In memory of Sharon Olson

Sharon,

One day four years ago, you decided to send an email to a stranger – me. More than an email. An offer. A generous willingness on your part to say, “I’m here and I want to help.” An offer– to visit stores and request the opportunity to place posters about dense breasts in dressing rooms– to educate, to raise awareness. An offer born from an experience you wanted NO other woman to experience.

One day, four years ago, you reached out to a stranger and changed her life. From strangers to impassioned advocates to friends. Over those four years, our advocacy grew and with your strong voice fighting for the women of Saskatchewan, commitments to policy change came. First, a commitment to telling all women their breast density category, beginning in 2023. Then a commitment to allow women to self-refer for a mammogram at 40, starting in 2024.

But still, not enough…… and we continued our pursuit for the essential but elusive screening ultrasound for women with dense breasts. It was such an ultrasound that detected the tumour hidden on your mammograms. Tragically, that ultrasound came too late. We didn’t know of the cancer cells that evaded the harsh chemotherapy, plotting their silent attack to take you too soon from us, your loving parents, six devoted sisters and brothers, so many extended family members, friends and the countless students whose lives you so enriched over a 30-year career.

We never met Sharon, but I saw what you did for others because of your goodness– your kindness –your understanding of what’s right.  I saw you a few months earlier on our Zoom call with the leadership of Saskatchewan’s cancer services, telling your story like I’ve never heard a story told. Our hearts aching while you told of a travesty –a needless sacrifice. One that policy makers can stop by giving women the screening they need. And because you were an artist too, I saw your creations and held your beautiful art in my hands, donated so generously to our silent auction- to help DBC raise funds that would help raise awareness.

Four years ago, you were a stranger living 1692 miles away. Today you live in my heart.

On our last call, I shushed you. From a hospital bed with news of brain metastasis so fresh, you told me how every nurse that entered your room got to hear about breast density. And then when you told me how you wanted to sit at the door to tell everyone entering the hospital about density, I tried to shush you again…… “Sharon, let’s not talk dense breasts now.” But you continued, telling me. “I want you to tell everyone my story.”

I hear your words over and over. Forgive me for not telling you then but I am telling you now. I will tell your story. To the women of Saskatchewan and beyond. And I will carry on sharing the message that first united two strangers: Please book your mammogram, starting at age 40. Please ask, what’s my breast density? Please insist on an ultrasound if you have dense breasts. Tell your healthcare provider, Sharon Olson sent you.

Missing you Sharon, Love, Jennie

Please read Sharon’s story here and help spread her message  https://densebreastscanada.ca/sharon/

Sharon’s obituary can be read here  https://www.dignitymemorial.com/en-ca/obituaries/weyburn-sk/sharon-olson-10879463#remembering