Get a second opinion. Or even a third one. — Although I was already going to an academic hospital, I still wanted to get a second opinion from another academic hospital in the area, so I contacted Johns Hopkins. With all my test results sent to them, they confirmed that they would do the same treatment protocol that Penn suggested for me, so I felt confident in my decision. I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t ever be left wondering, “What if?”
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaclyn Downs.
Jaclyn Downs is a Functional Genomic Nutritionist that specializes in fertility and reproductive health. She is the author of “Root Causes of Impaired Fertility: Your 12 Week Functional Fertility Plan.” Her website is JaclynDowns.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised around Central Pennsylvania. My parents had three children, of which I am the youngest. They divorced when I was a toddler. They both remarried within a few years, creating blended family trials and dramas that can often occur. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my father worked in the nutritional supplement industry. Growing up, even though I knew I was loved as a daughter and sister, I don’t remember feeling much of a sense of adoration or being a priority in either household, although I still consider myself to have had a very typical suburban childhood. My two older brothers were best friends, which, combined with all other family dynamics, caused me to be a very independent person.
Because I had always felt that there was so much more for life to offer me outside of small-town suburbia, I chose to attend college at Drexel University in Philadelphia. I had wanted to study nutrition or psychology, but the nutrition education that Drexel provided (which was based upon the USDA’s subsidized nutrition) did not resonate with me, so I majored in psychology, learning about human nature. That’s when I really began to grow into myself.
Along the course of my psychology education, I was introduced to a relatively new field of study (this was the late 1990’s), called psychoneuroimmunology. This field explores how immune cells are regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones. Psychoneuroimmunology explains holistic health from a scientific perspective, far beyond nutrition. Learning about this field solidified my desire to work as a holistic health practitioner. After Drexel, I attended grad school for holistic nutrition and have since then been furthering my nutrition education in the ever-evolving field.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same breath.” While everyone gets down on things from time to time, I have been blessed to not have experienced long-term depression, and it may be due to holding this quote very close. Whatever may be challenging or depressing in my life, I know that there are millions of people that would jump at the chance to trade “problems” with me. Although I have seen people struggle to come up with even one thing they are thankful for, most people stick with the big ones, like health, family, and home. I could go on and on about how grateful I am to be able to speak, see, hold a job, have functioning legs, ride a bike, have a bike to ride, sleep on a bed (and one with sheets!), read, have the social ability to have friends, hear the cicadas on a hot summer day, go to a grocery store whenever I want to, have water at the turn of a knob (and access to filters), and be able to make the hundreds of small choices I unconsciously and consciously make each and every day.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
Absolutely! In the Spring of 2020, shortly after COVID had shut everything down, it started with what felt like I had slightly overworked or tweaked a muscle on my ride side, below my armpit. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to it. I would notice it doing small things like pushing down the hand soap pump or pulling my freezer door open. I was still able to do advanced yoga classes and ride my bike with no issues. As weeks went on, the discomfort became more evident. I remember doing hard bike rides on my bike trainer for about 20 minutes, working up a great sweat and then showering, and then, only after that period of about 15 minutes post-ride, I would be lying on my bed in pain for just a few minutes, until it passed. As time went on, the pain started to follow a line, from below my armpit to the center of my chest. I finally went to my family doctor. I described my experiences that brought me to him. I had told him there was about 3 days in April (it was now June) that I had the slightest crinkle in my lung at the top of my exhales, but that my breathing was now fine and clear ever since. He ordered some blood work and a chest x-ray. I told him my lungs felt fine, but he just wanted to double check. He also ordered routine bloodwork. Because he was a very open minded and kind doctor, he ordered every other blood marker I requested, which were many, since we functional nutrition practitioners really like our lab work!
As a nutritionist, I’m proud to say that all my bloodwork came back normal! But the chest x-ray did not. A CAT scan was ordered immediately. A few days later I had CAT scan results that indicated a malignant tumor the size of a grapefruit that was eating away at my 4th rib. A biopsy was scheduled, along with a barrage of other tests and scans. I was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and scheduled to meet with an oncologist to discuss chemotherapy. I had always thought that I would never do chemo if I got cancer, but because the tumor was growing so quickly and my discomfort was constant (not the pain), I could hardly wait to start. By the week before I started chemo, I had to walk with a folded-up pillow under my arm for comfort and use multiple ice packs throughout the day.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part was the tumor was growing so quickly (my oncologist said it likely hadn’t been very long at all since its inception), I began to wonder “how much time” I would have and what life would be like without me for my husband and two young daughters (4 and 8 at that time). Because it was a rarer form of NHL, they weren’t sure how the tumor would respond to chemo.
How did you react in the short term?
I was undergoing so many tests that I was just moving from one appointment to the next, waiting for the next piece of information. I sought a second opinion with Johns-Hopkins, where they concurred with the treatment that my local hospital proposed. I assembled my team. I was lucky to be referred to talk with an oncologist at University of Pennsylvania (which my local hospital was affiliated with) that specialized in Diffuse Large B Cell NHL, and that was open to me working with an integrative MD that was a friend and colleague.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
A TON! I did so many adjunct therapies. I did craniosacral therapy, positive affirmations, guided meditations, Qi Gong, and infrared sauna (always followed by a freezing cold shower). I learned that the chemo drugs stay in the body for about a week, so I did not use the sauna the first week following each chemo treatment, only the second and third weeks, as my six chemo treatments were each 3 weeks apart.
I did a few acupuncture treatments, one of which was mind blowing because my child-self appeared in my mind and I got to talk to her and hug her and acknowledge her feelings. Because I had a psychology degree, I was able to, years ago, mentally understand why certain people acted the way they did and treated me the way they did. I was able to mentally compartmentalize and make sense of it. But I never acknowledged how it affected me and my child-self. I felt a wondrous sense of release and closure after that session.
My journey also included reading Love, Medicine, and Miracles by Dr. Bernie Siegel, Cancer and the New Biology of Water by Dr. Thomas Cowan, Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, and I listened to a couple of Dr. Joe Dispenza’s books, which reawakened my spiritual light (spirituality and religion can be two completely separate things in my opinion) that had gone dim over the past decade.
Physically, I still felt pretty good overall. The first couple days after each of the 6 chemo treatments, I would feel like I had a mild hangover, but I never vomited or had to take nausea medication. Actually, I was still doing yoga and rollerskating my girls to school most days. I even learned to drop in on a half pipe (skate ramp) during that time!
Since my oncologist was open to communication with my integrative doctor, I was able to take certain supplements that had clinical research behind them for being effective on cancer. Just like with the sauna, I would only take them after the first week post-chemo treatment.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
My integrative doctor, Dr. Lari Young. I felt very confident and so incredibly blessed to have her walking that journey beside me, guiding me, being a voice of reason. I met her when she lectured at my colleague’s Functional Genomics Conference and immediately loved her energy. I have the utmost respect for her. She went through grad school at Dartmouth as a single mom with young children! She was one of the first people I called when I received my diagnosis. She gave me grounded perspective and listed my options. She took time out of her busy schedule to make time to talk to me, sometimes for over an hour. Doctors like her are rare gems.
I’m also grateful for my oncologist who was more than willing to communicate with her and be open-minded about my “alternative” treatments and options.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
This is a great question because I actually talked about this in one of the YouTube videos I made to keep family and friends apprised of my journey! Very early on, when I was lying in bed, mentally asking the cancerous tumor why it was there, it was as if I was hollering to it from across a large room. Then one night, further along in my journey and on a little bit of medical marijuana, I placed my hand on my side ribs, over the tumor area, and asked it again, as if I was sitting closely with it, able to speak softly and have a conversation with it. This made me ponder whether marijuana’s successes with cancer are due to the phytocannabinoid (plant) compounds that it contains, or the way it changes our headspace and outlook. I surmised that it was much of both!
Either way, my takeaway was that my cancer was a way to get me to address and reawaken the energetic part of my body. Not like an energy level, but like, what sort of energetic imprint would I make if I was able to stamp it onto a canvas. As a functional nutritionist with a psychology degree, I had the body and mind covered, but as I said previously, had a spirit (energetic self) that dimmed down to almost nothing over the past decade or so.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
When you have young children, it is not uncommon to feel inundated by daily responsibilities. Your life seems no longer your own, your time is no longer your own, as you put yourself on hold to meet the needs of your family. I loosely kept in touch with a couple close friends, and I had a small pool of friends and acquaintances to schedule regular play dates with, but no longer felt a connection to my wider community. I felt limited amounts of love because I was not putting love out into the world or into myself. I was just tired to the core.
When I got cancer, a dear friend set up a meal train for the week following each of my six chemo treatments. She was an adamant voice for my new dietary restrictions so I didn’t have to be (no meat, no sugar, low carb, and all organic, as NHL has been associated with pesticide and herbicide exposure). Friends I hadn’t talked to in years rose to the occasion and brought meals prepared with love, or they sent gift cards for meals. People dropped off care packages and sent messages of love and encouragement. These acts of love and support made me know I was still loved, even despite not emitting love and fun vitality the way I used to years ago. I felt loved to the core and I know this supported my healing.
I realized that people didn’t judge me for getting wrapped up in my own life, just as I didn’t judge them when they did. The love and adoration and support are still there even in prolonged physical absence. I have wondered if my cancer was a way to let me know I am still loved and loveable. Even if it wasn’t, that was a nice side effect of it.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I often doubt that I would have done so very well throughout my cancer journey if I didn’t have insurance. The stress of cancer bills would have limited my ability to explore my stressors, do adjunct therapies, get additional testing, and buy therapeutic supplements. Each of my six chemo treatments would have been 60,000 dollars a pop!
My heart goes out to people that have to endure not only the physical and emotional burden that cancer causes, but an even heavier financial burden that compounds the physical and emotional burden that not having insurance brings. My “charities” of choice are now contributing to crowdfunding that involves helping people pay for their cancer expenses so they and their families can focus on ensuring they feel the comfort and positivity that is needed to conquer cancer.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
Buying something with a “pink ribbon” may be perpetuating the problem. The companies that don the pink ribbon are often making money off the very things that can cause cancer — like pink m&m’s and pink candy bar wrappers. Bitch, please! Sugar feeds cancer.
And the pink fast food chicken buckets? Even The American Institute for Cancer Research states that to prevent cancer, one should focus on eating mostly plant-based foods and staying away from sugary foods and fast food.
They aren’t looking to spread awareness about breast cancer as much as they are looking to profit from it. We don’t need to spread awareness about breast cancer when almost everyone knows at least one person that has had breast cancer. How about we raise awareness about cancer prevention??
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- Get a second opinion. Or even a third one. — Although I was already going to an academic hospital, I still wanted to get a second opinion from another academic hospital in the area, so I contacted Johns Hopkins. With all my test results sent to them, they confirmed that they would do the same treatment protocol that Penn suggested for me, so I felt confident in my decision. I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t ever be left wondering, “What if?”
- Assemble a team — I was lucky to have options. My local hospital had me consult with an oncologist at University of Pennsylvania that specialized in my particular type of lymphoma. After speaking with him, I asked him if he could be my oncologist and then jumped ship from my local hospital. With my oncologist, integrative doctor, and craniosacral therapist (I explain why below) as my main practitioners, I was able to feel like I had all my bases covered for the best possible outcome.
- Explore the Woo-Woo — we are holistic beings. Just because some of us aren’t aware of the energy we are emitting and how past negative experiences can shape our current state of health, it does not mean it isn’t possible. If we explore, we may be able to identify a reason why our bodies allowed cancer to proliferate. Bernie Siegel, a surgical oncologist, wrote about this in his book Love, Medicine, and Miracles. My family doctor recommended this book to me, and I highly recommend it for anyone that has had a cancer diagnosis.
- Get proactive about your health and self-care — I write in my book that I define self-care as creating wellness for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. True self-care isn’t wine and chocolates. It is putting in the work to ensure you create a life that doesn’t require “damage control” by dieting, or “escape” with alcohol or addictions. Not doing so can feed cancer or let it thrive in your body. If you have cancer, I highly recommend starting by avoiding sugar and letting go of things that won’t matter a month from now. I realized that I was focusing so much on how I wanted things to be for my family (like avoiding toxins and limiting screen time every day) that it was overriding my connection with them. Keeping this in mind is like strengthening a weak muscle; it doesn’t just happen overnight. It needs to be worked.
- Consider dental health and history — I’ve mentioned my craniosacral therapist a few times in this interview. I don’t have others to compare her to, but she has been such a (literally) amazing force in my cancer journey, and afterwards, helping to bring my body back to balance after what feels like the aftermath of a battle. My tumor and the rib it moved into were on my upper right torso, as was my port. After I beat cancer, she helped to clear out the trauma that area of my body experienced, both the emotional PTSD of that area, as well as the physical trauma to the muscle and tissue that the port and tumor created.
But that’s not even the amazing part about her! Since my cancer occurred during COVID, I had a mask on during my appointments. At the end of one session, she asked me if I had ever had any root canals. I said that I hadn’t. She then asked if I had had any major dental work and I told her that I went to Mexico to get a mercury filling removed about 12 or 13 years ago. She asked, “On the top left?” and I was completely stunned. “How did you know?!” I asked her. She said that my immune system was reacting to it and that I should get it checked out. I told her that I had had dentists take x-rays in the past, and nothing noteworthy ever came back. She said that I needed a 3D cone beam scan to be able to pick up on any infections beyond the roots of the teeth. Long story short, my cone beam showed an infection above my (dead) tooth that had been there so long that it ate through the bone to my sinus cavity. You better believe I promptly made an appointment to get that pulled! Although I don’t know for sure that infection caused or contributed to my cancer, studies have shown that oral health may affect the incidence of various types of cancer. I certainly didn’t want to keep burdening my immune system for fear of the cancer returning.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
To be able to inspire change in the corporations and companies that are creating cancer causing materials and toxic waste. To get them to truly feel that if their products are making people sick or causing death, they should re-evaluate their purpose. I’m thrilled that organic and “eco-friendly” products are becoming more popular (although, so is “greenwashing”), and that our consumer purchasing power has the ability to cause a company to change, but I would love to be able to inspire these companies to take more initiative instead of following purchasing trends. With their financial power and media influence, they could create change on a much faster and far larger scale.
Additionally, if we continue to “shit in our nest,” our earth will not be habitable, and their profits are going to sharply drop as the population the drops (or cancer bills increase) anyway.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Woody Harrelson. He is using his status to inspire people to create a better earth. If the earth is laden with toxins, all living beings will receive those toxins. Many of these toxins are known endocrine disrupting chemicals (intersex/hermaphrodite frogs are not uncommon these days) and cancer-causing agents that are in our food, water, and air. Woody’s been doing eco-activism since before it was “cool.” I liked him on cheers as an actor and hunky celebrity, but once I learned about his radical activism with Earth First!, I was smitten. Then to find out that he was an avid yogi and cyclist like myself, how could he not be at the top of my list of people I’d like to have a meal with?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My book, Root Causes of Impaired Fertility: Your 12 Week Functional Fertility Plan is in editing/reviewing stage currently and will be available for purchase digitally and hard copy, as well as audio versions.
My website is JaclynDowns.com and my Facebook page is Functional Genomic Fertility.
Linette Kielinski photography credit!!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!