Treating Kids’ Cancer With Science And A Pocket Full Of Hope

Dr. Olson draws inspiration and strength from his patients and their families. His decision to work with kids, he says, goes back to something that happened 25 years ago when he was still in training. A 7-year-old girl he was caring for died, and the loss tore at his heart. But his reaction was complicated.

“The night that she died I was walking home, and I was almost skipping or dancing,” Olson says. “I was really light, and I was singing and humming out loud. Neither of these things is typical for me. And it was so absurd to me that this really profound event had happened that day, and I was feeling so opposite.”

So he sat down on a bench and tried to figure out what was going on. It didn’t take him long to realize his mood had to be related to a conversation with the girl’s parents. He’d assumed that after their daughter’s death, they’d want to get as far away from the hospital as possible. But, no.

“They actually tracked me down, and came up and gave me a beautiful warm hug,” Olson remembers. “And they said, ‘Her death to us was as beautiful as her birth, and the reason for that was because of the words you shared with us as we went through this. And we just want you to know that you have a gift, that when medicine doesn’t go the way you want it to, that you can still help families recognize a life doesn’t have to be 90 years [long] to be beautiful.’

“And so I sat there and thought about that for a long time, and I realized that this was a gift that I had,” he says. “And not many people would recognize the gift, or have it or want to share it. But for me it felt like a calling of sorts.”

Olson tore up the applications he’d written for other medical specialties and committed himself to pediatrics. Yet, he also wanted to do research. So he wound up going to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where he could practice medicine and be a scientist, too.

In the past 20 years, or so, Olson has cared for hundreds of children with brain cancer. Though many have survived, many haven’t.

Read More: NPR Story

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