‘I love you. I love me. I love us.’
That’s how Allie Olson, who has lived in Bushwick for 10 years, ends each of her informational (and often hilarious) videos, where she shares her breast cancer journey through wacky made-up songs and amusing stories.
When she was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in the early days of the pandemic, she took it as an opportunity to educate and connect with others — including with her UPS delivery driver, who she learned was a cancer survivor, too.
Connecting with others is part of what keeps her going, she said. So does living in Brooklyn. She chose to stay in her fun, colorful apartment in Bushwick instead of moving in with her family in Indiana.
“Of course I could have moved in with my mom, but I live in New York alone and I love, love, love it!” Olson said.
“Breast cancer can’t take that from me. Plus I have an amazing team of doctors here.”
Feeling is healing
The Instagram account where Olson documents her cancer journey is full of made-up songs, jumping on the bed in her colorful apartment, and sharing her daily life and facts she learned from her doctors and nurses.
She also includes videos where she is feeling more unwell or down, for the sake of transparency. Olson said part of what makes cancer tough is the depleted energy, the financial stress, the depression and the anxiety surrounding the unknowns of the future.
“I don’t think we need to have positivity all the time — it’s not possible,” Olson said.
For her more than 2,000 followers, Olson’s Instagram is an essential guide for what to expect during cancer treatment and how to deal with the changes.
“I always say you need to acknowledge the suffering and illuminate the joy,” Olson said. “
I can’t take away pain and suffering — it’s very important to feel it since feeling equals healing — but what I can do is bring more joy into the world. We have to honor every feeling.”
This attitude is part of Olson’s professional life, as well.
Welcome to Allieville
Olson is a visual artist and the creator of the silly and educational YouTube series, Allieville, which encourages children to be themselves, explore their emotions and the world around them through humor, kindness, curiosity, and art.
Last year, Allieville won a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council to continue to create its web series and offer Zoom classes and virtual art parties to kids, when so many other arts programs for youth got cut when schools pivoted to remote learning.
“If I can bring an aspect of whimsical delight or joy into the world, that’s what I want to do,” Olson said.
On her Instagram and website, she regularly posts videos and photos of the paintings she creates, which are typically bright, abstract works.
She has a crayon series, called Crayon-cer, which, in true Olson fashion, is a perfectly clunky combination of the words cancer and crayon.
She also sells earrings, notebooks and candles with her prints on them through Etsy store.
Olson’s viral friendship with her UPS driver
Al Rodriguez began bringing Olson’s packages up all three flights of stairs and leaving positive notes on the delivery slips when he realized she had cancer.
Rodriguez had survived leukemia twice, so he understood Olson’s tough and painful situation.
“Going up three flights of stairs would really wear me out,” Olson said.
“I couldn’t go out a lot, I had to protect my immune system during those early days of COVID. So [Rodriguez] delivered everything right to my door. He would leave little notes for me when I wasn’t home, and I would leave him snacks.”
The friendship grew deeper with time and she connected with Rodriguez’s wife as well through social media.
Then, she posted about the enduring friendship on her Instagram, and it quickly went viral and got picked up by the Kelly Clarkson show.
“I always thought I was living in the moment before, but this has really taught me to embrace the unknown and the unpredictable.”