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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

‘What I’m Doing on My Summer Vacation’ (#2 in a Series) -- JIM OLSON, MD, PHD


This is the second in our series of profiles featuring  a different oncologist discussing how he or she unwinds during the summer months. From traveling to music festivals and hidden oases to growing organic gardens and cycling to raise research funds, the profiles feature the rich and diverse interests and unique experiences cancer experts have beyond their clinic and lab doors.  Share your own summer vacation stories and photos with us on Twitter!  Use #OTSummerVaca and we'll retweet.
Jim Olson, MD, PhD
JIM OLSON, MD, PHD. ... Recently back from a 10-day bike trip with his family to California's Redwoods, Jim Olson, MD, PhD, is making time for one more getaway with his wife and friends this summer: The Doe Bay Music Festival.


"Doe Bay is a pretty magical place up on the Orca Islands, one of the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. It's my go-to place to find solace," says Olson, the Sarah Hughes Chair for Pediatric Oncology at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.


He says Doe Bay Resort is a laid-back retreat with yurts, campsites, and cabins not far from the water's edge and in August it plays host to a four-day music event, Doe Bay Fest, that he's attended for the last four years.


It's where he met some of the artists who performed on the Violet Sessions -- a CD whose sales funded much of the research for Olson's Project Violet last year. Project Violet's aim is to develop new anti-cancer compounds found in nature that will attack cancer cells, but leave healthy cells intact. Inspired by a young brain cancer patient with a joyful spirit, the project's goal is to raise money to pay for research through crowd funding (OT 1/25/15 issue).


Olson said the concerts at Doe Bay are a great way to hear up-and-coming bands, but his favorite part of the musical event are the unscripted jam sessions that take place off stage.


"Unlike many music festivals, they have a lot of secrets and surprises there. There may be an impromptu concert in the woods or on the beach. There may be no word about it, just whispers and you go and usually it's just the musicians facing each other and you're in a circle around them listening."


Olson says he and his wife, Sally, are also fans of yoga, another Doe Bay offering, and the resort's restaurant is sourced from a huge organic garden.


Soaking in hot tubs is another favorite way he unwinds there. "You might hear a fantastic concert and then be in the hot tub with musicians later, or having drinks after dinner with them. It's a chance to get to know the musicians, and we've made some new and wonderful friends there."


He said it's especially difficult to leave: "The first time Sally and I went, at the end of our vacation as our water taxi was leaving from the lagoon, there was a band singing to us and waving as we were riding away."


Treating children with cancer is intense work, and while he wouldn't choose any other career, Olson says as a busy clinician and researcher, it's important to have a place to retreat from work.


"My most creative ideas come when I'm out kayaking or running or skiing. For me, it's very simple. I started my career with the need to prioritize. Family first. Then patients. I consider my emotional and physical health as part of 'family first.' I'm at my best when I'm getting six to 10 hours of exercise a week and having the chance to listen to live music with friends once a week – that keeps me in a good position to be intellectually and emotionally where I need to be for my patients, and creativity-wise and leadership-wise, where I need to be for my lab team and the two companies that I started," says Olson.


"When I have students coming and asking for advice about training as an MD/PhD, I tell them that people get into MD/PhD programs by working hard and pleasing other people, but once you step into that path you have to be happy and get used to everyone around you being dissatisfied because they want more of your time. When you realize that you're in this for a marathon and not a sprint, you realize how to pace yourself and how to stay healthy."