SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE

Goodyear man blends fantasy, reality in book about childhood cancer battle

‘Carnival of Heaven’ transports readers to author Ryan Olson’s dream world

Posted 3/1/21

A Goodyear man who turned his childhood battle with T-cell leukemia into a novel recently published an audio version of the book.

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SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE

Goodyear man blends fantasy, reality in book about childhood cancer battle

‘Carnival of Heaven’ transports readers to author Ryan Olson’s dream world

Ryan Patrick Olson was nearly 7 when he was diagnosed in the early 1990s with T-cell leukemia.
Ryan Patrick Olson was nearly 7 when he was diagnosed in the early 1990s with T-cell leukemia.
[Photo courtesy Ryan Patrick Olson]
Posted

A Goodyear man who turned his childhood battle with T-cell leukemia into a novel recently published an audio version of the book.

“Carnival of Heaven,” written by Ryan Patrick Olson and illustrated by Keith Robinson, is a 444-page fantasy memoir for ages 12 and older published in paperback and Kindle in 2019.

A data analyst with DaVita Kidney Care, Mr. Olson and his wife, Christine Kimball, moved to Goodyear from Tacoma, Washington, in November 2020 to be near his parents, Bob and Cathy Olson, who live in Surprise.

The audiobook, narrated by actor Jason Ostrowski, is a continuation of Mr. Olson’s hope of finding a widespread audience for the dream world of Awesome Waters, an imaginary theme park where the main character, Ryan, faces a life or death battle against a sinister ringmaster who tries to transform his happy place into a creepy carnival.

“My aspirations are to make this novel into a miniseries or movie at some point,” he said via email.

Mr. Olson was just one month shy of 7 years old when doctors at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, diagnosed him with the disease, which had a 30% survival rate.

The next two years were filled with cancer treatments, hospitalizations and side effects that would shock even the most stalwart horror fan — a fungal infection in Mr. Olson’s liver and a severely compromised immune system that led to more than 30 episodes of chicken pox.

At one point, he lost the ability to walk, and when he lost the ability to swallow, his esophagus was dilated monthly to prevent it from closing off entirely.

READ: Olson: Survivors don’t have to let past suffering define them

“It wasn’t fun, though there were fun times amidst it,” Mr. Olson said of his battle. “The nurses and doctors at the University of Alberta hospital made sure of that. They painted my isolation room for my birthday one year. Fantastic people, truly.”

They also petitioned the American Cancer Society to let the young Canadian join an experimental protocol.

“I won the most important lottery I could ever win when the ACS said yes,” Mr. Olson said, crediting that treatment with saving his life.

Writing “Carnival of Heaven” helped Mr. Olson work through the trauma associated with his treatment and recovery.

“While hope is absolutely its central point, the driving force behind my writing it was to be a love letter to my family, particularly my mom, who slept in a chair beside me in the hospital for 10 months so I didn’t have to be alone,” Mr. Olson said.

Writing brought him a sense of peace and some closure.

“I spent too many years feeling sorry for myself. I’d much rather take control of the narrative now, and turn it into something that can inspire and bring strength to others,” Mr. Olson said.

The book also brought strength to Mr. Olson’s parents, who wrote the foreward for “Carnival of Heaven.”

“When your child has a life-threatening diagnosis, your world becomes very small and survival becomes your only focus. Survival of your child, your family and even life as you once knew it, are the only things on your mind,” they wrote. “This book is a true testament to the strength and the courage a little boy had, to beat everything thrown at him and result in a happy ending for him and his whole family. His sense of humor and perseverance were the weapons he used against the evils inflicted on him — in both worlds.”

In addition to writing the book, part of Mr. Olson’s decision to take control included reaching out as an adult to thank those who saved his young life.

In 2019, Mr. Olson reconnected with his treating physician, Dr. John Akabutu, passing on his thanks in person.

“I just wish I could find the nurses who treated me and tell them thank you as well,” Mr. Olson said. “My pastor, my family, everyone else I’ve been able to express my gratitude. Maybe if the book takes off, that’ll happen though.”

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at kosullivan@newszap.com or 760-963-1697.

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