Taming Cancer: Maggie Jones: Wellness Warrior

September 28, 2020

Maggie Jones

When Maggie Jones was diagnosed with terminal cancer with a prognosis of less than a year, she dedicated herself to a new, healing lifestyle. Instead of dying, she was cancer free at the end of that year. She is now a certified nutritionist and cancer coach advocating the same nutrition, metabolic and lifestyle therapies that saved her life at www.cancerV.me.  Salonpas sat down with Maggie to learn how she tamed cancer and transformed her lifestyle:

The month you turned 40, you were diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Had you ever been sick before?  What was your reaction to this alarming diagnosis?

As a relatively young and healthy nonsmoker, a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer came as a complete shock. It was a vision disturbance in my right eye that eventually got me to the hospital. I’d been experiencing flashes and blind spots that had been increasing for the past several weeks. The eye doctor saw a tumor on my retina and ordered the emergency MRI that found two more tumors in my brain. No one expects their vision problem to be terminal. 

In retrospect, there had been signs and symptoms that I’d been too busy to pay attention to. One year prior, I had a terrible, persistent cough with a very distinctive rattle. I requested a chest x-ray at urgent care but was given pills instead. After a month, the cough faded and I forgot about it until I experienced the same rattle a couple of weeks before my diagnosis. This time, I’d just returned from a business trip to China and assumed I had the “Beijing Cough.”  I was on my second round of antibiotics when we realized it was the cancer.  I’d also started feeling intense, choking pressure around my neck in the months before my 40th birthday.  At the time, I was in the middle of moving from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and couldn’t be bothered to see a doctor. I’d been putting on weight during this stressful period and assumed that was the cause of the pressure. In actuality, it was the tumors in lymph nodes in my neck pressing against my trachea. Similarly, just a few weeks before my fateful eye doctor visit, I’d started having pain in my back. I thought it was some kind of muscle knot but it was just another one of the dozen tumors in my chest.

Maggie’s scans

After the emergency MRI, I was admitted to the hospital and met with an oncologist the next morning. That night, my husband and I slept on a fold out sofa in my hospital room. Or pretended to sleep. My primary thought was one of acceptance. Death is inevitable and it was just my time. Tragedy happens to everyone and I’m not special. I wanted to accept death gracefully. I wanted to be a good patient that my doctors would approve of. I wanted to handle my death with calm stoicism so my husband would think I was strong. 

It took me about 3 days to snap out of it. I decided instead to be a pain-in-the-ass patient who annoyed her doctors by doing her own research and to handle the news with a furious passion for living because I was strong.

The weekend after my diagnosis, my husband took me to a nearby beach resort. I was already frantically researching cancer and started reading about the lifestyle changes that have helped so many find healing. That weekend, I started my first water fast and resolved then that, moving forward, everything I put into my body would be actively healing. 

How were you able to craft a successful road to wellness, despite the prognosis you received?

I went downhill rapidly. I had a biopsy two weeks after my initial diagnosis and by then tumors were bulging through the skin of my neck and I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. I was on oxygen and had to sleep sitting up because I would start choking on the cancerous fluid drowning my lungs whenever I lay down. I was dying. My prognosis of six to eight months seemed optimistic.

I’m incredibly fortunate that conventional treatment bought me time. I spent that time reading and researching. I learned about the metabolic theory of cancer and the power of nutrition. I realized the depth of my stress problem and started a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class. I joined a yoga studio with classes in yoga, meditation, breath-work, gong baths, singing bowls, and other healing practices. I started exercising regularly for the first time in my life. I joined a 10-day silent vipassana retreat and meditated for 15 hours a day. 

In many ways, the old me died as I became a completely new person. I had been skimming over life, always trying to get things over with so I could move on to the next: finish the dishes so I can watch tv, finish the work day so I can go home, finish the year so I can go on vacation, finish working so I can retire… I realized that these things I was rushing through are life. They are what I was fighting so hard to hold on to. I started to savor each dish to be washed and cherish each work conversation, grateful for every moment of life.

One year after my diagnosis, around the time I had been expected to die, I was cancer free.

Your website, cancerV.me is terrific. How were you able to develop such a compelling website so quickly?  What has been the response from your site from the public?

Thank you so much! I started the website right after my diagnosis in order to keep friends and family updated on my treatment. Over time, it developed into a repository for my research.  Since I’ve been cancer free, I’ve dedicated myself to sharing more about the evidence-based nutrition and metabolic strategies that saved my life.  I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the beautiful community that has grown around the site to support each other in healing.

Can you tell the Salonpas audience your top five tips for your healing lifestyle?

Maggie: Before and After

1. Set an intention. Most importantly, and perhaps most difficult, is to give yourself permission to prioritize healing. I worked through treatment because I didn’t have the courage to cut back on hours. Finally admitting to my boss, my family, my husband and myself that I needed a lifestyle change in order to survive was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but was exactly what I needed to finally have the life I wanted.

2. Eat for healing. Everything you put in your body should be something that makes you stronger and healthier. I thought I had a pretty healthy diet — I even had a healthy eating blog — but I drank way too much and was only eating healthy relative to the Standard American Diet. I went from a bottle of wine every night to around a glass of wine a month. I started a therapeutic, ketogenic whole foods, plant based diet and immediately dropped 50 pounds of fat. I made every meal medicine.

3. Detox your environment. Food isn’t the only thing you put in your body and the same standards should apply to the air you breath, the water you drink, the products you rub on your skin, and the household products you’re exposed to.  As part of my healing, I bought an air purifier and water filter. I replaced all my hygiene and household products with versions I made myself from ingredients that I would be happy to eat.

4. Reduce your stress.  Get enough sleep. Turn off phone notifications for everything except the most important messages.  Adopt a mindfulness practice.  Breathe deeply. 

5. Exercise. If you have time to check facebook or instagram, you have time to exercise. Exercise isn’t a punishment, it’s a celebration of what your body can do.Take a walk after meals. Stretch in the morning. Run somewhere instead of walking. Bike instead of driving. Play. 

Please describe a typical day in your life; from when you wake up to when you retire?

In the past, my focus was on working as hard as I could in order to save money so I could stop working someday. Being told I had less than a year to live made me realize that I can’t put off the life I want for “someday.” I’ve found a less stressful life that allows me to focus on my health and happiness. My husband and I are digital nomads. We spent our pandemic lockdown in London and are currently based in a charming village in Austria.

I no longer set an alarm clock and wake up only after I’ve had enough sleep, usually just after 7am. I start the day with several deep breaths and even deeper gratitude for the ability to breathe and experience another day. I roll out of bed onto my yoga mat and spend the next two hours or so on some combination of mindful yoga, meditation, and journaling. Relaxed and focused, I drink a couple glasses of water, prepare a cup of green tea, and settle in with my laptop. Gone are the days of my high-pressure, high-salary job as a media executive.  My work today involves writing for my blog cancerV.me and consulting with clients in my capacity as a certified nutritionist and cancer coach.

Intermittent fasting is an important part of my healing strategy so I stick to green tea and water until lunch around 2pm. Lunch is a gigantic salad full of plant medicine with a piece of fruit for dessert. Afterward, my husband and I take an hour-long walk to a nearby waterfall and back or bike into town for groceries.

The afternoon is spent writing, researching for my next article, or answering client questions. Sometime before 7pm I head to the kitchen to prepare dinner, probably some kind of vegetable curry with fruit and nuts for dessert. While I’m cooking, we’ll snack on raw vegetables. We can easily put away 4-5 carrots and a cucumber each before dinner is served. After eating, we take a short, 20-minute walk around the block, bringing any leftover kitchen scraps to feed to our neighbor’s goats. 

The evening may find us back in front of our computers or curled up with books. Either way, our eyes start getting heavy not long after 9 pm. I’ll shower, close up the house, and sneak in a sound meditation before falling asleep. I make sure to charge my phone in another room so there’s no temptation to grab it until after the next morning’s mindfulness practice.