Family celebrates life of beloved Mercy nurse

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

— Sharon Olson never hid her tears.

She cried with her patients and their families when they got the sad or happy news that often is part of hospital stays.

This weekend, Olson was the patient. Her nursing colleagues wheeled her bed into the sunshine, and Olson laughed and cried with her own family during an emotional retirement party and celebration of life outside Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.

The crowd of Mercy doctors, nurses and Olson’s family sang along with Bucky Badger and members of the UW Madison Marching Band, who played Olson’s favorites. They snapped pictures and snacked on retirement cake.

In between the fun, they wiped tears while thinking about how they would miss their mother, wife and coworker.

Olson, 64, is scheduled to retire this fall after a 43-year nursing career. She spent 33 of those years as a nurse on the surgery floor at Mercy.

Although she had not planned to retire, Olson in September stopped working after she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that starts in the bone marrow. Her family Aug. 3 learned Olson is expected to live only a few weeks.

The crowd of dozens was a testament to Olson’s dedication to Mercy and to Janesville, said retired nursing director Mary Gundersen of Janesville.

“To see all these people,” Gundersen said. “It just shows how much she means to us.”

Olson’s treatment started in September with chemotherapy. In February, Olson underwent a stem cell transplant, said Olson’s daughter Jana Smith of Algonquin, Ill.

Olson felt better in the spring, Smith said. She spent time with friends, and her family started planning a summertime retirement party.

At a checkup 100 days after the transplant, doctors found the cancer was back. They started a second round of chemotherapy, but in late July, Olson collapsed, Smith said.

Doctors found the cancer had spread to Olson’s central nervous system and spine, Smith said. The cancer is not treatable, she said.

It’s an emotionally overwhelming situation, Smith said. She keeps reminding herself tp be grateful for the time she has had to say goodbye.

“As hard as it is, as angry as it makes me feel, it’s amazing that we’ve been given this time to say the things we want to say,” Smith said. “She’s been able to say, again and again, how much she loves us.”

People will remember Olson’s infectious laugh and her tender heart, Gundersen said. Olson never hid her tears from her patients, Gundersen said.

“She was very sentimental,” Gundersen said. “She would cry with her patients and their families.”

Lucie Odegaard is a registered nurse who has worked with Olson for six years. The two worked weekends together and called themselves “the A-Team,” Odegaard said.

“This day is so emotional. So hard. So happy,” Odegaard said, trying to keep positive. “She is an amazing nurse. She has healed so many people.”

Last updated: 5:11 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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