Alex Pancoe has two passions: summiting mountains and finding out why brain tumors develop in young children.
Each time Pancoe, an expert-level climber who beat brain cancer 14 years ago, scales one of seven summits, he raises money for brain tumor research and kids at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
This time the Chicagoan aims to climb the highest peak in Indonesia for Zayvian, a 2-year-old from Champaign who has been battling an aggressive cancerous brain tumor discovered earlier this year. Zayvian's oncologist believes the boy has a 40 percent chance of survival.
Pancoe has embarked on a journey to climb the seven summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, and fly a Chicago Cubs “W” flag at each peak, all to help children battling cancer.
If he completes his full mission, Pancoe will become the first Chicagoan and 15th American to climb them all. His charity, Peaks of Mind, also will have raised $1 million for Lurie Children’s Hospital, where Pancoe was treated for a benign tumor in college.
Pancoe met Zayvian and his parents Friday at Lurie, bearing gifts of stuffed animals and Shedd Aquarium passes, since the 2-year-old is going through a dolphins phase right now.
Doctors spotted an orange-size tumor in Zayvian's brain this year after his parents brought him in suspecting a concussion from falling while rough-housing with his siblings.
"I find them to be inspirational," he said of kids. "I mean I’m choosing to do this challenge, but they’re fighting for their lives. These massive battles to be able to come do something I love and bring attention to them is an honor and a privilege."
Pancoe is all set for his jungle climb for Zayvian, very different from the Arctic summits he has achieved for other patients.
Pancoe leaves for Indonesia on Friday night for the 16,000-foot, one-day trek, while Zayvian embarks on major surgery Tuesday to remove grape-size tumors.
“Everyone [at Lurie Children’s Hospital] is climbing their own metaphorical Everest,” Pancoe has said. “I don’t consider myself a very special guy, I’m just a hard worker. So, if I can climb Everest, I’d like to think it inspires people.”
Donations for Pancoe's efforts can be made here.