What are the odds that one person could win four consecutive lotteries with the exact same numbers? Exactly the same if Sean Swarner survives two deadly cancers. Swarner miraculously beat the odds and has gone on to inspire with climbing and adventure expeditions to the summit of Mt. Everest, plus treks to the North and South Poles, and around the world. At this year’s fundraiser for Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research, before Swarner even took the stage, iconic auctioneer Gary Corbett said, “I think he did the North and South Poles in one day.”

Family and friends of board member and pancreatic cancer survivor Jim Comerford (right) at the reception.

On Friday, Nov. 17, around 250 Wings of Hope supporters gathered at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus for a reception and a silent auction with an array of enticements. The genial group adjourned to the auditorium, where speakers had the crowd riveted with stories of courage told with emotion and a dose of needed humor. Pancreatic cancer survivor Pam Hafemann celebrated clinical trials and urged audience members to listen to their bodies and not be afraid to overrule family physicians who attribute symptoms to everyday maladies. Generally by the time people experience overt symptoms of pancreatic cancer, it may be too late.

An emotional talk by pancreatic cancer survivor Pam Hafemann

Karyn Goodman, M.D., associate director of clinical research for UC Cancer Center, talked about the need for research funding for often-overlooked pancreatic cancer—and emphasized the fact that pancreatic cancer is where breast cancer was 40 years ago in that regard. Wings of Hope founder Maureen Shul shared her story of grief and love after she lost her mother and her brother to the disease, inspiring her to create the nonprofit. She also announced that funds raised now go to results-targeted research grants—recently Wings of Hope awarded three medical teams at UC Cancer Center with $50,000 grants for each. Representatives from each team spoke briefly: Wells Messersmith, MD; Joaquin Espinosa, PhD; and Dan LaBarbera, PhD. The grants allow researchers to go “outside the box” in their work to find a cure, as well as ways to manage the disease. Auctioneer Gary Corbett led his usual lively live auction before the program’s keynote speaker took the stage.

Sean Swarner prepares to display his Hope flag, dedicated to those touched by cancer.

Littleton’s own Sean Swarner beat two deadly cancers in his teens—he was given last rites when doctors told his parents he had 14 days to live—and could have coasted through life. Instead, he has gone on to physically challenging outdoors adventures that included a trek to the top of Mt. Everest to give hope to the cancer community. He carries with him a flag dedicated to those affected by the disease, and he has created the CancerClimber Association to inspire an active, healthy lifestyle — along with some adventure-expedition opportunities (CancerClimber.org). Swarner kept the audience on the edge of their seats with a fascinating talk about his life so far.

Wings of Hope is a local nonprofit foundation, founded in 2012 by Maureen Shul, to help raise awareness and funding for pancreatic research. In 2013, the nonprofit entered into a formal partnership with the University of Colorado Cancer Center whereby both entities collaborate efforts to raise awareness as well as funding for the pancreatic cancer research taking place at Anschutz Medical Campus. In 2015, Wings of Hope established the first endowment for pancreatic cancer research at the CU Cancer Center.

The University of Colorado Cancer Center has continued to rise in national standing in terms of its research with many of its physicians from Johns Hopkins Medicine. With the research at Anschutz Medical Campus, partnered with a local nonprofit like Wings of Hope, the two are moving forward and making a difference – giving families hope, where for many, there was none left. To learn more, please visit http://www.wingsofhopepcr.org.