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November Survivor Spotlight - Jennifer Olson

  • November 18 2016

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    November Survivor Spotlight - Jennifer Olson

    A year and a half ago, I was feeling terribly run down and getting very winded from normal activities in spite of being fit and athletic. I was coughing, having trouble catching my breath, and experiencing some mild wheezing. These symptoms led me to my primary care physician, and when I didn’t feel better on antibiotics within a few days, she ordered a chest x-ray.

    On a busy Saturday, I let my husband Andy manage our kids’ sports schedules and walked myself into the emergency department, expecting a case of walking pneumonia or bronchitis. Nothing could have surprised me more that day than to learn that I have Stage IV metastatic lung cancer.

    As a lifelong athlete through college and now just “for fun,” I couldn’t understand how someone who follows a healthy diet, exercises regularly, and competes in triathlon and running events could possibly have incurable lung cancer.

    I fought during the next month to become well enough to begin chemotherapy, knowing that statistically I would be an outlier if I could survive beyond a year or two. But 17 months after diagnosis, I am living very well as I continue chemo to keep the cancer in my lungs stable. The cancer that was found initially in my adrenal gland and liver is now undetectable.

    Unfortunately, debilitating headaches and vomiting six months ago led to the identification of two lesions in my brain. Both were successful removed via craniotomy. Four months later, as I was once again feeling my “new normal,” MRI identified another brain lesion, which was successfully treated with stereotactic radiosurgery. I have recovered from these detours and use them as an opportunity to refocus on my overall wellness – which I know not to take for granted. I have maintenance chemotherapy every three weeks and MRI of my brain every few months to check for cancer growth. Despite these challenges, I have been determined to take control of the only thing that I can control: my mindset and gratitude each day.

    Today, I have resumed most of my normal activities while working around the many side effects and appointments: managing the household and parenting our 15-, 12-, and 10-year-olds; coaching (and playing) volleyball; practicing yoga and walking our dogs; volunteering at my children’s school and being active in our church; and enjoying the daily joys of carpools and family dinners.

    I am constantly challenged to accept the limitations that living with lung cancer places on my life and the emotional fear that can easily take hold if I am not vigilant in choosing to focus on the beauty in each day rather than worrying about the days to come. I work very hard to draw from my faith, practicing meditation and prayer focusing on how great my life is rather than how terrible my diagnosis is.  

    I have become as knowledgeable as possible about lung cancer in order to advocate for myself with all the members of my medical team, and I eagerly pay attention to research findings that I hope will help me and many others live better and longer with lung cancer.

    Andy, my amazing husband of 22 years, has been instrumental in helping us navigate life with lung cancer, as have our parents and siblings. My sister (a nurse) and countless members of our community have supported me in so many ways:  meals, play dates for the kids, a volleyball tournament fundraiser, encouraging prayers/emails/text messages/phone calls, and joining me to walk the 2016 Kansas City Free to Breathe 5K and helping our Team Gratitude raise the second greatest amount of money of any team at the event this year.

    I feel an urgency to share information about lung cancer since it is so largely overlooked, especially in light of the fact that lung cancer claims more lives each year than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. I tell my story to anyone who will listen, hoping that I can be part of a movement to increase funding for lung cancer research so that it might one day receive funding proportionate to the impact it has when compared with other cancers.  

    Lung cancer does not discriminate; financial support shouldn’t either.  

    No one deserves lung cancer, and I want to help end the negative stigma unfairly attached to lung cancer and help raise funding to find a cure. I hope to increase my advocacy efforts now that I am back on a predictable schedule of chemo every three weeks. I know that for me and many others, we are in a race between our cancer growth and research breakthroughs.

    In the short time since my diagnosis in April 2015, the landscape has changed tremendously as researchers discover new breakthroughs. The options are broader for anyone diagnosed today. I encourage anyone living with lung cancer to ask questions of doctors or reputable organizations; to access palliative care, psychology, nutrition and other resources to complement oncology; to ignore the larger internet or “hearsay” information; and to focus on how you can make each day beautiful.  

    Living with cancer forces patients to acknowledge how little control we each have, but the one thing we can control is the attitude we carry and share with others. Choose to be a person of gratitude who lives in the present and takes charge of living a quality of life filled with hope.  When I remain too long in that dark place of worrying about myself, all I need to do is look around the waiting room at the cancer center and see how many others are suffering more than I am today. It is only in my mind and heart that I can control this cancer by allowing it to fuel hope, gratitude, and love – instead of letting it take away my joy.



  1. Gerri Sopyla 01:49pm, 11/22/2016

    You are an educator who has brought lung cancer out of a dark closet. Your information sharing makes all who hear you change their attitude about this nasty disease. Your “attitude of gratitude” is an example for everyone with or without cancer a model to follow. That tipping point dollar is out there to find the cure, and it will be given because of models like you letting us know it is needed.

  2. Ashley 06:31pm, 11/22/2016

    As a daughter of my only parent, my mother, who was diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer in January 2015, I am amazed and taken aback about how much you are an inspiration. You are an inspiration not only to my mother, but to me as well who is a family member.  Thank you so very, very much for sharing your story. You are amazing in every sense of the world. We have never met, but I am sincerely keeping you in my prayers and thoughts.

  3. Mark Davidson 09:29pm, 11/22/2016

    I worked with Andy at H&R Block and I’m not surprised to hear how supportive he has been.  I hope you continue to win your battle and wish you all the best!


  4. Erica Gaarder 11:01am, 11/28/2016

    Love to you and your sweet family Jennifer. Thank you for your work.

  5. Niccole Noblitt 11:04am, 11/28/2016

    Such an Awesome article Jen! Blessed to know you and my continued prayers are with you daily!

  6. kathleen gegan 11:37am, 11/28/2016

    Jennifer, you continue to inspire me, and so many others. Please know, my dear niece, that Adam and I pray for you and your family every day, and send you every best wish and hope. Our hearts are with you, always. Love, Kathleen

  7. Sarah Davis 01:54pm, 11/28/2016

    You are amazing, Jenn! An inspiration to all! Thank you for giving so much of yourself to help others. My prayers are with you!

  8. Megan Quigley 02:42pm, 11/28/2016

    So beautifully written and inspiring, Jennifer.  Sending you and your whole family so much love from PA.

  9. Erin Stucky 04:24pm, 11/28/2016

    Thank you for being an inspiration to all of us; for modeling what an attitude of gratitude looks like, for having the courage and energy to help lung cancer get the attention and funding it deserves and for being the amazing wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and amazing friend you are to so many of us!  We love you!

  10. Robyn Arthur 09:49am, 11/30/2016


    You are amazing and your words are so authentic.  Your strength is an inspiration. Always sending you good thoughts and prayers,

  11. Lindy Contreras 11:54pm, 12/29/2016

    Thank you very much for sharing your story. My mom was just diagnosed with stage 4 small cell lung cancer that is in her bone marrow. She is undergoing chemotherapy now. The doctors don’t give you much hope with this type of cancer. My mama is an amazing woman and I want her to be around to see my kids grow up. I am the baby of her 5 children. If there is any information you can pass along about this type of cancer please let me know. Thank you very much for your story. I will pray for you and your journey. -Lindy

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