The first time Jake staged a comeback from cancer was while he was attending the University at Buffalo on an athletic scholarship. He was a shot putter on the track and field team.
“I was getting ready to do a summer internship with the Cleveland Browns in 2008 and had a lump on my left foot for a while when my girlfriend noticed it and was concerned,” he told an interviewer in 2012. “I thought that before I go to Cleveland I should find out what this is. And it was beginning to bother me.”
Diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, he had two surgeries at Roswell Park Cancer Institute that removed the middle toe on his left foot and part of an adjacent toe. He then underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments that blistered his skin and affected his ability to walk let alone train or compete.
That fall, Jake red-shirted but he never gave up. In fact, he never missed a practice.
In 2009, just one year later, he placed second at the conference championships and qualified for NCAA Regionals. His crowning achievement came the following year during his senior season in 2010 when he claimed the MAC Indoor Championship in the shot put with a throw of 59-2.25 (18.04m).
The second comeback was in 2012 when he walked across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree from UB’s School of Nursing. Three weeks earlier he had undergone surgery to remove a small portion of his upper right lung. His cancer had metastasized.
In the six years that followed, he underwent countless surgeries and treatments on his lungs. In spite of constant setbacks, just like he did in 2008-09, he never gave up. He lived day by day, tackling his goals one day at a time.
Jake lost his battle with cancer on April 17, 2018. He was 30.
Born in Rome, N.Y., Jake was a 2005 graduate of Rome Free Academy, where he won three league and sectional titles in the shot put and discus and earned all-league honors as a football lineman.
After he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at UB, he went on to complete a master’s degree in exercise physiology. But he didn’t stop there. Inspired by nurses at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston while doing an internship there, he decided to enroll in UB’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program for nursing. When he graduated in 2012, he told an interviewer that he wanted to work in pediatrics at Roswell Park.
“A kid can have leukemia or lymphoma, but they’re a kid first,” he said then. “For them, the disease comes second. And it also helps that I have gone through some of what they’re going through.”
Jake became a registered nurse in Roswell Park’s pediatrics department. On multiple recommendations from his patients, he was given The DAISY Award in 2014.
In a Roswell Park blog, he wrote, “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.”
He was later promoted to clinic nurse manager of lymphoma, myeloma, and infectious disease.
A Youngstown resident, Jake enjoyed woodworking, photography, home improvement, and playing the saxophone. He married his college sweetheart Lorrina Kostuk in 2013. Their daughter Nalina was born on Nov. 22, 2016.
As Jake and his family and friends learned during this 10-year fight, there is a significant lack of sarcoma research and funding not only in this country but around the world. He dreamed of creating a nonprofit foundation to fund sarcoma research and help those struggling to make ends meet in order to receive the necessary treatments. He was acutely aware others weren’t as lucky and didn’t have the incredible network of support and resources he did to achieve such a high quality of life for so long. Jake didn’t get to achieve this goal while he was still with us but he made it known to his closest circle that it was one of his last wishes for his close family and friends to see it through.
Today, the Lotus Flower Giving Society’s mission is to support finding a treatment and cure for the heterogeneous group of cancers known as sarcoma, which typically affects children and young adults. We also aim to support patients fighting this rare and unique disease who live in or are seeking treatment in Western New York.
The Lotus Flower Giving Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which makes all donations to us tax-deductible. Make your donation by Dec. 31 to ensure that it can be deducted with this year’s taxes.
In loving memory of Jake:
- Team Madonia Blog
- 10 Years Fighting Blog
- Fighting Cancer One Goal at a Time (Roswell Park)
- The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses (The DAISY Foundation)
- Inspired by true stories: Two New UB Graduates Fight the Odds to Become Nurses (UB)
- Back from the Brink (Utica Observer-Dispatch)
- UB Athletics Mourns The Passing Of Former Student-Athlete Jake Madonia (UB)
- Jacob A. Madonia, 30, pediatric nurse with a special understanding of cancer (The Buffalo News)
- NURSE KNOWN FOR HIS AMAZING ABILITY TO CARE FOR SICK CHILDREN HAS DIED AFTER DECADE LONG CANCER FIGHT (Totally Buffalo)