Former Lurie patient to summit Everest to raise money for children's hospital

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For countless kids at Lurie Children's Hospital, Alex Pancoe is a hero.

"He's inspired me to never give up," said 15-year-old Serena Lewis of the impact he's had on her life.

The patients look up to 34-year-old Pancoe because he was once in their position, having a benign brain tumor removed at the same hospital. Today, he's out to prove that a cancer scare shouldn't stop you from pursuing your dreams.

"You won't know what you're capable in life unless you're really pushing yourself and taking chances," Pancoe gave as advice to everyone.

For Pancoe, that meant the "Explorer's Grand Slam." According to Pancoe, the challenge involves climbing to both the North and South poles plus summitting each continent's highest peak. So far, he's checked the box next to both poles and five continents. As he began this journey, people impacted by cancer started reaching out.

He said getting those messages, specifically on Instagram, "was such an honor, baffling and humbling to me because these kids are undergoing so much more and they don't let it dominate their spirits."

Suddenly, he was climbing for more than just himself and began dedicating his treks to the kids he called "warriors" Wednesday. The first one honored: Serena Lewis, who's had three surgeries to remove a brain tumor over the years.

"There was no way I was going to come back after dedicating a climb to her and not get it done," Pancoe said.

Since taking on this mission, Pancoe has rasied more than $400,000 for research at Lurie Children's Hospital. One mother, Serena Schneider, was near tears when she learned about Pancoe's commitment to a community helping her toddler son fight kidney cancer.

"It's like a world inside a world," Schneider said of the Lurie community, adding, "my faith has been restored."

Schneider, Lewis, and several other patients and their family members signed a Lurie Children's Hospital flag to thank Pancoe on Wednesday. He plans to take that with him when he flys toward Mt. Everest this Sunday, a climb that will be his greatest challenge yet. In that way, he shows kids fighting cancer that they too can reach for the skies.

"He's gonna do it, like I know it... there's no backing down," said Lewis.

Believe it or not, he doesn't plan to stop there. Pancoe will go right back up another peak in Nepal should he successfully summit Everest (that's expected in mid to late May) and then will head to Denali in North America.

To learn more about Alex Pancoe's journey and donate to his cause, visit his website.
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