In the Spring of 2020, 45 year-old Jaclyn Downs was feeling generally healthy, albeit overworked.
It was a particularly busy period in her job as a nutritionist, and she was exercising regularly – and intensely.
So, when she began to feel a twinge under her armpit after a rigorous bike ride, she thought little of it.
‘It wasn’t hurting while I was exercising vigorously,’ the mother of-two from Pennsylvania told DailyMail.com
‘It would set in for about five to 10 minutes and then subside. I thought it was a pulled muscle.
Mother of-two Jaclyn Downs assumed she’d pulled a muscle during a vigorous bike ride. In fact, a grapefruit-sized tumor was growing near her ribcage
‘I felt a bit more tired than usual before getting diagnosed, but I’m a working mum of two.
‘I did also wonder if it was because of my age and hormonal changes disrupting my sleep, as I was getting a bit warm from time to time.’
But within a few months, the pain had spread to the center of her chest. There was another bizarre symptom too: a tiny ‘crinkle’ sound she heard when she exhaled.
Although she didn’t think there was a reason to worry as the sound quickly vanished.
She visited her family doctor just in case. The appointment marked the beginning of a living nightmare, which would see her face the prospect of leaving her young children – aged four and eight at the time – without a mother.
Although her blood tests were normal, the physician ordered a chest x-ray just in case.
Jaclyn Downs thought nothing of the twinge in her chest after exercise, but scans revealed a large tumor had been growing beneath her ribs
Jaclyn Downs was surprised by the size of the tumor that had grown in her chest, given that her symptoms were minimal
The resulting images were far from what was expected: a grapefruit-sized cancerous tumor was growing inside her chest cavity, and had started to eat away at her rib.
Jaclyn was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma – a type of immune system cancer – in mid-July.
More than 18,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year making it the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
It happens when a type of white blood cell grows too rapidly and abnormally, forming sizeable lumps and leaving patients acutely vulnerable to infections.
‘It was a surprisingly large tumor for the minimal amount of symptoms that I had – I guess it was because it was so fast growing,’ said Jaclyn.
Within two weeks she underwent her first round of potent chemotherapy.
The nutritionist credits her healthy lifestyle – regular exercise and nourishing diet – for her successful recovery
She said: ‘The tumour was very fast growing. By the time I started chemo in the first week of August, the tumor was so big I had to walk around with a pillow under my arm – I could visually see it.
‘It was a scary time because I have two young children, and I didn’t know if they were going to have a mum.’
Specialists recommended five further rounds of chemo to give Jaclyn the best chance of a long-term recovery, but the drugs sent her into menopause at the age of just 42.
‘Luckily, I had a really good medical team, and they gave me amazing support while I had chemo every three weeks.
Six rounds of chemotherapy were needed to make sure Jaclyn’s cancer cells were destroyed
‘Even though the tumor had appeared so quickly, I got a scan the morning before my fourth chemo treatment, and it was completely gone.
‘I think the first round basically blasted it away – I didn’t need to walk around with a pillow after that.
‘While I did consider stopping treatment after my fourth round of chemotherapy, I was advised to get the fifth and sixth treatments to make sure it was gone, and they really took their toll on me.
‘I remember feeling really lousy at Thanksgiving. I had to sit with my feet propped up on the Ottoman, really sad that I wasn’t social enough to join everyone else.’
Jaclyn believes she responded well to treatment because she was ‘ trying to live as well as possible prior to getting cancer’.
‘I still mostly felt well and energetic enough to stay active during my treatment,’ she said. ‘I was doing yoga and rollerskating. I even learned how to drop in at the skatepark when I had cancer.’
Today, Jaclyn is in remission – and the chances of her disease returning are slim.
Reflecting on what she learned from the experience, Jaclyn, who has been cancer-free since December 2020, said: ‘While cancer can happen to anyone, I feel that it is your baseline of health that determines how well or easily you roll through it and bounce back afterwards.
‘Before, I wasn’t a person who goes to the doctor very readily, and I waited until there was a major reason for me to go – I went through the checklist of all the things that I thought to try and it still wasn’t improving.
‘Now I’d go a lot faster for peace of mind.’