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Olson's cancer ordeal provides even greater insight into her West Wind Village mission

By Britney Appier

Sun Tribune

West Wind Village is an elderly care living community that functions under the idea that it takes a community to feel alive.

Susan Olson, West Wind Village administrator, also seems to work under this belief.

Diagnosed with gastric cancer, Olson still goes to work, only missing days for her hospital visits. Saint Francis Health Services, which owns West Wind Village, provides an atmosphere that Olson values.

"The elderly are wonderful people that you can learn so much from, and they should be treated with respect and compassion," she said.

Before coming to work at West Wind Village, Olson had "fallen into the health care industry." She was traveling four hours a day and the strain of driving became very hard for her. She heard about the opening at West Wind Village and loved how it "truly offers what is needed for now, using innovation and looking toward the future to give the elderly the best care possible," she said.

The Morris-area community is "so friendly and welcomes people with open arms," so, Olson said, she felt it would be a beneficial relationship for herself and West Wind Village.

Olson said she has always had a "passion for the elderly," greatly valueing their life experience and wanting to give back to them.

Olson was originally diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 1985, and in 1995 she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In 1996, the disease was in remission.

Olson had a regular checkup and an upper gastrointestinal scope procedure last year. While her doctor didn't believe he saw anything abnormal, further investigation confirmed a problem. Olson received a call from the doctor, who told her she had gastric cancer.

Olson consulted with her oncologist and a surgeon, who suggested chemotherapy before surgery to remove her stomach. She began the chemotherapy treatments in January, and on March 6 had her stomach removed, attaching her esophagus directly to her intestines.

The surgeon was able to remove all but 0.5 micro organisms of the cancer, and in April she began an intensive chemotherapy regimen, which is ongoing. She will continue the chemo until October, when, doctors say, she should be free of cancer.

Despite all she has been through, Olson believes that the hardest thing she had to do was tell her daughter. Her daughter was a high school senior, when Olson was first diagnosed, and she wanted to be a caregiver and simply stay with her mother. But Olson said she did not want that, believing that people should continue to "live their lives." She wanted her daughter to "treasure" the life she has. Though her family lives in Chanhassen, a three-hour drive away, they are still "so supportive," Olson said.

Olson continues to go to work, even on the days she is not feeling totally up to par.

"There are days where one has to dig down deep to find the energy" to continue, she said.

Modest about her strength, Olson says that there are times in everybody's lives when one deals with difficult things and "everybody will handle them differently."

Olson believes that she is "very very fortunate" to be where she is today, but said she is no stronger than anyone else. This trial in her life has allowed her to feel "empathetic to those who are not feeling well or have a disease" because she understands the pain people experience.

Olson invites everyone in the community to visit West Wind Village and get acquainted with her and the facility.