Pursuing Passion Through Cancer
- Eric Larsen, one of the world’s greatest polar explorers, was told he would never explore again after his stage four colon cancer diagnosis.
- Beating the odds, he’s doing more than well today and even working as a North Pole guide.
- There are many factors to consider when deciding on the right course of treatment for stage four colon cancer. Oftent, treatment might include chemotherapy alone, but some cases will require chemotherapy and surgery.
- Similar to Eric Larsen, author and adventurer Sean Swarner is another cancer survivor who’s completed some of the world’s harshest treks. Check out SurvivorNetTV’s documentary “True North” to follow him as he embarks on a journey to the North Pole.
Larsen has quite a resume. The 51-year-old cancer survivor, along with his partner, became the first people to journey to the North Pole in the summer in 2006. Just four years later, he became the first person to journey to the North Pole, South Pole and Mount Everest in a year. Then, in 2014, he joined a partner for a ground expedition to the North Pole – a journey no one else will likely be able to make given climate change’s impact on the Arctic Ocean.Read More
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But, unfortunately, Larsen had to take a break from all that when he was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer and his treatments – which included six rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove 14 inches of his colon – diminished his ability to withstand the cold.
Thankfully, his adventures in the harshest of conditions helped push him through such a tough treatment protocol.
“I’ve fallen through the ice. I’ve been stalked by polar bears. You know, I’ve been in a lot of very precarious situations over the years,” Larsen said. “And you get a little bit of a gallows humor with that, you know, in the sense like, ‘Oh, that was close. Let’s just keep going.'”
RELATED: A 32-Year-Old Ovarian Cancer Survivor and Her Mother End their Mount Everest Adventure Early with No Regrets, Savor ‘The Gift of Time’
Now that he’s continued to survive the disease after doctors told him his diagnosis was terminal, Larsen is getting back to doing what he loves – but this time with a much different purpose. As a North Pole guide, he focuses on helping his clients follow their dreams rather than breaking records.
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“I don’t like being away from my family as much anymore,” he said. “But to be able to go back to a place that has been such an important part of my life, to see it again when I thought I would never do anything again, for me it feels like the right thing to do.”
What Is Stage 4 Colon Cancer?
Stage 4 colon cancer, or metastatic colon cancer, means the tumor has spread outside the colon. But it’s crucial to note one metastatic colon cancer case can look very different from the next.
“I think it’s critical that for stage 4 cancers in general, but certainly for colon cancer, not all stage 4 patients are the same,” Dr. Daniel Labow, Chief of the Surgical Oncology Division at Mount Sinai Health System, told SurvivorNet. “I think, sometimes, people get labeled stage four, and they feel there’s no hope.
“And I think it’s very important to establish if you have all the data.”
Stage Four Colon Cancer: “Not All Patients are the Same”
Having all the data means knowing your tumor’s properties and the extent of your cancer’s metastasis. Dr. Labow explains by saying one person with stage four colon cancer could have their cancer spread to a singular tiny spot on the liver and another could have 100 spots throughout the abdomen.
“There are very diverse options,” he said. “And it really depends very much on where the recurrence has taken place.”
Treating Stage Four Colon Cancer
Treatment for metastatic colon cancer often includes chemotherapy alone, but some cases require a combination of chemotherapy and surgery.
“The overall view of treating metastatic colon cancer is that most of those patients cannot proceed to surgery, and so their cancer can never be removed entirely,” Dr. Paul Oberstein, a medical oncologist with NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “So they’re going to live for the rest of their life with their cancer, and we’re going to be their partners in giving therapy, or other experimental treatments that will control their cancer for as long as possible with the fewest side effects as possible.”
Other options to consider are “novel therapies or experimental therapies or clinical trials.”
“We emphasize to patients that that’s something that we as oncologists are always considering,” Dr. Oberstein said. “So that if at a certain point, a novel therapy comes out, if someone makes an announcement, or we do a clinical trial, and we demonstrate that a new therapy is effective for colon cancer, that’s something that potentially will help that person during their course of their disease.”
RELATED: Check Out SurvivorNet’s Clinical Trial Finder
Given that stage four colon cancer is likely something you will live with for the rest of your life, treatments may need to adapt over time. You might need a break from the drugs or have to swap them out for others if the cancer mutates or changes.
No matter what, make sure you have many comprehensive conversations with your care team before and during treatment. Also, consider getting multiple opinions so you feel confident that you’re treading down the best treatment path for you.
Another Inspiring Story from a Brave Survivor
Similar to Eric Larsen, author and adventurer Sean Swarner chose to conquer one of the world’s harshest landscapes as a cancer survivor.
Also known as The Cancer Climber, Swarner was diagnosed with two different types of cancer at ages 13 and 16. His doctors said he only had a couple weeks to live during his second cancer battle, but he prevailed nonetheless.
“I didn’t choose to go crawl up in a corner and die and think, ‘Okay, well, that’s it, I’m done, game over,” Swarner told SurvivorNet. “Nobody knows how much time you have left on the planet. So, what I wanted to do was make the most of it. If the prognosis is going to be alive for 14 days, I wanted to truly love and live life. I still do.”
SurvivorNetTV Presents: ‘True North’ — A Story of Formidable Obstacles and Unwavering Determination
In SurvivorNetTV’s documentary True North, we follow the story of Swarner as he embarks on a journey to the North Pole as a part of his Mission of Hope – a journey to inspire millions of people touched by cancer. He dedicates each of his climbs to cancer patients and brings a Flag of Hope signed by cancer warriors to every peak.
Watch the film to follow Swarner’s quest to become the world’s first cancer survivor to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam – a trek to the highest point on all seven continents as well as hiking to the North and South Poles.
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