Anyone who has ever tried putting on a hospital robe knows how tricky it can be. But for artist Allie Olson, who was undergoing treatment for a rare form of breast cancer, it became an opportunity to get creative and find humor under stressful circumstances.
“One day I tried putting a hospital robe on before radiation, but it was really confusing,” Olson, who is 40 and lives in Brooklyn, tells Yahoo Life. “Instead of getting frustrated, I decided to create my own ‘robe’ design.”
Olson says she and the radiation therapists had “a great time laughing” over her styled hospital robe, so she decided to do it again the next day “and the next and then committed myself to doing it all 30 days” of her radiation treatment. “I jokingly referred to the project as Radiation Runway. I loved thinking about Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn giving me feedback!”
She adds: “Radiation Runway lifted the spirits in the waiting room and helped create a community of compassion and fun. Why not keep doing something that brings joy and laughter to a room? Plus, I’m an artist, so the idea was a welcome challenge.”
Olson photographed each of her outfits and shared a montage of her looks on her Instagram after completing 30 days of radiation treatments. She says the response has been “wonderfully kind and uplifting,” with Instagram users calling it “beautiful,” “brilliant,” and “chic.” Olson took the selfies in a mirror, which also showed off her vibrant pineapple phone case, which some people thought was a real pineapple. “People laugh at my pineapple,” she says. “Many people don’t realize it’s my phone!”
The outpouring Olson has received “makes me happy the video exists,” she says, adding, “It’s fantastic if my experience can help anyone else feel encouraged or laugh, especially if they are going through a hard time. Cancer takes a lot from people, but there are still ways we can have fun and celebrate life!”
The experience has been a bright spot on her cancer journey, which started in May 2020, when Olson noticed a painful lump in her breast. “It was hard to get to the doctor because COVID was still in the early stages,” she explained. “The lump continued to grow and the pain started interfering with my life.”
A close friend kept encouraging Olson to get it checked out, so she did. “My doctor and I both thought it was a cyst,” she recalls. Months of biopsies, ultrasounds and tests kept coming back as “bizarre but benign.”
In September of 2020, Olson was sent to a breast surgeon who took 6 centimeters of “dead” tissue from her breast. “A month later I noticed a new lump in the same area growing quickly and becoming painful again,” Olson says. “We did another ultrasound and biopsy, and the tumor turned out to be malignant this time.”
Her doctors formulated a treatment plan right away, which included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Olson was officially diagnosed with invasive carcinoma with medullary features on Feb. 28, 2021, when she was 39 years old. “It’s a rare type of breast cancer that is treated like triple-negative breast cancer,” she says. According to the American Cancer Society, triple-negative breast cancer “differs from other types of invasive breast cancer in that they grow and spread faster, have limited treatment options, and have a worse prognosis.”
The radiation treatments Olson went through were “exhausting.” But she shares that “people are what kept me going,” from the “incredible” hospital front desk and radiation staff to other cancer patients undergoing radiation and sitting in the waiting room with her each day to “my loving family and friends who cheered me on.”
Olson shares that her mother, who went through breast cancer five years ago, also inspired her. “She stayed positive and humorous through her cancer so it helped to watch her,” Olson says. “She also gave me advice on what to expect and examples from her own experience.”
The last day of radiation treatment, however, brought a mix of emotions. “I knew from the beginning the last day would be hard,” Olson says. “I saw the staff five days a week. They were my social outlet but also people who were saving my life.”
She adds: “On the last day of radiation, there was also a sense of, ‘Now what?’ I was scared. What would life be like?” Olson says she rested for two weeks and was “kind and gentle with myself,” adding, “Now, I am slowly regaining strength and returning to art, fun and doing everything I love.”
Although her energy levels are still lower than before, Olson shares it’s been hard not to want to dive back in and “do it all.” But, she says, “I learned so much about the importance of rest during cancer. When I feel overwhelmed, I hit pause now because I know the value of health.”
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