CLEVELAND (WJW) – Jenny Davis was just 41 when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2018.
A rare form, TNBC is usually more aggressive, harder to treat, and more likely to recur than other forms of breast cancer.
As a nurse, Davis knew her prognosis wasn’t good. However, as a mom of three, she knew she had to fight. Her treatment started with seven rounds of chemotherapy. That came with horrible side effects to the point her doctor decided it was too much.
“He said, ‘you know, I think we really need to consider stopping this’, and I had a breakdown,” she said. “I was terrified.”
Davis went on to have a double mastectomy and 26 rounds of radiation, but she lived in constant fear.
“Triple-negative comes back with a vengeance,” she said. “Every day I thought it had come back. You know, if I had a headache, or I slept wrong, I was adamant it had come back or was going to come back. That space is not a good place.”
That’s when Davis asked her doctors at the Cleveland Clinic if there were any trials she might qualify for. Her doctor mentioned a new breast cancer vaccine that after 20 years was finally ready for its human trial.
In order to qualify, you couldn’t be more than three years out from your first chemo treatment, and you had to be cancer-free to receive the shot. The stars aligned, and Davis was selected. On October 19, 2021, she became the first person in the world to take the first of three shots.
“I wasn’t scared because I asked them how many times did they see any anaphylactic reaction,” she said. “How many times did they see really bad side effects, and the answer was zero! So I said, ‘ok, how many times in two decades have they seen a recurrence in the lab?’ Again, zero,” Davis smiled. “That never happens.”
Since then, 19 others have received the same three-dose vaccine. So far, it’s working for Davis.
“[It] taught my body to identify those cancer cells and destroy them before they become a tumor. I mean, my body doesn’t even know it’s doing it,” she said.
Doctors agree it’s great news, but there’s more work to be done.
“What we have done is study this in a very small group of women and we’re kind of looking at the data right now to see how it’s working on the immune system,” said Dr. Megan Kruse, breast oncology specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s too early to say how it’s working on actual cancer risk. We’re just looking to see how the vaccine is changing the response to the immune system in the body.”
The vaccine still needs to go through several phases before it’s available to the masses, but Davis says no matter what happens, she’s proud to be part of something ground-breaking.
“The grander picture is that my girls will get to take it. My grandchildren will get to take it. Every woman I know and everyone in the world one day might take it,” she said
Not just that, but it’s also given her hope for her own future.
“[In the past] I was planning for the worst instead of living for today. I don’t do that now,” she said.