BUFFALO, N.Y. -- On Saturday, May 12, Jacob Madonia and My Lan
N. Le will cross the stage at the University at Buffalo's School of
Nursing commencement to get their diplomas in the last leg of a
marathon whose finish line must have seemed, at times, impossible
Both are getting bachelor's degrees in nursing, both plan to go
back to school to get their Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees,
both can't see themselves in any other profession and both
struggled with adversity. But their stories couldn't be more
Madonia came to UB on a sports scholarship -- he was a discus
thrower and shot putter and when you see him in person he looks
like the athlete his is. To use a cliché, he is the picture
of health. It's hard to believe that he had a small section of his
upper right lung removed just three weeks ago.
"I was getting ready to do a summer internship with the
Cleveland Browns in 2008 and had had a lump on my left foot for a
while when my girlfriend noticed it and was concerned. I thought
that before I go to Cleveland I should find out what this is. And,
it was beginning to bother me."
Madonia had the lump partially removed by a podiatrist who then
referred him to an orthopedic surgeon to see if the rest of the
growth could be removed. The surgeon referred him to Roswell Park
Cancer Institute (RPCI).
It was diagnosed as a synovial sarcoma, a fairly rare malignant
growth. Madonia's third toe and metatarsal bone and the second
metatarsal were removed from his left foot. The RPCI doctors were
able to save the big toe.
At that point, Madonia had attained a bachelor's degree in
psychology and was working on a master's degree in exercise
science. After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and
experiencing steroid-induced depression and blistering, painful
lesions on his foot after being radiated, he was still able to
complete his MS in exercise science.
However, while he was carrying out his internship in cardiac
rehab, he was so inspired by the nurses at Mount St. Mary's
Hospital in Niagara Falls that he decided to go back to school for
nursing and entered UB's accelerated bachelor's degree program in
Not only did Madonia complete his master's and begin nursing
school during this period, he also placed second at the track and
field conference championships in 2009 and also qualified for NCAA
regionals that year. He went on to win the Indoor Mid-American
Conference Championships in 2010.
When asked what nursing specialty he wants to work in when he
graduates, he smiles and says, "pediatrics at Roswell Park."
Madonia says, "A kid can have leukemia or lymphoma, but they're
a kid first. For them, the disease comes second. And it also helps
that I have gone through some of what they're going through. When
I'm trying to access or flush their mediports (the place where they
inject chemotherapy) and it hurts, I can show them where my
mediport was and that I know what they're going through. It really
Madonia is trying to reach some of the more notable athletes who
have graduated from UB to have them come to the pediatrics ward at
If all of this hasn't been challenging enough, Madonia lost his
father last year. He also found that his cancer had metastasized to
his right lung. The surgery to remove part of the lung was less
than a month ago.
Mimi Haskins, MS, RN, UB clinical instructor in nursing, says,
"As an athlete, cancer did not stop him…he coaches on the
track and field team and has continued to be an excellent student
and athlete. This spring semester, at a routine checkup, after he
discovered that he had lung metastasis -- he still couldn't be
stopped. He was treated and completed his N447 nursing course work
and will graduate with his class. He is truly an inspiration."
My Lan N. Le has had several forks in her road to becoming a
When Le was 10 years old, her father suffered a heart attack and
died before her eyes.
At the time, she says, she felt so helpless. When her father
started showing signs of respiratory distress, she remembers
running to a corner of the kitchen and telling herself that
everything was going to be okay.
That wasn't the case. Le recounts what happened next.
"I remember when the EMTs came and started doing CPR, even
defibrillating him a couple of times, that everything they did
seemed futile. Being in the waiting room of the hospital, time
seemed to stand still. They called us back into an office where my
brother and I stood outside the door with our uncle while our
mother was inside talking to one of the staff members. I vividly
remember my mom turning her head toward us and I asked her if daddy
had passed. She nodded her head 'yes.'"
Le didn't think of becoming a nurse then. She says with a smile
that "that would be a stretch." But the thought that maybe she
could've done a better job resuscitating him has stayed with
When asked if she is from Western New York, Le says proudly,
"born and bred!" She attended P. S. 45 International School. Her
primary language was Vietnamese but she also spoke English. While
she was deciding what high school to go to, another fork in the
Le wanted to go to Hutchinson Central Technical High School or,
Hutch Tech as she calls it. But Le's mother, a strong figure in her
life and a licensed practical nurse, had heard the nurses at work
talking about their children going to Buffalo City Honors.
Le wanted to stay with her friends and go to Hutch Tech but her
mother stood firm and convinced her to go to City Honors. It was a
life-altering moment because Le feels that she got a superior
education and made "good" friends, friends who are still part of
The choice of college and career came next. Le wanted to be a
sports journalist; her mother wanted her to be able to get a job
and convinced her to go to nursing school.
Le says, "I was disappointed at the time because I knew she was
right. So I told her that I would pursue nursing -- just like that.
I didn't want any tension between the two of us."
And she never looked back.
"After four years of being at UB nursing, I can't see myself
doing anything else. Some people major in something they thought
they wanted to pursue and then drop out while others like me, grow
to enjoy what they initially thought would not fit them," she
Le goes on to say, "My mother has never steered me wrong. She's
been a nurse for about 16 years and she's good at what she does.
She has never been late to work nor has she called in for any
reason. She is a woman of sacrifices."
Le's mother has supported her with money, food and tuition. Le
says her mother has done that "just to see cross the stage on
When asked where she sees herself in 10 years she says, "as a
DNP. My mother says that as long as I am willing to learn and
study, she will continue to support me."
When Le receives her New York State Registered Nurse license,
her mother will present her with a "brand new car."