Linnea Olson, Light Bearer: May her Memory be for a Blessing

May be an image of 4 people, people standing and indoor

L-R: Me, Linnea, Samantha, Kelly

My friend Linnea Olson died today. She had lived with a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis for over 16 years. She never achieved the holy grail of “NED” (no evidence of disease). She lived every inch of those 16+ years side-by-side with the cancer in her lungs, sometimes more prevalent than others, but never gone. Always fighting, she embraced the “warrior” and “battle” language quite literally. But somehow, along with her ferocious determination, she always spared a laugh (a fabulously contagious cackle actually), always had a twinkle in her eye. I think it’s that twinkle that made many of us think that, despite her horrendous odds, she could pull a trick out of her sleeve, that after participating in 6 phase 1 clinical trials (!), she’d manage to conjure another in the nick of time. 

Of course, as remarkable and twinkly as she was, she was in the end, a mortal, like the rest of us. There has been a lot said and written about what a groundbreaker she was, blogging, participating in so many clinical trials, advocating on Capitol Hill, giving a Ted talk, and so much more. I’ve known many lung cancer patient advocates, it’s a group just full of remarkable people, but I really can’t imagine another like Linnea. Respected, loved and admired by thousands, she was our de facto Queen.

I think that’s what’s rocking me the most. I’ve lost so many friends in the last 8 years. It’s always hard, but more and more the friends I lose are those who are behind me, diagnosed after me. There are ever fewer out in front, carrying the torch to light the way. I’ve lost one of my very few remaining light bearers.

My friend Sam texted me and said “we’re the long termers now.” And, ugh. That torch is heavy. Sometimes I want to set it down and walk away – not from life, but from staying involved in lung cancer advocacy. But, I wouldn’t feel right about that. I took the light from those carrying the torch in front of me when I desperately needed it; it helped me and now it’s my turn to pay it forward. It strikes me as simultaneously inappropriate and a poetically perfect way to carry on Linnea’s light by posting an Update (#25) here. After a questionable scan in August that had me pretty nervous, my scans this month were quite good. For those feeling the darkness of this terrible loss: keep going, it’s harder to see on days like this, but there is still light to pursue and share.  

Some of you might recognize the Jewish custom after someone passes of offering the sentiment “may their memory be for a blessing.” I think this is often misinterpreted to mean “may your fond memories of your loved one help you with your grief.” However, that’s not quite right. What this sentiment really references is the continued and future blessing that the whole world will derive as a result of that person’s legacy and example. I truly cannot think of anything that would better capture Linnea – may her memory be a blessing for us all to carry forward.