Dr. Jim Olson remembers the day clearly.
He had just had to tell the parents of one of his young patients that his rare brain cancer was going to take his life. About 20 minutes later, he went to visit the boy, Hayden, in the intensive care unit to find the boy’s father on the other side of the curtain surrounding his bed saying, “See, Hayden, when you die it will be just like this. You can’t see me but I’m still here and you’re still there and we know that each other is there.”
“It was one of the most lovely conversations I’ve ever seen,” Olson told a crowd Sunday at SXSW where he gave a talk on “Inventing Tumor Paint: Tapping into Nature’s DNA.”
Olson had been asked to speak at the prestigious interactive festival about the research he is doing at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to find innovative new treatments for cancer and rare diseases.
At Hayden’s memorial service, Olson said he decided that “my job is to do what’s right for these kids and for future kids that will come. And as I unrolled my research career every decision would be based on what can we do so other kids don’t have to go through this in the future.”
Linda Dahlstrom is a former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center editor. Previously, she was the health editor for NBC News Digital and msnbc.com. She also worked at several newspapers during her 25-year career as a journalist covering AIDS, cancer, end-of-life issues and global health.