An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Cancer Survivor Becomes Airman For a Day

  • Published
  • By Ciara Gossier

On a normal Monday morning, most children begrudgingly wake to get their school week started. But on a recent February Monday, Nolan Madsen started his week as an Airman for a Day at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia.

Nolan, who is a cancer survivor of osteosarcoma, was diagnosed four years ago. Prior to his diagnosis, the 12-year-old’s goal in life was to join the military. While his diagnosis made attaining his dream difficult, it did not make it impossible. On February 6, Nolan and his dad, Scott, spent the day visiting various units on base to gain a real-life experience of what it’s like to be in the Air Force.

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

Nolan began his day by receiving an honorary commission as the 94th Airlift Wing’s newest lieutenant. He then paid a visit to NASA’s ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft, which is temporarily deployed to Dobbins conducting weather and scientific research.

He then visited with security forces Airmen, where he was invited to ride along in a patrol vehicle and conduct a mock traffic stop. He 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 aircraft and learning firsthand about the various jobs necessary to maintain the aircraft and operate an airlift mission.

Since his diagnosis in 2019, Nolan has undergone more than 25 rounds of chemotherapy and a radical resection of his right femur.

During his visit to Dobbins, Nolan not only got to learn what it’s like to be an Airman, 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.

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

“Nolan’s fight was just as much hers at it was his,” KellyAnn said. “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 Pam Younker, a Dobbins civic leader, played key roles in orchestrating the day’s events.

“It was such a pleasure getting to watch Nolan at Dobbins,” Younker said. “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.

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

(Gossier is assigned to the 94th Airlift Wing public affairs office.)