Cancer Survivor Stories

Jake Olson: Out of Sight Faith

“The last thing I saw was a flash of light. I lost sight in my left eye before the age of one. For the next twelve years, I battled cancer in my right eye 8 times. Seven times I beat it. When it came back for the eighth time, there was nothing I could do. I was going to go blind. It was a sad feeling knowing that I had fought so hard for so long only to see the cancer win in the end. I knew I was going to have to re-learn how to do basic things that were once so easy. Putting toothpaste on my toothbrush, food on my fork, or walking around my house would all require significantly more effort. I viewed going blind as my biggest setback, but it ended up being my biggest set up.”

“My mom and doctor didn’t know I was listening to their conversation.“No more options,” my doctor said. “We will have to remove his remaining eye.” I held the old, bulky telephone closer to my ear and the unthinkable reality of going blind sunk in. It was similar to previous conversations, but the past seven times my cancer returned we had a solution that wouldn’t cost me my sight. I was 12 years old.My sudden screaming cut their conversation short. As my mom ran upstairs to console me, I pleaded with her: “How could we not fight it with something?” More chemo? I had already undergone a lifetime max of systemic chemo. More radiation? No, I had maxed out and was at a high risk of inducing a secondary fatal cancer. More laser treatment or cryotherapy? The cancer had become immune, it would no longer affect the tumors. How about where they go up my leg? No, the cancer would no longer respond to intra-arterial chemotherapy, we have done it too many times. PLEASE, I was begging, ANYTHING!”

Retinoblastoma is an aggressive, rare, fast-moving form of eye cancer located in the retina. In cases where all treatment options have been exhausted, removal of the eye is necessary to save the life of the child. It cost me my left eye at eight months old and my right eye at 12. However, even after losing my sight, I have never let it stop me or become an excuse to not live my life to the fullest.”

“In almost a decade without sight, I have shot in the 70s in golf, graduated high school with honors, become a professional speaker and author, set up my own foundation to help others, and started my own company, Engage. I played Division I football at USC, and I will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in May.”

“I can now look back at the scared 12-year-old boy who was eavesdropping on a phone call that would forever change his life and see that devastating moment as an enormous blessing. I knew that my resilience, my persistence to fight even after defeat, would define my future.”

“I have learned that in every set back there is a set up waiting to happen, I have learned to listen to the winner within telling me what I’m worth, I have learned to leverage failure without pointing fingers, and I have learned the power of gratitude. However, despite these lessons and accomplishments, I still remember the pain, sorrow, and agony that I endured as a child battling Retinoblastoma. For this reason, I am determined to cure the disease that took my eye sight, and I could not have chosen a more opportune time.”

“Over the last 20 years, my childhood doctor, Dr. Linn Murphree and his partner, Dr. Brenda Gallie, with the help of researcher David Carpi at 3T, have developed a device that has shown the ability to cure even the most severe cases of Retinoblastoma, even cases like mine.”

“The Episcleral Topotecan device, or what we’ll refer to as the chemo plaque, is a non-invasive reservoir that is implanted in the eye. The device delivers direct chemo, Topotecan, to the tumors and vitreous seeds located within the eye and the results have been astounding. Last year, two children who had one tumorous eye left and who had maxed out on every other treatment option, were completely cured through the use of the chemo plaque.”

“I remember hearing about the development of this plaque around the time of my surgery and the reality is that this Episcleral device would have allowed me to see today. Even though it was too late for me, it doesn’t have to be too late for the children who are facing the same reality I did nine years ago.”

Episcleral Topotecan needs funding in order to undergo a clinical trial that will eventually make it the standard for treating Retinoblastoma. I am raising money through my pro-day bench press on March 20th so that no child has to lose their sight again to the cancer that took mine. I am asking for your help. All funds will be directed to Uplifting Athletes and Doctor Gallie and will go towards funding the Episcleral clinical trial.”

“Shortly before I went blind, Pete Carroll, head coach of the USC Trojans, heard about my story and invited me up to a practice. I was thrilled to get to go behind the scenes with my favorite team. I had no idea that Coach Carroll intended to make me a part of the Trojan family, and that watching this practice was only the beginning of a relationship that would change my life forever. Being around Coach Carroll helped remind me that nothing was impossible if you were always willing to compete and work for it. After I went blind, I became more determined than ever to not let blindness stop me from living the life I wanted to live.”

“I grew restless watching my high school football team play, and I knew I had to find a way back on to the field. I discovered the position of long snapping, and I worked at it until I was good enough to start for my high school team, and eventually become the first blind college player ever when I snapped in USC’s game against Western Michigan on September 2nd, 2017.  I am also very passionate about helping others, and established my foundation, Out of Sight Faith, to provide technology to blind schoolchildren. You can donate by clicking here and selecting Jake’s Out of Sight Faith Foundation.”

Jake Olson

Website: https://jakeolson.me

Pledge It Campaign: Jake Olson’s Reps for RetinoblastomaYou Tube: Jake Olson’s Out of Sight Faith

Instagram: @jakeolson61

(The information posted on this site are direct quotations from Jake Olson and has been done so with permission from Jake’s team.)

Our Journey Through Cancer

The Flight of Our Lives

Within moments of receiving the devastating news, we were told there was no neurosurgeon available that night and Anthony needed to be transported to another hospital who had availability to take him. That hospital would be Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. By the grace of God that was the closest facility equipped to be able to admit Anthony for further evaluation and determine if he needed emergency surgery to be done that night. We were told that they would have to send an ambulance from the receiving hospital over to pick up Anthony and transport him back. It’s a 35 mile distance between the hospitals and if you are familiar with Southern California traffic, especially that in Los Angeles, you will know that means it is at least a good 2 hour drive during prime traffic. This would mean that it could take about 4 hours overall from the moment they picked him up until he was taken back and arrived at CHLA. Every minute counts and makes a difference in a life threatening situation. So thankfully we were presented with the option to have him transported via helicopter. Without a doubt or even question in our minds of how much this could cost or if this would even be covered by our insurance, we signed the release form immediately and before we knew it we would be taking the flight of our lives. 

During the brief moment that we waited for CHLA’s helicopter to arrive, Ricky and I took the time to inform our immediate family members of what was going on. I can’t even begin to tell you what was said in those conversations, at least for me personally, because it all happened so fast. Those close friends and loved ones that we had been in contact with during the day letting them know we were in the Emergency Room department we were just able to respond with a brief text message to update them on the situation. We then quickly returned to Anthony’s side and let him know we would not be going back home that night. That instead he needed to be transferred to another hospital so that they could run more tests on him to see what was making him vomit. He remained completely calm (as you will notice the same has applied throughout his entire course of treatment), as we fought back the tears at his bedside. We knew we were not going home that night but we honestly had no idea when we would be able to return after that moment. 

6:50pm (Pacific Standard Time) Anthony and I boarded what would be our first helicopter ride. A dream of ours to someday experience this moment, only we would have hoped that it was under different circumstances. Still in the same hospital gown that he had been in since 9:00 that morning when we first arrived to the ED. A blood pressure cuff wrapped around his right arm and a pulse-ox on his left index finger that were both attached to a heart monitor. He was strapped to a gurney with three seat belts across his body. Two nurses to his left hand side, one monitoring his vital signs while the other one was calling in the report to the charge nurse and receiving nurse at CHLA that would resume continuation of care.

It was so loud inside the helicopter, which adds to the rush of adrenaline. Despite the fear of not knowing what would happen next, the view of Los Angeles was still amazing. Anthony and I sat there in awe taking in the skyline and city lights at night. 

We made it from Anaheim to Hollywood in 8 minutes. The helicopter is only able to carry a certain amount of weight and with it being an air ambulance they carry a lot of medical emergency equipment that adds up weight quickly. Initially I was told I may not be able to ride in the helicopter with Anthony, which was nerve wrecking to have to part with him at that time if needed. Thank God the nurse pilot said the nurses on board would leave any personal bags or equipment not needed in order to ensure that I be able to accompany Anthony. 

Luckily they did not have to leave anything behind and I was able to ride in the helicopter with Anthony. Unfortunately for his dad, Ricky, that meant that he had a long drive home from the hospital to his house and then to CHLA. I cannot imagine what that drive was like for him, sitting there in traffic alone with just time on your hands to think and take it all in. On my end, I truly had no time to think. From the moment the helicopter landed on the roof of CHLA, the next moments happened so quickly. 

This is the commemorative pin Anthony was given from
the CHLA Emergency Transport Team