Tots & Teens: St. John Paul II student raises funds to honor dad, fight cancer

Madison Nolan hopes to raise $50,000 by March 8 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in honor of her father, Ed Nolan, who died in April after battling lymphoma. On March 5 she wants fellow students to donate $3 each and wear lime green, the LLS color. Photo provided

By Janis Fontaine

Just 17 years old, Madison Nolan of Delray Beach is dealing with a tremendous loss by doing something positive.
Last April 5, Madison lost her father, Ed Nolan, to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

NHL is the most common form of blood cancer — sometimes called liquid cancer — with more than 70,000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States. The disease forms in the bloodstream or lymph system, which carries disease-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.

Madison, a senior at Saint John Paul II Academy in Boca Raton, has been nominated to be one of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s students of the year. The title is awarded to the candidate in each community who raises the most in donations during a seven-week competition, which this year ends March 8. Go to to donate.

Student of the Year is a philanthropic leadership development program for exemplary high school students. Participants build professional skills such as entrepreneurship, marketing and project management while raising money to fight liquid cancers.
Saint John Paul II Academy requires students to wear school uniforms. The chance to wear jeans and non-school colors is enticing, so charity-driven “dress-down days” are effective fundraisers. But for Madison, her March 5 event will also be a way to honor her father.

“I want everyone to see his smiling face,” Madison said. “He was one of the good guys.”

Madison asks participants to make $3 donations and to wear lime green shirts and jeans to school. Lime green is the color of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Her goal is to raise $50,000 by March 8, but she admits that while the money is important, what she really wants is to see her school dressed in lime green as a tribute to the man who always had a smile and a kind word.
“It’s only been 10 months,” Madison said, “so it’s going to be hard, but I’m super-excited to be making a memory for him.”
Madison says her best friends have really stepped up for her. “It’s easy to talk about him. I want to talk about him, and they understand that.”

Madison was about 5 years old when her father was diagnosed in 2006. “He had a PET scan and it lit up like a Christmas tree,” Madison said.

He was treated with chemotherapy, and Madison remembers when she visited him at treatment, he was the guy who was walking around, laughing and joking and cheering everyone else up. “Nothing ever affected him.”

Ed Nolan was doing well as 2017 drew to a close. He’d made so much progress that doctors thought he was in remission, and the family had a party to celebrate his being cancer-free. In December, he needed a little minor surgery and he didn’t recover from anesthesia well.

Things got worse. The cancer had metastasized to his brain, an unexpected and dire development. “We didn’t think the cancer could do that,” Madison said. “He’d always pulled through before.”

But at the beginning of April, Madison was taking a history test when someone called her to the front office. The staff told her to bring her books. A woman in the office was in tears. “She told me things were bad,” Madison said. Her mom’s sister had flown in from Alaska to help, and she took Madison to the hospital.

It’s still hard for Madison to believe her father is gone. She misses his sarcasm and his jokes, and riding in his Jeep down to the beach. Her father was a 36-year employee of FPL and “he loved his job and he had a group of guys he loved, his FPL guys,” Madison said.

Her mother, Kathleen Nolan, is supportive and proud of her daughter’s efforts to honor her father.

Madison also finds comfort with her dog, Bella, a black Lab mix she and her dad rescued. “She sleeps under the covers,” she said.

Madison wants to go to college, but isn’t quite ready to leave home yet. She wants to become a physician’s assistant.

“I’ve always loved anything medical,” she said. “I’m interested in holistic medicine and how we can treat people using herbs and supplements or acupuncture, as alternatives or in addition to chemo drugs.”

The LLS says that its students of the year have an important responsibility: “We call on those strong enough to fight for others. We need standouts who can stand up to cancer.”

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