Former food bank director dies after suffering stroke

Joanne Olson died Tuesday after suffering stroke. - News files
Joanne Olson died Tuesday after suffering stroke.
— image credit: News files

Former Friends in Need Food Bank executive-director Joanne Olson died Tuesday in Vancouver General Hospital, nine days after suffering a stroke.

While Olson, 52, had been battling cancer for the past two years, her husband Dan said it was the former condition that caused her death.

Joanne was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2012 and had been through two rounds of chemotherapy and was facing her third. The last three months had been particularly tough.

But Dan wanted to make the point that his wife’s death had nothing to do with her cancer or chemotherapy she received.

He talked to her doctor and was told that neither caused the stroke.

“This was one of those things that if she’d been walking around perfectly healthy, could have hit her. It’s not related,” he said.

“People in the fight against cancer, they have enough on their minds without adding one more irrational fear into it.”

Joanne was in Maple Ridge on Jan. 5, when she had the stroke and was taken to Ridge Meadows Hospital, then transferred to Vancouver General Hospital. She wasn’t able to speak after the stroke, although she could hear and communicated by squeezing her hands. She was facing the rest of her life in a care home, unable to communicate.

“She was not suffering or in pain.”

Joanne had been in charge of the food bank since September 2009 and only retired completely a year ago. During her first round of chemotherapy, she continued to work at the food bank, going in after hours so she could protect her immune system, then resigned when she was facing the second round.

Her condition was recounted on Facebook so family and friends across the country could be kept informed.

“It turned out to be a pretty public sharing of personal time.”

Dan and his two children kept a bedside vigil around the clock.

In the last few days, nearing exhaustion, he asked Facebook friends to send their favourite tunes so he could share them with Joanne via his iPhone. She heard every one, he added.

The response “just rejuvenated me,” he added.

Dan, a former federal Liberal candidate, is coping with Guillan-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder that attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis.

Dan pointed out he and Joanne noticed that many people identify themselves through their jobs. She was a human rights social activist.

“She never compromised. She looked after a lot of people.”

The last song she was listening to was Old Rugged Cross, by June Carter and Johnny Cash.

There was nothing dramatic. She just stopped breathing, he added.

Service arrangements haven’t been finalized, but Dan wants to ensure family in Saskatchewan and Manitoba can see it so he’s live streaming the service to the Lutheran church in Flowing Well, Sask., built by Joanne’s great grandfather. Another TV will be set up in Winnipeg, where Joanne grew up.


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