Fizzy Spinach? How American Aristocrat Dawn Russell's Cancer Battle Inspired Her 'Green' New Business

"I wanted to give everyone the greens I used firsthand when I was ill," Russell tells PEOPLE

Photo: Chris Floyd

Lady Dawn Russell lives a life any Downton Abbey fanatic would dream of: an American who married English aristocrat Lord James Russell, she counts Woburn Abbey as a family gathering place and incredible “playground” for their sons, 5-year-old Alexander and 2-year-old Leo.

But the fairy tale world is only one chapter in Russell’s extraordinary journey. At 25, she was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphatic cancer – a turning point that changed her path.

“It was this flip in my life,” Russell, 41, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

Living in New York and working as a model at the time of her diagnosis, she endured four surgeries and a bone infection that left her with no sensation in the top of her left leg even today. The health crisis led her to explore alternative and integrative medicine.

“The nutshell version is: I tried everything,” she says. “Anytime someone would tell me, ‘Oh, there’s this seed in Brazil,’ I was there. ‘There’s this amazing specialist in France.’ I was there. You name it. Germany, Austria, Australia, Switzerland . . . ”

After noticing an improvement in how she felt after taking high doses of blue-green algae, “It was the first time anything had ever totally worked where I felt like I had one normal day,” she recalls. “That’s when I really started researching it.”

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That research led to the creation of 8G (@8greens), a supplement tablet that launched last year and is available at Nordstrom.

“8G is everything I’ve learned about greens and health through my own personal journey,” she says. “I wanted to give everyone the greens I used firsthand when I was ill.”

The effervescent tablet features 8 greens: spinach, wheatgrass, kale, blue green algae, spirulina, chlorella, barley grass and aloe vera. The formula took four years of testing and 263 prototypes to perfect.

“Jamie tried all 263,” she says of her husband. “I really needed that because I needed a guy. They won’t drink anything that doesn’t taste good!”

The Russell family forebears include a number of enterprising women, including the famed “Flying Duchess,” who made a record-breaking flight in 1930 in a Tiger Moth plane after learning to pilot at age 63, and Anna Maria Russell, the former Duchess of Bedford who is credited with inventing the tradition of afternoon tea in the mid-1840s.

“I see what Dawn is doing as entirely congruent with what the Russell family has done for the past 500 years,” says Jamie.

“For every generation to make Woburn succeed, it’s about turning passions into businesses,” he says, “which is what Dawn is doing now.”

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