Two-time cancer survivor Sean Swarner has already completed the extremely difficult 7-Summit Tour by climbing the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents — all with one functioning lung.
Now, the resilient 42-year-old is looking to become the first cancer survivor to conquer the demanding Explorer’s Grand Slam (a trek to both the poles, in addition to the 7-Summit Tour) by hiking the Arctic until he reaches the North Pole.
“I’m on the journey to accomplish something no one has ever done before, but also to use it as a vehicle to help people touched by cancer with hope,” Swarner, who has already been to the South Pole, tells PEOPLE. “I want to really make a difference in the world and show people what’s possible.”
Swarner was diagnosed with final stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 13 and advanced Askin’s Sarcoma at the age of 16. He was given 14 days to live, and despite the odds, he survived.
“My friends were all worried about what was popular, being with the ‘in’ crowd, while I was fighting to stay alive,” says Swarner. “It completely changed my life.”
And now, he thrives on adventure.
On April 1, Swarner will set out on his expedition to conquer the icy, unforgiving North Pole. Through negative temperatures and harsh snowstorms, he’ll carry a “hope” flag on his journey with the names of people touched by cancer. He invites anyone to donate $5 through his CrowdRise fundraising platform (all proceeds will be donated to St. Baldrick’s, a non-profit org that raises funds for childhood cancer research, and other cancer charities) to have their name, or the name of a loved one, placed on the flag.
“When I’m battling the elements, when it’s 60 below, when I want to give up, I read those names and get inspired by them,” says Swarner, who will add names up until March 15. “I can always call someone to rescue me, but those fighting for their lives don’t have that option.”
Those who want to stay in touch with Swarner can follow his Mission of Hope here on PEOPLE.com. He will also have a satellite phone (number not available yet, but check back updates), where people can send encouraging text messages.
“I want my story to reach millions, and help them have faith in themselves, and raise cancer awareness for people and help them understand that our perspectives determine how we see traumatic events that happen to us, and they’re often times a good thing,” he says.
“I’m here to take people to the top of the world.”