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As a Fox News correspondent, Jennifer Griffin has covered wars around the world. Now she is waging a different kind of a battle against triple negative breast cancer, a highly aggressive form of the disease.
TODAY contributor
updated 2/11/2010 10:21:54 AM ET 2010-02-11T15:21:54

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.

Jennifer Griffin shaved her head before her hair fell out due to chemotherapy. “I felt very strong,” she said.

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.

Jennifer Griffin said her children were alarmed at the prospect of her going bald — until she explained she would wear a wig like Hannah Montana.

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

...but diet, exercise help
Griffin 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.

Dr. Freya Schnabel (left) agreed with Jennifer Griffin (right) that diet and exercise are helpful in fighting Griffin’s breast cancer.
“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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Video: Reporter battles deadliest breast cancer

  1. Closed captioning of: Reporter battles deadliest breast cancer

    >>> back at 8:20 this morning. on "today's health," triple negative breast cancer . it is an aggressive, difficult-to-treat form of the disease found in roughly 15% of breast cancer cases in the u.s. we want to show you one woman's story. jennifer griffin , a 40-year-old mother of three, is in the best shape of her life. but jennifer isn't your average gym fanatic. and she's not your average cancer patient .

    >> we just heard the israelis fire. it sounds like they're firing --

    >> reporter: as the national security correspondent for fox news channel , jennifer has seen her share of wars.

    >> we lived in africa, afghanistan and pakistan, middle east for a long time, and i didn't really expect to be fighting a war inside myself.

    >> reporter: jennifer was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer five months ago.

    >> it's pretty scary when you heard those words, triple negative.

    >> triple negative breast cancer , an especially aggressive form of breast cancer , is not susceptible to hormone treatment but is proven to be responsible to chemotherapy. so far, the chemo is working.

    >> so, the tumor was about eight centimeters or so, so, that's about the size of a small orange or lemon. and right now, it's really hard to feel.

    >> how was school?

    >> reporter: but the last few months haven't been without their obstacles, especially with young children in the house.

    >> they were fine with talking about breast cancer , but when i said that i was going to be bald, that's when the 7-year-old, her, literally, i saw her jaw, her mouth open, and i immediately, again -- this could have been a very emotional moment, it wasn't. i said, you know, just like hannah montana , i'm going to get a wig. and suddenly, it wasn't so scary for them.

    >> right now my mom is wearing a miley.

    >> reporter: with her daughter and friends at her side, jennifer decided to shave her head before her hair fell out.

    >> you think, that's the debilitating part of this. it's not. being bald, when i looked at myself at first in the mirror, i felt very strong. i felt -- i really did feel like i was a warrior.

    >> reporter: and with more chemotherapy and surgery ahead, jennifer continues to fight.

    >> i've taken all of the lessons that i've learned on how to cover wars and i don't go out without my body armor on, and my body armor is this wig and this lipstick and making sure that i don't feel like a sick person when i walk out the front door.

    >> jennifer griffin is here along with dr. fraya schnauble, a director of breast surgery . i should point out fraya was my breast cancer doctor. first of all, i love you. watching this piece it makes me crazy about you. but tell me, you had this big tumor that the chemo just shrunk right down, is that right?

    >> what's amazing is it was masked by my pregnancy and nursing. and the more women i've talked to who have triple negative -- and triple negative strikes young women , you know, young women , it's very aggressive. and 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, and when it comes back, it comes back strong. what's dangerous about triple negative is we don't have a something to prevent that.

    >> there is one line of defense for people like jennifer , and that's chemo. that's the only bullet in the gun, right?

    >> right. this type of breast cancer is not sensitive to hormonal therapies or the targeted therapies that we have available, like herceptin, so, it's sort of the little orphan of breast cancer , where we really only have at this point one sensitive sort of treatment for it.

    >> jennifer , you decided to talk about this, and i like that so much, because i mean, as a breast cancer survivor, i haven't heard of triple negative. why do you think it's one of those cancers that people don't know much about?

    >> well, it was only named about six or seven years ago, so, it's a new designation. and i think that people don't realize that 10% of the breast cancers are this triple negative, and the fact that there isn't a treatment. we need funding and research into what is going to prevent the recurrences.

    >> was it hard for you to come out -- i know you tell other people's stories of war zones in dangerous areas. was it hard telling your own story?

    >> i think it was hard just watching myself going through that. that's a little bit of an out-of-body experience, but at the same time, i think it's important for women to know i'm having my 14th tumor treatment tomorrow. i've been doing this for four months.

    >> wow.

    >> i want to tell people that if you're diagnosed with triple negative, you can get through this, it does respond to chemotherapy, you need to exercise every day.

    >> now, that's important. you're at the gym. you look terrific. freya, do you think that exercise, the right diet can help when it comes to chemo?

    >> well, there's no question that low-fat diets are now being increasingly associated with a better outcome.

    >> right.

    >> in terms of helping people get through chemotherapy, all these wonderful, health-conscious, great lifestyle things that make you feel strong and really help you with endorphins and stress reduction, i think that's got to be helpful.

    >> well, we wish you the best of luck. you have the most beautiful family. come back and keep us posted on how you're doing. jennifer , thanks, freya.

    >>> up next, we chat with the u.s. figure skating teams.


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