(WBBM Newsradio) — In 2005, Alex Pancoe started having bad headaches when he was just 18 years old and attending Northwestern University.
“It came on gradually. I didn’t realize there was a problem until my mom forced me to get an MRI and I found out I had a brain tumor,” he says. “I knew it was serious but didn’t realize how serious until later. I was pretty shocked.”
The brain tumor was removed — and benign.
“After the surgery, I thought I was free and clear and, luckily, it was benign. I was lucky. A lot of people aren’t so lucky,” he tells WBBM’s Lisa Fielding.
Pancoe is a 2004 graduate of Highland Park High School and a 2009 graduate of Northwestern University. He says he was always a skier but never mountain-climbed until he went to Africa on safari.
“I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, so I wanted to do another trip, so I settled on Kilimanjaro. I didn’t think I’d make it. I trained harder than I ever trained in my life and I actually did a great job on it, and that’s when I realized I was selling myself short and when I thought about doing the Seven Summits or the Explorers’ Grand Slam.”
That’s when Pancoe realized he needed to give back and raise money for the hospital and the doctors who helped him recover.
Pancoe is trying to raise $1 million for research to be directed to Lurie Children’s Hospital’s neurological surgery division.
“I joked with my doctor after surgery. I told him one day I’m going to get you back,” he says, laughing. “I felt like I owed him. This was something I wanted to do on my own. Every dollar raised goes directly to charity. I pay for these climbs out of pocket, but in my research, I found a lot of people have used these types of things to advocate for a cause. There is not a cause that means more to me than Lurie.”
The Explorers’ Grad Slam consists of climbing the Seven Summits, or the highest mountain on each continent — and ski traversing to both the North and South Poles. The Explorer’s Grand Slam is one of the most extreme mental and physical challenges in the world —only 58 people having completed the feat to date.
As of right now, Pancoe has completed 4 of the 7 summits: Vinson (Antarctica), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Aconcagua (South America), and Elbrus (Europe).
His schedule for the remaining climbs:
- 2018: Carstensz Pyramid (highest mountain in Oceania)
- April 2018: Ski traverse to the North Pole
- May 2018: Denali
- December 2018: Ski traverse South Pole
- May 2019: Everest
“I take three flags up: the W flag for the Cubs, the Northwestern flag for my school and the Lurie’s flag. These are all important institutions to Chicago, and I’m doing that to raise some Chicago pride and raise funds for a very important hospital to me.”
Pancoe has already raised $300,000 toward his $1 million goal.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” he says. “It’s painful, it’s miserable and it kinda sucks, to be honest. But then you get to the top, it’s just all that hard work getting there. It’s an impossible to describe feeling, and then as soon as you descend you think ‘What trip am I going to do next?’”
More than 3,000 children are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year. According to braintumor.org, pediatric brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related death among children and adolescents ages 0-19, surpassing leukemia.
For more information or to donate, log onto www.peaksofmind.com. There’s a link on the site that takes you straight to a page where you can contribute.