A fun night at the Hutchinson Center for children with brain cancer—and for the researchers looking for a cure
By Clay Holtzman, Hutchinson Center science writer
On a pleasant fall evening recently, dozens of children and their families rambled through the Hutchinson Center—a place typically reserved for serious cancer research—eating, laughing and dancing.
The children are brain tumor patients, some newly diagnosed. Others are young survivors with parents who continue to count their blessings. They all share an unbreakable bond with the host, Dr. Jim Olson, a member of the Center’s Clinical Research Division, and his staff.
For more than two decades, Olson, a brain cancer researcher, has placed a high value on bridging the gap between research and patient care. It was this deep commitment to his patients that led to his lab’s annual patient appreciation night.
For Olson and his staff, the night of fun is more than an opportunity for researchers to exchange their white coats for chef’s aprons and decorate the Center’s courtyard. It’s a welcome home for patients and families, past and present, who come together and celebrate their individual stories and collective support of brain cancer research.
“It evolved naturally. I always wanted to have integrated research and practice,” Olson said. “We come together as a family in a purely social setting to increase the already strong ties between our lab and our patient families.”
For Olson, who loves to have fun, it is a party with a purpose. The people who work in his lab are motivated by the direct connection with thankful patients, and families are inspired to become advocates, donors and ambassadors for brain cancer research.
And this is an opportunity for parents to meet, sometimes for the first time, other parents of children living with a cancer diagnosis.
“It gives the new families the chance to see kids who had the same kind of cancer, and that they are healthy and doing great,” Olson said.
The Hutchinson Center has hosted many public events over the years so people can see first-hand the kind of work conducted here. And like Olson, other researchers open the Center’s doors to visitors.
But Olson has certainly taken the visits to a new level—bringing researchers, patients and their families together in an inspiring night of fun for everyone. And it’s certainly something that other researchers everywhere can easily replicate to break down the boundaries between research and the people who benefit directly from it.
“Based on what my lab and the patient get out of it, it’s a great model for the future,” he said.