24-year-old Iowa City man inspires family, friends in fight with brain cancer

Bo Olson has fun with his friends and family during a fundraising event at Hatchet Jack's in...
Bo Olson has fun with his friends and family during a fundraising event at Hatchet Jack's in Iowa City on Nov. 17, 2019. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Nov. 17, 2019 at 8:20 PM CST
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Not every throw on Sunday at Hatchet Jacks, an Iowa City business where people can throw axes at targets for fun, was a winner.

But every throw was a show of support for 24-year-old Iowa City native Bo Olson.

Two years ago, in November of 2017, then-22-year-old Olson was diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer. Both late US Senator John McCain and Joe Biden's late son, Beau, fought the same type of cancer.

Initially, doctors believed Olson was suffering from migraines.

“The tumor was about the size of a clenched fist, so it was nice to get that out because I was kind of suffering a lot of very severe headaches, and that was immediately a relief,” Olson said.

On average, people who are diagnosed with glioblastoma live about 15 months past that diagnosis.

Olson has surpassed that mark and is now 24 years old, bearing the scars on his head from two brain surgeries, plus months of chemo and radiation therapy.

“End of December is when I have my next MRI to see how things are going,” he said.

His mother, Karin, said the last two years have been a rollercoaster, especially considering just how aggressive this type of cancer is.

“There’s certainly treatments to extend life expectancy as best that they can, but right now, the reality is, there is no cure for this,” she said.

On Sunday, dozens of his family and friends came to Hatchet Jacks, where Olson worked, to have fun with their friend and raise money for his family.

“We’ve been to places like Mayo and Northwestern and traveling around and all these surgeries and procedures, and the bills can pile up,” Olson said.

“A lot of the people that are here have certainly been with him through this journey,” Karin Olson added.

Physically, Olson said he feels good, though he admitted he’s nervous with his next MRI coming up soon.

“I don’t have any complaints. It’s affected me pretty minimally,” he said.

Karin Olson said that positivity has been with her son over the last two years, and his family believes it’s what has helped him get to this point.

“He’s just wanted everybody to be positive and kind of fight along with him,” she said.

But Olson said it’s those same family and friends who keep him so hopeful.

“And just looking forward to the future, I suppose,” he said.

Olson plans to return to school in January at Kirkwood Community College and then transfer to the University of Iowa, where he wants to study biomedical engineering. He said that interest was largely sparked by what he’s learned from his own medical experiences.

The Olson family has also set up a GoFundMe account to help with medical bills. Anyone who’s interested in learning more can click on the link either below this story or in the column on the right-hand side of the page.