Health & Wellness

TV war reporter’s biggest battle: Breast cancer

Years of covering conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine as the Middle East correspondent for Fox News prepared Jennifer Griffin well for taking on a rare form of breast cancer. She approached it like a military campaign.

“I’ve taken all the lessons that I’ve learned from how to cover wars,” Griffin told TODAY’s Hoda Kotb Thursday in New York. “I don’t go out without my body armor on. My body armor is this wig and this lipstick and making sure that I don’t feel like a sick person when I’m walking out the door.”

Like Hannah Montana
A taped report that preceded Griffin’s interview with Kotb showed the 40-year-old journalist shaving her head before chemotherapy made her hair fall out. Looking at herself in the mirror, she said, “I felt very strong. I really did feel like a warrior.”
Griffin has two daughters, and she said her 7-year-old was more distressed to learn that her mother would be bald than that she had cancer. “That’s when her mouth fell open,” Griffin said.

But when she told her daughter that she’d just get wigs — like Hannah Montana — the girl began to see it as fun.

Now the national security correspondent for Fox, Griffin has had 13 chemotherapy treatments since she discovered a lump the size of a lemon in her breast last September while breast-feeding her 8-month-old son, Luke. She was scheduled for another treatment on Friday.

Only one treatment...Dr. Freya Schnabel, the director of breast surgery at the NYU Langone Medical Center, who joined Kotb and Griffin, said that about 10 percent of breast cancers are what doctors call triple negative. The term refers to the fact that victims lack three types of receptors that allow other women to be treated with targeted hormonal therapies for breast cancer.

The only treatment available to them is chemotherapy.

Once Griffin completes her lengthy chemo regimen, she will undergo a double mastectomy and radiation treatments to keep the cancer from returning.

While triple negative cancers are very susceptible to chemo, they often return aggressively after several years of remission.

“Triple negative strikes young women,” Griffin said. “It’s very aggressive. The chemo tends to work with triple negative. The danger is that it comes back, and it can come back in the first two to three years.

“When it comes back, it comes back strong,” she added.

...but diet, exercise helpGriffin said she’s gone public with her battle to raise awareness of her form of cancer because it’s been less than 10 years that it has been identified as a separate classification of the disease. “We need funding and research into what is going to prevent the recurrence of this,” she said.

Griffin has an impressive selection of wigs, an accessory that her oncologist calls “cranial prosthetics.” Even in the midst of her debilitating chemo treatments, she looks strong and healthy.

Griffin attributes that to the strenuous workout program she’s followed since her diagnosis and the low-fat diet she’s adopted.

“You need to exercise every day,” she told Kotb.

Schnabel, who also treated Kotb’s breast cancer, agreed that paying attention to diet and exercise helps in the battle against cancer.

“There’s no question that low-fat diets are increasingly being associated with a better outcome. All these wonderful health, great lifestyle things make you feel strong and really help you with endorphins and stress reductions,” Schnabel said. “I think that’s got to be helpful.”

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