CANCER WARRIOR OF THE MONTH
“Tell them to look up; tell them to remember the stars- the stars are always there, but we miss them in the dirt & clouds; we miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope- we always have hope.”~ Renee Yohe
In the life of a cancer patient, we don’t wait for November to count our blessings, give thanks, and remember to “hope”. The WunderGlo Foundation is honored to share the selfless, gifted, and generous life a true “shining star”, our November-Cancer Warrior of the Month: Jana Downing.
Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, Jana was happily living “the great American dream”. She spent many years on the East Coast and Midwest before settling into Seattle, Washington (now for 11-years), with her husband- Daryl and their two children (Jasmine and Jeremy, ages 13 and 8). With a vibrant career as a Creative Director, Graphic Designer, Photographer, and Fine Artist, receiving a stage-4 colon cancer diagnosis less than 3-weeks after her 40th birthday (on October 30, 2014), was not – by design – part of her life’s landscape.
Due to her age, Jana’s symptoms of rectal bleeding and thin stools were dismissed as hemorrhoids for close to one year. After no resolve, a colonoscopy discovered a near obstructing tumor in her sigmoid and a CT scan revealed 3-liver tumors and several indeterminate lung nodules. She began treatment of Folfox+Avastin immediately, CT scans showed good response, and after 8-cycles, Jana underwent successful colon and liver resection surgery on March 25, 2015. After 3-weeks, she completed 12-full cycles of chemotherapy, and received post-treatment scans, one month later, that revealed “no evidence of disease”. Jana was to be off treatment with scans scheduled in 3-months.
A self-proclaimed “research nut”, Jana read a lot about cancer since her diagnosis, and after reviewing her own radiology report, she became alarmed that pre-existing lung nodules had grown slightly while off chemo for her surgery and asked for a re-evaluation and referral to a thoracic surgeon. That meeting resulted in 3-more months of waiting and worrying. During this time, Jana did everything within her power to keep cancer under control, including eating better, taking multiple supplements, and daily hiking. She also continued reading and educating herself on everything related to colon cancer.
Jana’s suspicions were confirmed when scans noted that the two right-lung nodules had nearly doubled in size. Surgery took place right before Thanksgiving-2015, which revealed another tiny tumor and the news that all of them were cancerous. Fortunately, biopsy determined that the lymph nodes around the lungs were not.
Six weeks later, new scans listed another 5 nodules– in both lungs– and noted their increased size from the October-scan. – What this meant is that these 5 nodules had been there in October, but were missed by the radiologist. A new larger nodular opacity was also listed at the resection site, raising concern for recurrence.
Jana felt devastated by the news evaluated by her oncologist, thoracic surgeon, and tumor board, who all said that her disease was recurrent, systemic, and she would thereby need to be placed on chemo for life – with surgery no longer offered as an option.
Not satisfied with this prognosis or treatment plan, Jana sought out another opinion with a doctor who fit her personality and tendency to “ask questions.” After review, the doctor was not convinced that Jana’s disease was systemic due to the pre-existing presence of the nodules, a CEA in normal range (1.7-2.2), and no other recurrence. Jana was scheduled for another scan in 8-weeks and consultation with a thoracic surgeon to address lung involvement. Again, during the interim, Jana focused on a healthy diet, daily exercise, and supplements.
Jana’s March 2016 scan showed slight increase in some existing nodules with no new disease and on April 25th, she underwent a left-lung resection at The University of Washington. Results showed more nodules in both lungs and she began a second line of Xeliri in attempts to shrink disease and to hopefully qualify for more local treatments. Jana is now actively exploring surgical options in the U.K. and Germany where laser-assisted thoracotomy is used to remove multiple lung metastases.
Through it all, Jana Downing started and leads a Facebook on-line support group called Stage IV Colon Cancer. Jana said: “I became passionate about helping other colon cancer patients anywhere in the world. I try to use my recently acquired knowledge of the disease to help others ask the right questions and navigate their own treatment options with more ease. I clearly remember how scared and isolated I felt when I was initially diagnosed; our group gives immediate access to first-hand experiences and many success stories of others who also face Stage 4 colon cancer.”
With a professional career dominated by creativity and natural talents, Jana Downing’s cancer diagnosis uncovered skills in the areas of CT-scan study, advocacy work, and as a patient support specialist. This month of November marks the 1-year anniversary of Jana’s on-line support group, which now has over 700-members.
“After my diagnosis, I rekindled my passion for fine art and started actively painting again. I have recently started showing my art and participate in the Kirkland Art Walk. It is my goal to have an art exhibition benefiting local colon cancer patients.”
In honor of living with colon cancer and to help raise awareness, Jana created a powerful piece entitled “Big Blue Hope”. The “butterfly” was selected for the Expressions of Hope 2017 calendar of the Conquer Cancer Foundation.
Be inspired by Jana Downing. Together with The Gloria Borges WunderGlo Foundation, we continue to educate, bring hope, and lend support to patients and their families, while always striving to fund “the cure” that ends this disease.
Cancer, Your Time Is Up!