Local cancer survivor becomes Airman for a Day

  • Published
  • By Ciara Gosier
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

On a normal Monday morning, most children begrudgingly wake to get their school week started. But on Feb. 6, Nolan Madsen and his dad Scott, started their week as an Airman for a Day, here.

Nolan, who is a cancer survivor of osteosarcoma, was diagnosed exactly four years ago to the day, on Feb. 25, 2019, when his life changed forever. Prior to his diagnosis, Nolan's goal in life was to join the military. While his diagnosis made attaining his dream difficult, it did not make it impossible. 

On Feb. 6 he spent the day visiting various units on base to gain a real-life experience of what it is like to be in the U.S. Air Force.

“From an early age, Nolan wanted to be in the Air Force as a fighter pilot,” said KellyAnn Madsen, Nolan's mother. “Although [his] dreams of being a pilot may have been darkened, he has remained positive throughout this whole journey.”

Beginning his day by receiving an honorary commission as the 94th Airlift Wing's newest lieutenant, Nolan then paid a visit to NASA's ER-2 high altitude research aircraft, which is temporarily deployed to Dobbins ARB conducting weather and scientific research. He visited with security forces Airmen, where he was invited to ride along in a patrol vehicle and conduct a mock traffic stop. Nolan also visited the Dobbins Fire and Rescue Services facility to learn about fire safety and tour a fire truck. He wrapped up the day by touring a C-130H Hercules aircraft and learning firsthand from aircrew the various jobs necessary to maintain and operate an airlift mission worldwide. 

Nolan wasn't the only Airman able to learn from his wingmen, though. Since his diagnosis in 2019 until now, Nolan has undergone more than 25 rounds of chemotherapy and a radical resection of his right femur. As a result, Nolan has his own unique piece of equipment he likes to share with others when given the opportunity.

“Nolan heard from his surgeon that another patient had had his bone cremated,” mentioned KellyAnn. “He knew at that moment that that is what he wanted to do as well, thankfully I grew up with Chad Pendley at Mayes-Ward Dobbins Funeral Home; he didn’t hesitate when I called and asked him to pick up and cremate Nolan’s femur for him.”

During his experience, Nolan not only got to learn what it is like to be an Airmen but was able to teach resilience to every member of the wing with whom he interacted. Nolan shared his story and the experience of his diagnosis and treatment journey and reminded Airmen the importance of overcoming adversity. And although he didn't bring the urn with his cremated leg to show, he did get to share his story with others.

Resilience wasn't something Nolan learned overnight or on his own, though. During the taxing challenges of healing, his older sister Mackenzie was by his side.

“Nolan’s fight was and is just as much his, as it is hers,” said KellyAnn. “She was the only one who could comfort him during those dark days of cisplatin, steroids, and feelings of defeat.”

Lt. Col. Michael McNulty, 700th Airlift Squadron commander, and Pamela Godfrey Younker, Civic Leader to Dobbins ARB, played key roles in orchestrating the day’s events.

“It was such a pleasure getting to watch Nolan at Dobbins,” said Younker. “I had gotten to know Nolan and his family at some other events, and I could tell he loved every minute of the experience.”

KellyAnn said Nolan has always had an interest in the military, specifically the Air Force and being selected for this opportunity was extremely special to him.

Although Nolan may not ever wear the uniform officially, he exemplifies one of the Air Force’s core values - excellence in all we do. He has never allowed cancer to define him and has remained positive throughout his journey.

“He did things that he would [probably] never have the opportunity to do,” said KellyAnn. “He got to chase a car and ‘arrest’ someone, ride shotgun in the firetruck, explore so many planes, and more. His favorite [part of the day] was when a C-130 flew by. In this we are forever grateful to God and modern medicine.”