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Interview By Bobby Schuller
Jacob Olson (JO) is a 15-year-old who lost his eyesight to cancer at the age of 12. As an infant, Jacob was diagnosed with cancerous tumors of the retina and at age one, he lost his left eye. In the intervening years, doctors saved the sight in his right eye. Then at the age of 12, he lost his right eye to the disease. Jacob has turned his darkness into light, and has inspired thousands. His website, outofsightfaith.com helps other blind students to function in a sighted world. Jacob has just released his second book, Open Your Eyes to a Happier Life, available everywhere. Bobby Schuller (BS) interviews Jacob.
BS: This morning, I have the privilege of talking to one of the most positive young men I have ever met. His name is Jake Olson. This 15-year-old has done more in his young life than many have achieved in their entire lifetime.
As an infant, Jake was diagnosed with cancerous tumors of the retina and at age one, he lost his left eye. In the intervening years, doctors saved the sight of his right eye but then when Jake was 12-years-old he lost his right eye to the same disease. Despite that tremendous loss, Jake Olson has turned his darkness into light, and through his faith has inspired thousands.
Jake, thank you so much for coming to the Hour of Power.
JO: Thank you for having me. It's an honor being here.
BS: When I hear at your story and what you've come through, I see tremendous loss and suffering. I mean I think about the tragedy that you lost one eye to cancer, and you also had this sickness that you had to deal with. But then being 12 years old, and losing your other eye, was there a point when you knew that you were going to lose your sight? What was that loss and feeling like?
JO: Well I'm not going to lie, it was tough. Anyone who's lived with cancer, or even has family members or friends who have cancer, know that it's a tough road. And for me being a kid, it was very tough. I was in the hospital a lot, receiving treatments and going to doctor's offices. I missed a lot of birthday parties, going to the beach, and just hanging out with people, just because I was either in the hospital receiving treatment or I was home sick from chemotherapy. Then when I felt better, I was busy catching up on school. It was very tough, and there were definite moments of anger and confusion. I really didn't know why I had to go through this. We'd go through so many treatments and the cancer would go away, but then it would return and I didn't know why.
So even though I had my right eye and I was able to see with my right eye, I was constantly in the hospital and constantly in doctors' offices. But I kept my faith in God, and I knew that somehow, someway He was going to turn this into good, and that I just had to trust in His plan.
Then when I turned 12, and the doctors told me that I was going to have to lose my right eye, which meant I was going to go blind, it was really tough. Here I am, 12 years old, and I've just fought 12 years of my life to try to keep my eyesight. That's why I went through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy and all these different surgeries. But then to be told ‘hey listen, you're going to have to lose that eye, too, because there aren't any more treatments that we can use against the cancer.' That was real tough. It was sad and again, I didn't know why.
BS: I'm a dad with two kids and the first thought that comes to my mind is what your parents would have gone through. I think about what it would be like to have one of my kids lose their sight, and honestly I would much rather go blind myself. How did your family respond to all of this? Did they help you through this?
JO: God bless them, yes. I mean everyone, my extended family, my immediate family, they all helped me. My mom would take me to the hospital visits. She was my hospital buddy so we'd drive up to Los Angeles (and that's an hour ride without traffic) so we would definitely have a lot of conversations, and I think we grew closer just by spending that much time together.
My dad has always been there for me. He would take off work to go meet me at the hospital and he's always been there for me. He's my role model.
My twin sister has always been there for me, but she never lets me forget that even though I'm blind doesn't mean I can cheat and lie and take advantage of people. She's always making sure that just because I'm blind, doesn't mean I get privileges or special treatment.
BS: She probably has no sympathy for you at all.
JO: No, exactly right.
BS: You needed somebody like that in your life.
JO: Exactly! So I have to thank her for that.
BS: That's great. So while you're going through this whole process you were suffering, but without your faith, you wouldn't have been able get through it. What was that like? How did your faith give you strength in the midst of your struggle?
JO: I can't imagine going through what I went through or just going through any hardship without having Christ in your life. I mean He's the only rock solid thing that's always there. You can try to base your life on something else. A lot of people use alcohol or drugs or different things like that, but eventually it doesn't work out. It's not a stronghold. You can try to stand on it but like the bible says, it's just sand. It's going to be washed away in the storm.
So building my foundation upon Christ (which is a rock) really stood. As I went through treatment, even though it may have felt like Christ wasn't always there, I knew that if I put my faith into Him that He was going to work it out for the good.
BS: Yes. And He did, right? I mean I see this video of you playing golf. Forgive me, but how do you golf?
JO: Very carefully.
BS: Yes, I'm sure.
JO: I have to admit, it's been tough. I think anyone who plays golf can say golf is a challenging sport and not seeing the ball makes it that much more challenging. So just a lot of practice, repetitive swings, and eventually, if you have the right swing, you can connect with the ball and just pray it goes straight.
BS: So you're an athlete. You swim and you play football, and you do all these amazing things. You've also written a couple of books, your latest one is entitled, Open Your Eyes to a Happier Life.
JO: That's right.
BS: You've also started a foundation called “Out of Sight Faith.” What's that about?
JO: My foundation helps blind kids who are in school get the technology they need to succeed in school so that they can be in regular classrooms and do regular things that any other sighted person could. It also helps fund research not only for cures to my cancer, but also other eye diseases that cause blindness.
BS: That's amazing. It seems like God has taken the struggle that you've gone through, and used it to do a lot of good for the world. God is really working through your life, even at 15.
JO: It's amazing when you think about it. I mean when I heard that I was going to go blind, I never thought that months afterwards and years afterwards that I would be speaking in front of thousands of people and inspiring others through my story. It's just a testimony to what God can do in our lives. I mean He can use something as bad as losing your sight and going blind at a young age to inspiring thousands. It's just amazing.
BS: In John chapter 9, Jesus heals the blind man. It says He healed him twice because the first blindness was his physical vision, but then there was the spiritual vision that I think came to the blind man because he couldn't see his whole life. Do you feel in your life that there is something you can see that a lot of people with their sight can't or haven't seen? And if so, what is that?
JO: I think that what most people do not see is what God has in store. As humans, we can only see what's in front of us. We can only see our present. We think we know what's going to happen in the future, but we really don't know.
And what I think we miss is that God can see everything. He can see me as an 80 year old, right now. He knows and He's set plans for my whole entire life. He knew I was going to be here today, He knows what I'm going to do tomorrow and He knows what I'm going to do the next day. He knows everyone's life, and He's planned out everyone's life, and I think most people lose sight of that. When you realize that He has a plan to prosper us and give us hope and a future, then all of a sudden not only do our worries go away because we now have faith that He's going to work through us for the good, but also you can start living the life that He has intended for you.
BS: Jake, thank you. You're teaching us what my grandfather taught so many people for so long which was to turn scars into stars, and hurts into halos, and really in the midst of your suffering, use it for the glory of God.
Is there one last word that you would want to give everyone, this one thing that you would want to tell the world?
JO: I just want to say keep your faith, even though sometimes it may seem that God is not on your side and God's not with you. I promise you He is and it's up to you just to have that faith in Him. Put your faith into Him and into His plan because when you do, I promise you you're going to live a life full of hope and prosperity.
BS: Jake, thank you so much for coming. You've been such a blessing and an inspiration to us. God bless you.
JO: Thank you.
BS: Jake's new book, Open Your Eyes to a Happier Life, is available in bookstores everywhere, and you can find out more information about his foundation at outofsightfaith.com.