The ‘Miracle Man’ Knocks Out Cancer in the Fight of His Life
by Kaylene Chadwell
If there’s one thing professional boxer Daniel Jacobs knows how to do, it’s fight. As a young teenager living in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn, New York’s most dangerous neighborhoods, he took up boxing to defend himself against a school bully. The amateur boxer quickly made a name for himself in the ring.
Recording 137 wins to just 7 losses and racking up a slew of amateur titles, Daniel was dubbed “The Golden Child.” He even made a bid to be part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing team. But, after losing a match in the Olympic trial finals and falling just short of making the team, Daniel decided to turn pro in 2007. He kicked off his professional career by winning an astounding 20 fights in a row.
The fight of his life
In 2011, at age 24, Daniel was ascending the ranks of the middleweight division when he learned he was to face his toughest opponent yet. While in Iraq on a USO tour with several other boxers, Daniel started to feel weak in his legs. Upon returning home to New York, his condition worsened, and he began having to rely on a cane to walk. At first his doctor thought it was a pinched nerve or sciatica, but within two weeks, Daniel went from walking with a cane to being barely able to walk at all.
An MRI revealed a tumor wrapped around his spine. Daniel was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. “It completely turned my world upside down,” Daniel confesses in an interview with Coping. “It was heartbreaking as a professional boxer being at the peak of my career. Everything that I had worked so hard for, I finally had the opportunity to explore … And then it all came crashing down.”
“It was heartbreaking as a professional boxer being at the peak of my career. Everything that I had worked so hard for, I finally had the opportunity to explore … And then it all came crashing down.”
All in all, Daniel endured 25 rounds of radiation, in addition to an hours-long surgery to remove the tumor and fuse his spine back together, not knowing if he’d be able to walk again. “I’ve never experienced any pain like that before,” Daniel admits. “It felt like I had a log in my back for months […]. For a long period of time, I was depressed.”
Refusing to throw in the towel
After his surgery, doctors told Daniel that he’d never be able to box again, that he’d need to look for another career. But boxing was his love, and Daniel has never been the kind of person to throw in the towel. So, first, he had to learn how to walk again. And then he began physical therapy, determined to make his way back to the boxing ring.
Rehabilitation wasn’t without its struggles, however. “I remember being so weak during physical therapy that I couldn’t even lift a dumbbell,” Daniel recalls. “A five-pound dumbbell! Could you imagine being a world-class athlete, one of the strongest, baddest guys in your sport, and not being able to lift a dumbbell? That was really hard to swallow.”
But he never let those struggles get him down. “I just looked at it as another opponent inside the ring that was trying to defeat me,” Daniel asserts. “Boxing teaches you that it’s mind over matter at all costs. Boxing allowed me to have the mental strength and capacity to overcome it.”
Nearly two years after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, Daniel did the impossible – he returned to the boxing ring. And he didn’t just return; he staged a monumental comeback, stringing together 10 straight wins and clinching multiple middleweight world titles in the pursuing years. Now dubbed the “Miracle Man,” Daniel became the first cancer survivor ever to win a world boxing title.
He admits that returning to the boxing ring after everything he had been through was a bit scary. But he knew all he needed was to have faith in himself. “If you don’t go through the tough challenges, you’re never going to know what you’re made of,” Daniel says, now cancer-free. “I know that there’s nothing in life that I can’t take on and that I can’t accomplish. It was a matter of life and death for me, and I’ve beaten one of the worst things in this world – cancer. So, for me, the mental strength I’ve gotten from this is priceless.”
At the time of this interview, Daniel boasts a 32-2 professional boxing record, with 29 knockouts. And he’s gearing up for his next fight, against the un-defeated Luis Arias, and maybe even another run at a world title.
A championship mindset
After cancer, Daniel asserts that he’s a completely different person. “Because I was young, and life was coming at me fast, it was hard for me to get a grip on what life is really about,” he explains. “Now, the only things that are important is my family, feeling love, and just being a part of the simplest things.
“I’m loving every day now,” he says. “I live for the day. I live for the moments. I don’t live for the near future. Yeah, we may plan for the future, but there’s a difference in living in the day and enjoying what you have in front of you at the moment as opposed to living for the future.”
Knocking out childhood cancer
In 2013, Daniel founded the Get In The Ring Foundation to help children with the same adversities he experienced as a child and most recently as an adult, cancer. According to the Foundation’s website, its goal is “to acknowledge the needs of children around us in the areas of cancer and obesity; to ensure we become the solution for their problem. As part of this vision, the Get In The Ring Foundation [has] partnered with medical leaders and local businesses to help educate people in these specific areas and erase the stigma that’s often attached to cancer and obesity.”
“From the very first day that I entered the hospital to today, the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is to give back to others and to help others in need,” Daniel says. “I was that guy who needed someone else to give me strength and to give me the ability to believe in myself. So, if I can be that outlet for others, especially children, then I feel that I really need to be that […]. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of joy that I experience from just helping others.”
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2017.