Jacksen the survivor

  • Photo courtesy Amanda Olson

    Jacksen Crater Olson is all smiles after the surgery to remove his left eye and before the prosthetic eye was inserted.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Jacksen Crater Olson had his left eye removed in July after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. Here he plays at a Princeville park.

  • Photo courtesy Amanda Olson

    Jacksen Crater Olson rests post-surgery at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

  • Photo courtesy Amanda Olson

    Amanda Olson smiles with Isabella Olson and Jacksen Crater Olson.

  • Photo courtesy Amanda Olson

    Jacksen Crater Olson beams after surgery to remove his left eye and before the prosthetic eye was inserted.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Jacksen Crater Olson had his left eye removed this summer after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. He is seen at a Princeville Park.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Amanda Olson at a Princeville park with her son Jacksen Crater Olson, who had his left eye removed this summer after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer.

  • Photo courtesy Amanda Olson

    Amanda and Jack Olson with son Jacksen Crater Olson and daughter Isabella Olson, 6.

  • Photo courtesy Amanda Olson

    This photo shows the tumor in Jacksen Crater Olson’s left eye, which is the top image.

Jacksen Crater Olson is a rambunctious 1-year-old.

Actually, he hasn’t quite reached his first birthday — that happens Sept. 20. But the Kauai keiki has already mastered cruising around the playground at Princeville park. And he’s bounced back from retinoblastoma, a cancer that took his left eye in June.

“It happened really fast from the time they saw something to the surgery,” said Jacksen’s mother, Amanda Olson. “It was our pediatrician, Dr. (Jesse) Lam, who first noticed the red reflex.”

The absence of red reflex, or pupil reflections in photographs, is one of the signs a child could have retinoblastoma, which represents 2 percent of cancers diagnosed in children before the ages of 15, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Lam keyed in on the absence of a red reflex at Jacksen’s six-month check-up and referred the family to ophthalmologist Dr. Layne Hashimoto for a follow-up a few months later.

But then Amanda’s intuition kicked in. She moved up the appointment after noticing a slight irregularity in her son’s left eye on a video she’d taken of him with her phone.

In the video, Jacksen is dancing to his favorite song — a dance that involves his mom snapping her fingers around his head. He responds to the snapping on the right side, but doesn’t notice the snaps on the left.

“That’s when I started wondering if something was going on,” Amanda said.

The appointment with Hashimoto was moved to June 5, and the next day Jacksen and Amanda were on an airplane to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for testing.

Amanda was alone with her son at Hashimoto’s Eye Care Center office when she got the news. Her husband, Jack, was taking advantage of the time in Lihue to shop.

“All I wanted was Jack there with me, I needed him,” she said.

Jack knew there was an emergency the moment he picked up the phone, but didn’t know the extent of it until he reached Hashimoto’s office.

“I just left the groceries and drove straight to the doctors,” he said. “It was dreadful, but I tried to put aside any emotions and go to the ‘just do it’ phase.”

Jack wasn’t the only one who sprang into action. In the office, Amanda stopped Hashimoto mid-explanation and started orchestrating flights, the whole time unsure of what the diagnosis of Jacksen’s condition would be.

They left Lihue that night, a Tuesday.

By Thursday, Jacksen went in for an exam under anesthesia at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The family was staying with Amanda’s brother, who has a son born the same day as Jacksen.

Thursday afternoon, Amanda and Jack had a photo of the tumor — which was large and could spread — and a choice to make: chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor and save the eye, or remove their 9-month-old’s left eye completely.

“At that point he had no sight in the eye and we didn’t think it was a good idea to go through chemo and all that for aesthetic reasons,” Amanda said.

Just before noon on Friday, three days after Hashimoto suggested they fly to California, Jacksen’s eye was removed in an enucleation surgery.

“It was the scariest and hardest morning of my life,” Amanda said. “But I was also glad it was getting taken care of immediately. I was thinking ‘Get that cancer out immediately.’”

And Jacksen came out of the surgery a happy baby, energetic and full of life.

“He’s my first baby, so I thought all babies were like him, but before the surgery Jacksen was a fussy kid,” Amanda said. “He was always moving around, never comfortable, and just crying a lot.”

In comparing Jacksen’s activity and personality over the past year to his same-age cousin, Amanda says she definitely sees differences in behavior patterns.

“It makes sense that Jacksen was fussy: he was discovering this new, glowing world and at the same time he was losing his sight,” she said.

The family knew nothing about retinoblastoma before June, but have connected through social media with many others who have experience with the eye cancer.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital estimates about 250-300 children in the United States are diagnosed with the cancer annually.

Two types exist: hereditary and non-hereditary. Recent tests show Jacksen’s retinoblastoma was non-hereditary.

“We were grateful when the tests came back and said it wasn’t the genetic type,” Amanda said. “They say that there’s less of a chance it’ll come back if it’s that type.”

After the surgery, Amanda and Jacksen stayed with family for the month of July while he was fitted for his prosthetic eye — a process that took three appointments and lots of patience for everyone.

“He didn’t like the whole process,” Amanda said. “But we joke that he staged this whole thing so he could play with his cousin more.”

Jacksen and Amanda got back to Kauai July 23, a little more than a month after their visit with Hashimoto. Now, they’re preparing for his first birthday party on Sept. 30.

“Jacksen is doing great, he’s tough. He’s a warrior and it’s not holding him back at all,” Jack said.

Amanda is thankful for all the people who coordinated and advocated for Jacksen, and for the doctors at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who all worked with her to get their baby the help he needed.

But it wasn’t just experts that saved her child. Amanda says Jacksen got into surgery quickly because she was listening to her instincts and pushing for help.

“I think it was mother’s intuition what saved him. I moved that specialist appointment up a month,” Amanda said. “We also had people working with us to move mountains.”

She continued: “Jacksen is active and happy now and I think he’s destined for great things. I’m just so grateful.”


Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at jelse@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Charlie Chimknee September 10, 2018 12:21 pm Reply

    Aloha Kakou, and God’s Blessings on Jacksen and his family.

    Re: Retinoblastoma

    We sure wish medical science would go further in their search for the cause of diseases than just saying that the cause was not hereditary. That’s a fair guess if no one either side of their family has ever had that condition. But that doesn’t take a scientist to figure out.

    But a retinoblastoma is an ongoing process that started with one cell, then 2 cells, and so on until the growth is recognizable by the person with the condition or an outside observer, as was the case of an observant parent. Add to that the difficulty of even a diagnosis in a 1 year old child. Thanks Mom !

    It is such a mystery as to why children, or adults, have disease processes that start in their bodies. Wait a minute, is it really a mystery?

    Being that diseases are a process beginning microscopically and developing cell upon cell until observable in different ways, it is clearly a better choice to remove the Causes of the Disease processes, or at least avoid them…as in Prevention.

    It is well known in science that dairy products, e.g., milk being one of them, all have a large amount (80%) of protein called Casein, that has been shown to, vía a microscopic process, to trigger human cellular DNA so that the cell becomes a cancer cell such as a blastoma on the article this comment is written about.

    While we Can be grateful for the expensive Treatments available for diseases, Prevention would always be the better choice and probably free of medical cost.

    While on the one hand we can be grateful to the petrochemical Pharmaceutical Industry and the Hospitals and doctors, for their expensive Treatments, even if accompanied almost every time with side effects, leading to more drugs, some of which are fatal; it is time we NEED to be more demanding of Drug Companies, the doctors and hospitals, we need them to research the Causes and Preventions of Disease, instead of the over $4 Trillion a year spent on so often unsuccessful Treatments. Actually we would be wise to drop drug making scientists who create drugs and food and clothing from oil.

    A Diagnosis and a Treatment means (non-existent Health, you’ve already lost your way, your Health, whatever you think you knew about Health, wasn’t enough) because if you have a Diagnosis and something is found not right, you have already lost your Health. And if you take a medication drug you will internally be sicker from the problem you went in for and also the side effects of the drugs you will now take.

    As a concept: the discovery of the Causes of Disease and the Prevention thereof would likea blanket cover or impact millions of people, whereas the time and money $$$ spent on treatment is a singular costly effort that reaches only one person at a time. More than 1/2 of Americans are sick, we know this because 55% are taking prescription drugs and some of those are adding more over the counter medications and or street drugs. SICK…that’s not the word for it…”sucked in” seems more fitting. Someone is saying HaHaHa, and probably making large $$$ on the current situation.

    Yes it is time for us to demand more of our Disease Care System, for them to undergo what is called a Paradigm Shift…from Singular use Disease Care to Multi Effective (perhaps millions of people at once world wide) to an Actual Health oriented System.

    Already so much is known about the Health and Disease surrounding our foods, yet it is almost like it is kept a secret. If you took a bite of food and got sick in a few minutes you’d know the food was the cause, but if you ate food for 2 or 3 or more decades of your short 6 to 9 decade life, and it made you sick decades later with cancer and heart disease and diabetes, etc., you’d never think it was the food, and you’d just trot on down for oil made (think 30 Weight Oil for your car) drugs that are cancer causing in themselves (carcinogenic), and continue your short journey to the end of your shortened life.

    Research dollars spent on finding Causes and relying on Prevention is what we should demand of our dollars the Disease Care System spends on themselves each year ($4 Trillion). No wonder hospitals are so big and doctors so wealthy while the health of our nation is seriously and rapidly declining.

    We are visibly surrounded by obese and overweight people all of whom carry chronic degenerative and eventually fatal diseases; but seemingly few care, or more accurately don’t know what is inside their bodies nor do they know anything about what goes on inside their bodies. It seems like knowledge of our bodies is a secret only shared with doctors, who as salesmen and women prescribe you the drugs that do not restore Health but just manage your ongoing Diseases. Sorry just take this drug for the rest of your life…! While on a stage that would be a joke, but in real life that is a poor excuse for Caring about your Health. Talking about stages, with Disease Care it usually reaches Stage 4; and then you Exit…Stage Left, which is what you will have done…LEFT.

    The cause of obesity is well known, much of the food today itself is unfit for human consumption combined with lack of nutritional education to all ages of people especially the children…who are shoveling into their mouths the reason for next year’s doctor visits and payments.

    Too many people eat for taste and just filing their “tank” (stomach), that is living to eat…instead of Eating to Live, which is reading the labels and so much more people need education about.

    While Cancer, Heart Disease, and Diabetes aren’t contagious, you may sitting next to it at a restaurant, in fact the restaurant may be serving it.

    Nutrition is more important than taste.

    There are 60 types of commercial sugar alone or in conjunction with a mixture of sugars put in almost all foods that are tantamount to being like “Kiddee Krack”, not only a cheap stimulant less expensive than the food it is replacing, but also a chemical habituation that causes people to buy and consume more of same, a profit driven motivation for food corporations.

    Before your next mouthful of packaged, canned, bottled, and dosed with sugar…pseudo food…ask yourself if Mother Nature would eat it.

    After all, she, Mother Nature, is just like you, she’s related to GOD…you know, the Creator…! ! !





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