was short-lived. Heading back to the hospital for a routine check-up from the first cancer, doctors found a golf-ball sized tumor on my right lung.
My dreams of making out in the back seat of the family car fizzled and disappeared in a hurry. The diagnosis this time was Askin’s Sarcoma and the doctors gave me just fourteen days to live. . I’m the only the person to have ever been diagnosed, let alone survive, both Hodgkin’s Disease and Askin’s Sarcoma. Believe it or not, the chances of me surviving both cancers was like winning the lottery four times in a row. I even had my last rights read to me, the hospital wanted me to write a living will (like I had anything to give to anyone at that age except my brother who was going to get my hand-me-downs anyhow), and I pretty much lost the function of one of my lungs. However, that was over 14 years ago!
Needless to say, I’m a pretty lucky guy.
Given my unique life experience, I believe I have a sense of purpose and am determined to give hope and inspiration to not only people affected by cancer, but everyone with a pulse. Not long ago, I decided to climb Everest to prove that people facing cancer and pretty much any difficulty can survive and accomplish things most people would never even think possible.
I may be a climber, a mountaineer, an alpinist, however my specialty is survival. I believe the human body can survive for about 30 days without food. The human condition can live for about three days without water, but no human alive can survive for more than 30 seconds without hope, because without hope we have nothing.
Dedicating my life to inspiring others was almost a no-brainer. After all, I have been a cancer survivor for most of my life, and given my unique life experience, I have a sense of purpose. I am determined to give hope and inspiration to people around the globe and show them anything is possible.
About five years ago, my one lung and I became the first cancer survivor to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest. It was a symbol of hope and a never-say-die attitude, proving anything is truly possible. Not too long ago, I also stood atop the highest peak in North America overcome with emotion. Denali marked the completion of my attempt to summit the highest peak on each of the seven continents (the 7-Summits). At the top of each of the seven mountains, I buried a flag in the snow that read, “Dedicated to all those affected by cancer in this small world! Keep climbing!” More importantly, it served as a reminder for all of us (no matter what our obstacle) to Keep Climbing! I’m committed to shouting from the roof tops of the world that there is hope for the hopeless, and miracles up and down the sides of whatever mountains people are climbing in their lives.
While following a dream to complete the 7-Summits and display the potential of the human body and spirit, a lot of people and companies laughed at a one-lunged, two-time cancer surviving lunatic. I was, however, incredibly fortunate to have a handful of companies encourage me while the rest doubted me. (I do understand their point of view, however. I mean, Everest…one lung?) The list of supporters is now amazing because of their determination to step above and beyond the typical climbing/outdoor industry and reach out to help others. I’m incredibly lucky to have close, personal relationships with Marmot, Crocs and a number of others who are working together to support and help others, focusing on what’s truly important in life… living and enjoying what the world has to offer!
I honestly don’t know why I’m alive, but I’m incredibly grateful for the 3rd life that I’ve been given. I’m committed to shouting from the rooftops of the world that there is hope for the hopeless and miracles up and down the sides of whatever mountains people are climbing in their lives. I also want to say that cancer is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It helped shape my life in a way that has made me realize how precious and fragile it really is.
Everywhere I travel, I visit people touched by cancer, and share my story with them. This experience is the most rewarding part of what I do because I have the opportunity to meet such strong men, women and children and listen to their stories. I always feel so honored to be in their presence and the experience is filled with hope and inspiration. My message is always the same - we can climb whatever mountains life puts before us; no dream is out of reach!
It’s my hope that sometime in the near future, everyone gives back to others through genuine human interest and people understand there is more to life. It took me two brushes with death to realize that everyone on earth is alive, but not everyone is truly living. Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to realize you’re only alive and never truly lived…