Find a team of doctors that you trust with your life. My team at Cleveland Clinic is amazing. I trusted them and relied on them for guidance before, during and after treatment. They prepared me for every step of my journey. They were compassionate and together designed a treatment plan that best fit me.
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 Jennifer Davis.
Jennifer is a nurse, wife, mother of 3 and Triple Negative Breast Cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2018 and had chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, and was the first recipient in the world to receive the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Vaccine in 2021 through the Cleveland Clinic and Anixa Bio Sicences.
The vaccine is still in the early phase of the clinical trial, but the good news is, Cleveland Clinic and Anixa Biosciences released preliminary data in April of 2023 that showed all participants in the trial built an immune response.
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?
Thank you so much for your interest in my Breast Cancer story.
My name is Jennifer Davis. I am from the small town of Lisbon, OH. I was born and raised there, and that is where I call home. I am a nurse, wife, mother of 3, and Triple Negative Breast Cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in 2018 and had chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, and was the first recipient in the world to receive the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Vaccine in 2021 through the Cleveland Clinic. The vaccine is still in the early phase of the clinical trial, but the good news is, Cleveland Clinic and Anixa Biosciences released preliminary data in April of 2023 that showed all participants in the trial built an immune response.
A little backstory on the Vaccine Trial:
This is a novel study for a vaccine aimed at eventually preventing triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive and lethal form of the disease.
This phase I trial is designed to determine the maximum tolerated dose of the vaccine in patients with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer and to characterize and optimize the body’s immune response.
There is a great need for improved treatments for triple-negative breast cancer, which does not have biological characteristics that typically respond to hormonal or targeted therapies.
Despite representing only about 12–15% of all breast cancers, triple-negative breast cancer accounts for a disproportionately higher percentage of breast cancer deaths and has a higher rate of recurrence.
The study is based on pre-clinical research led by the late Vincent Tuohy, Ph.D., from Cleveland Clinic, that showed that activating the immune system against the α-lactalbumin protein was safe and effective in preventing breast tumors in mice.
The research also found that a single vaccination could prevent breast tumors from occurring in mouse models, while also inhibiting the growth of already existing breast tumors.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Time is Undefeated: time is undefeated–the only way to beat time is to take action and when you do so, time can’t take that away from you. So, take that trip with your family or put down the phone to do something memorable with your kids, because time can’t take away that experience and the life resume you build.” — Jesse Itzler
Following diagnosis, when I was searching for inspiration people, I started listening to and following Jesse Itzler on social media. He is an amazing speaker and is someone that lights a fire in my soul. One day I will get to meet him and thank him for that!
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?
It was February 2018 when I discovered a lump in my left breast. I was not overly concerned because I had no family history, and I was 41 years old. I had a mammogram that did detect something suspicious. Shortly after that I had an ultrasound and biopsy. The results were negative. I continued to feel the lump grow and made follow up appointments in June, July and August. Finally in September they decided to re-biopsy the area and it was then that I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It was at that time that I decided to go to Cleveland Clinic which was the best decision I ever made. I absolutely believe that decision saved my life. At my first appointment at the Clinic I had extensive testing, met my team of doctors, and my plan of treatment was put into place. One October 15, 2018, I had my first chemotherapy treatment. I received 4 rounds of Adriamycin followed by 7 rounds of Taxol. In March of 2019 I had a double mastectomy followed by 26 rounds of radiation. During my follow up appointments, I learned about a Breast Cancer Vaccine that was invented by Vincent Tuohy at the Cleveland Clinic and that it was close to being initiated to the human phase. My team of physicians discussed the vaccine with me and thought I would be a great candidate to receive it. In 2021, Cleveland Clinic and Anixa Biosciences partnered to begin the human phase of the trial. I went through the testing, and it was determined that I was an eligible candidate. When completing the paperwork for the trial I was informed that I was going to be the very first recipient in the world to get the vaccine. I honestly wasn’t worried or nervous because I wanted to try anything that might prevent my cancer from coming back. I did learn that Dr. Tuohy spent two decades studying this vaccine in his lab. Over those two decades the mice that were given the vaccine had no significant side effects. Most importantly, not one had a recurrence of cancer! I do not know much about how research works, but I do not that it is unheard of that there would be a 100% success rate. I received 3 doses of the vaccine 2 weeks apart with the first dose being administered on October 19, 2021. Though the vaccine is in the very early phase of the trial, Cleveland Clinic and Anixa Biosciences released preliminary data in April of 2023 that showed all participants in the trial built an immune response. Talk about hope!! I am so hopeful this trial continues to move forward and that one day there will no longer be Triple negative Breast Cancer.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part of cancer for me was the unknown. Would I end up dying from this?? I understood the treatment I received but the question was, will it work? Following chemo there was residual cancer that was shown through the MRI. I then had a double mastectomy, and my surgeon was able to prove clear margins were obtained, which means she was able to remove the cancer cells that are visible under a microscope. But my fear was, what if there were cells that she could not see, that is why they proceeded with 26 rounds of radiation. Again, I thought, what if it had already spread to other areas of my body, which Triple Negative is famous for. Following treatment and through today my fear is that my cancer will recur. For me the scariest part of cancer is not knowing.
How did you react in the short term?
I had no family history of breast cancer, and I was 41 years old, so to say I was devastated is an understatement. After a few days I had a complete mind shift to just do everything I could to treat the cancer and ensure it would not recur. I went through the standard of care and wanted to participate in any trial that I could.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
Laughter and music were the two biggest things I did to cope mentally. I watched every comedy special on Netflix and realized laughter was truly the best medicine. I watched Friends at every chemo appointment and since I was there for about 4 hours for each visit, I think I made it through the entire series. I still watch it. I have always loved music and it is a wonderful distraction when I am feeling emotional. Most importantly I had hope. Hope that I would one day beat cancer. Hope that it will not recur. Being hopeful allowed me to enjoy life when going through the hardest parts of a cancer diagnosis.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
There is not just one person I am grateful for. I am so blessed that I had my family, and it’s a big family to help me navigate through this experience. Each of them played a different role in my care and mental well-being. I never attended an appointment alone. They were by my side every step of the way.
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?
Good job! I attempted to take many things from you, including your life. I tried to ruin you mentally, spiritually, and physically. There were days that I thought I would win! You proved me wrong by being so strong and determined. That is why I chose you to participate the in the Breast Cancer Vaccine Trail through the Cleveland Clinic and Anixa. I chose you to be the 1st person in the world to receive the vaccine because I knew you would take that opportunity and run with it. I knew, if possible, you would want to help prevent other women from going through Breast Cancer. I made the right choice in picking you!
You put up a good fight,
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?
What I do know is that there are more good people in the world than you can imagine. The media often reports on the dark side of things and that often conveys that we live in a world where there is no compassion and kindness, and that is simply not true. I have experienced both of those things while going through my own journey and I continue to see it every day as I assist others.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I try to do at least one big event every year to give back to organizations or individuals impacted by breast cancer. We make chemo comfort bags for the Cleveland Clinic. I just held an event on June 30th and raised $10,000 for local organizations that assist women that are going through treatment for breast cancer.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
The biggest myth is that cancer is a death sentence. When I received that phone call, that is what I immediately thought. I am going to die. I had to make a conscious effort to shift my thoughts from that to, what do I need to do to live. Over the years treatment has progressed and I had to trust that it would work.
Family History: I had no family history and through genetic testing was negative for the BRCA gene. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.
Mammograms are the only indicators of early breast cancer. Mammograms are very important. Mammograms are what we must do to detect breast cancer and all women should get their annual screening. But it’s so important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. In early 2018 I had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. That biopsy came back negative. I knew something was not right, so I continued to go to the doctor and finally got a second opinion. It was at the time, nearly 8 months later that the biopsy was repeated and found it to be Triple Negative Breast Cancer. You know your body the best, fight for it!
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.
- Find a team of doctors that you trust with your life. My team at Cleveland Clinic is amazing. I trusted them and relied on them for guidance before, during and after treatment. They prepared me for every step of my journey. They were compassionate and together designed a treatment plan that best fit me.
- Stay off the internet. This is a hard one! The first thing we all want to do is google our signs, symptoms, and diagnosis. The first thing I did once diagnosed was looked up Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I was on that site for no more than 30m seconds. The first thing I saw was it was the most deadly and aggressive form of Breast Cancer, followed by statistics of recurrence. That was the last time I looked up anything related to my personal cancer journey.
- Find support. Whether it be family, a friend, or support group, reach out to someone. This is a very long and difficult process and while you can certainly go at it alone, I strongly recommend finding yourself an outlet for those tough days. My family, friends, and community were extremely supportive. They cared for me on my sickest days. They made me laugh. They cried with me. I could not have done this without them.
- Protect your mental health. It is okay and normal to go to those dark places in your mind when going through cancer, it’s just not okay to stay there. This is also something that will need your attention following all your treatment and for years to come.
- Hope! We need it! Hope that you will beat cancer. Hope that you will long a long happy life cancer free. I believe in hope. Hope gave me something to look forward to and provided a positive head space when I needed it most.
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?
Triple negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 10–15% of all breast cancers. TNBC differs from other types of invasive breast cancer in that it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options, and tends to have a worse prognosis. My mission is to continue talking about the vaccine and how one day it could prevent TNBC worldwide. As the trial continues to move forward funding is very important and crucial to its success. My hope is that someone with a large platform will see this and get behind our mission in wanting to use this vaccine to prevent breast cancer.
On a smaller scale I want to be an advocate for women going through breast cancer. I want women to find and utilize resources that will give them hope and encouragement as they navigate through this difficult journey.
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. 🙂
I have two people I would love to have breakfast or lunch with:
Hoda Kotb: She is a breast cancer survivor and has the platform we need to ensure that the vaccine trial continues to move forward. I watch her and Jenna daily and the compassion they display is something that is inspiring to me.
Jesse Itzler: I need to thank him and his wife Sara for the positivity and joy they have brought into my life through their social media platforms.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am in the process of writing a book, From Upside Down to Right Side Up, and hope to get that published in the coming months.
You can follow my journey on Instagram @jennibeatcancer
You can also email me at [email protected]
Anixa Biosciences and the Cleveland Clinic post updates on the vaccine trial as they occur.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!