Fighting Cancer One Goal at a Time

Pediatrics Department
Saturday, May 17, 2014 - 1:29pm

I began my fight against cancer in the spring of 2008. I was a 20-year-old junior at the University at Buffalo and a standout shot putter for the track and field team. I just accepted a summer internship with the Cleveland Browns strength and conditioning program and I was dating a beautiful and smart girl.

I was right in the middle of what were the most exciting years of my life.

Prior to leaving for Cleveland, I saw my team doctors about a large bump on my left foot. As an athlete, I chalked it up to swelling and tendinitis. But as time went on, it became increasingly painful. I was referred to a podiatrist for an MRI that revealed a baseball sized mass intertwined throughout the muscles, nerves and blood vessels in my foot. One surgery and a pathology report later, I heard that dreaded word for the first time - cancer. I had synovial sarcoma to be specific, a very rare soft tissue cancer.

When you are a completely healthy 20-year-old college athlete, you never expect to hear that you have cancer. My life instantly changed.

My treatment plan called for three cycles of inpatient chemotherapy followed by limb-salvaging surgery and eight weeks of post-surgery radiation therapy. To me this felt like eternity. Fighting cancer is without a doubt an endurance race. I was thrown into a fight for my life without notice.

Because of this, I held on to my family and friends a little tighter and appreciated their support a little more. I chased my goals a little harder because I never knew when cancer would step in the way again.

It seems ironic to think of cancer having positives, but sometimes you don't know what you’re made of until you face adversity. Although I wish cancer on no one, we cancer survivors really know what we are made of and how strong we really are!

My journey is not over yet. In the last six years, I have relapsed three times with tumors in my lung. But through it all I have refused to put life on hold. I finished my athletic career with a conference championship and a national ranking in shot put. I graduated college three times with one of those degrees being a B.S. in nursing. I now work for Roswell Park as a registered nurse, which is my way of giving back! I also married that beautiful and smart girl from college.

Through my journey as a patient and a nurse, I learned how to navigate this life a little better. Every time I get worried I remember that if I focus on my goals and take things one day at a time, I can overcome this disease.

The AYA population faces very unique challenges, so I want to share a few lessons I have learned along to way to help other young adults fight cancer:

  1. Stay educated and don't be afraid to ask questions. Depending on your age, you may be the one who has to make all the decisions, so arm yourself with knowledge.
  2. Live day by day and win the small battles. Cancer treatment is a long journey and if you conquer every day one at a time, you can get through it.
  3. You can't do it all! Let your family and friends help you along the way. Young adults are stubborn (I am one) and I know how hard it is to ask for help sometimes, but you can't make this journey alone.
  4. Find your go-to strength. As my friends and I say, strength fights cancer. Your strength can be anything from music to drawing to sports. Whatever makes you happy, do it. Focus on that as much as possible.

DAISY Award Winner

Jacob Madonia won the DAISY award after receiving 14 nominations for his extraordinary nursing care. He is an outstanding role model in our nursing community and an asset to the Pediatrics Department at Roswell Park. As a fellow cancer patient, Jake shares a special bond with all of the children on his unit. In addition to being an award-winning nurse, Jake always looks for ways to give back. He started a website to sell Team Madonia t-shirts with proceeds benefiting Roswell Park.

Read other posts by Jacob