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Healthy, active and then cancer

A benefit is scheduled for Aug. 18, at Kilkarney Golf Course in River Falls to help Brian and Amy Olson deal with bills that have accumulated as Brian battles Stage 4 colon cancer. Also shown is their son, Finn, who is almost five.

Brian Olson thought he was perfectly healthy until a doctor's questions after a minor injury led to a shocking diagnosis: Stage 4 colon cancer.

"It was a fluke that they even found it," Brian says of the cancer he's been battling for four years now.

In his mid-30s, Olson thought his dreams had come true.

Nearly a year earlier he and his wife Amy completed their family by adopting a baby boy. Brian had a job he loved, a happy marriage and an active life.

Brian, now 38, grew up in St. Paul, graduated from St. Paul Harding High School and attended colleges in Minnesota.

He and his future wife, Amy Carroll, met through a mutual friend in 1997. Amy, the daughter of Tom and Bonnie Carroll, is a 1993 graduate of River Falls High School.

The Olsons, who live in Hammond, are both employees of Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, although Brian has been off work since June 18 when he had surgery for an injury unrelated to his cancer.

"We were friends a while before we started dating," said Brian.

He and Amy married in 2000, and after years of wishing for a family, they adopted Finn in October 2008.

Brian is a therapeutic specialist, who spends his working days in the pool assisting victims of stroke and Parkinson's disease, and children with autism and cerebral palsy.

One day he pulled an abdominal muscle while working in the pool. He saw a doctor at River Falls Medical Clinic who prescribed a muscle relaxant and pain medication.

When Brian went back for a followup visit a week later, Physician Assistant David Gregg checked for a hernia and after considering Brian's family history, asked him if he'd ever had blood in his stools.

"I said I didn't know. I'd never looked," recalls Brian, adding "He probably saved my life."

A preliminary test did show blood. A colonoscopy followed.

"My doctor just came with a white face," recalled Brian about hearing the colonoscopy results. "He said you have cancer, and it's bad."

Brian's first thought was for his mom, who had accompanied him to the hospital and whose other son had died of cancer in 2006 at age 34.

"My poor mother," said Brian, who asked her to make a call, and when she left the room, urged the doctor to be gentle in describing Brian's diagnosis in front of his mom.

Brian had colon-resection surgery Oct. 12, 2009. The next day the results of earlier tests came back, and he was told the cancer had spread to his liver.

"That's how quick it was," said Amy.

From the beginning, the prognosis was grim. The doctors told Brian that without treatment, he'd probably live only two months. With treatment, he'd survive six months to two years.

The colon surgery was followed by chemotherapy, followed in February 2010 by surgery at Abbott Northwestern Hospital to remove 70% of Brian's liver.

"By God's grace, everything they've tried with me worked to a certain extent," said Brian.

For more on this story, please see the Aug. 8 print edition of the River Falls Journal.

Also, a benefit for Brian and Amy Olson will be held Sunday, Aug. 18, at Kilkarney Golf Course.

Benefit events include a golf tournament, performance by American Idol finalist Reed Grimm, silent auction and spaghetti dinner.

The 18-hole golf tournament, a four-man scramble, will start at 8 a.m. Cost is $70 for just golf and $80 for golf and dinner. To sign up, call Jennifer Joy at 715-426-9609.

The silent auction will be noon to 6 p.m., and a bake sale will start at noon. Grimm will perform 2-2:30 p.m.

The spaghetti dinner will be served from 5-7 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049