As a war correspondent for FOX News, Jennifer Griffin is used to facing danger without thinking twice. In 2000 “I reported on the Intifada while I was pregnant, wearing a flak jacket, throwing up from morning sickness between takes,” she says. For the mom of three, who has covered political unrest in Israel and Afghanistan, “it was my workday. I didn’t have time to think. I lived on adrenaline.”
Her ability to block out fear proved essential in September of last year, when Griffin, 41, was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer six months after having her third child, Luke. “Within 20 minutes I was in reporter mode, calling experts,” Griffin says of learning she had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive form of the disease only recently recognized by the medical establishment. “This was like covering a war, but inside my body.”
After a swift but harrowing year of treatment, Griffin is cancer-free and back at FOX News. TNBC tests negative for three hormone receptors associated with breast cancer. That means medications that target the hormone in question, such as estrogen, don’t work. To compensate, Griffin’s oncologist Claudine Isaacs says she put her on 17 rounds of potent chemotherapy, which was stronger than conventional chemo, because “you don’t have specific therapy that targets the Achilles’ heel of this form of cancer.” Recurrences are often deadly, so Griffin opted for a double mastectomy, not a lumpectomy, to eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
One week after her diagnosis, Griffin dove into treatment, taking a leave from FOX News (“They were so supportive,” she says). Coming to terms with her situation took longer. “I had thought nursing protected you,” says Griffin. She had felt a lump while nursing, but thought it was mastitis. It turned out to be an 8-cm., stage 3 tumor. “I was angry,” Griffin says. “I thought, why don’t they have a way of screening you when you’re pregnant and nursing?” Her husband, NPR editor Greg Myre, 50, was devastated. “It was hard to imagine her not being here for our kids,” he says.
With her children in mind (daughters Annalise, 9, and Amelia, 7, and Luke, now 18 months), Griffin kept a “laserlike focus” on treatment as she lost her hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and even fingernails. “We TV people are obsessed about our hair,” she says. “But I felt strangely liberated shaving my head.” To ease her daughters’ anxiety, Griffin made wig-shopping a group effort. “I got four, including a Hannah Montana style!” she says. “We had fun with it.”
Preparing herself for surgery in April was more challenging. “You’re giving up a part of your body that is associated with being a woman,” says Griffin. “But my only option was to fight back.” With a wry smile, she adds, “I decided to trade up. You know, ‘Go big or go home!’ ” Still, the intensity of her decision weighed on her mind. “One night Luke fell asleep with a hand between my breasts. I cried,” says Griffin. “I knew I’d never be able to feel that again.” But after surgery, she knew she’d made the right decision. “They found no trace of the tumor, and it hadn’t spread,” she says, tearing up. “That was all I could hope for.”
She’s been cancer-free since then, but “you come out of this a changed person,” Griffin says, looking on as her children play. “If I survive for the next 5 or 50 years, it’s all too short. I have to live every day to the maximum.”