by Women's Health Updated 10/2021
FOX News Channel correspondent Jennifer Griffin has reported the news from war zones and sites of natural disaster; she has told plenty of stories rife with heroism and anguish and inspiration. In September 2009 she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and began reporting on her own intense journey through a blog created to keep family and friends informed.
Here, Jennifer shares an excerpt from her blog, describing the uplifting experience she shared with other survivors during a Look Good…Feel Better workshop.
The highlight of my week was meeting up with five other women (three of them coincidentally diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer)—all of them mostly bald and at various stages of finishing up their treatment (chemo, radiation, the works). We had been invited by the American Cancer Society and the Personal Care Products Council Foundation to model “before” and “after” looks reflecting how the right makeup techniques and the right wigs and scarves can make you feel like a human being again through cancer treatment (which, on more than one occasion, I have compared to “napalming” one’s body and soul).
Once in Alexandria (my old stomping grounds and where my mom is still living in our childhood home), I hauled my wardrobe changes and four mannequin heads with various wig options into the site, but somehow I still was not feeling like Christy Turlington. (I had to wait until later for the transformation.) Waiting for me and the other models were Hans (my favorite wig master from Norway) and his father-in-law, Eivind, who used to do Rosalyn Carter’s hair for four years and has had a prominent salon (Lucien and Eivind) on upper Wisconsin Avenue for decades. Eivind has been volunteering his time with Look Good…Feel Better for 21 years—since the nationwide program began. Hans has been donating his time and expertise for more than a decade and runs a class at Georgetown’s Lombardi Cancer Center once a month.
Nearly every hospital in America does or should participate in the Look Good…Feel Better program. (If there is not one at a hospital near you and you have just been diagnosed, call them now and demand it.) It is one of the single best things that a cancer patient can do to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment and feel not only like a human being again (as opposed to a Kling-on) but also to feel beautiful. When you walk outside the house and don’t have your “body armor” on—lipstick, blush, eyebrows, and wig—people start treating you like a sick person; you start acting like a sick person; and slowly you start losing your will to fight. I know because I have been there.
Lisa Burris, the program’s coordinator, introduced the two makeup artists, and—here’s the fun part—we opened up a satchel of what must have been $250 worth of the best makeup products money can buy. It was like Christmas! So we played for a bit and learned the trick for drawing on eyebrows (draw three dots—one in the inner corner, one above the iris, and one on the outer corner—connect the dots, and, voila, you are no longer a Kling-on). Women who had come through the door with a flat if not down-turned mouth were suddenly grinning and squealing with laughter as we all put on a new persona with each color of lipstick that we might never have tried otherwise.
Here is the beautiful part: during the all-day photo shoot (we took before and after photos), I met two other women who were triple-negative (perhaps only a coincidence because this is the breast cancer that strikes so often young women). One woman told me at the beginning of the session that she hadn’t bothered to buy a wig. “What’s the point?” she asked. During the session, she put on first the blond short Princess Di wig, then an awfully stylish gray one with a great cut. She had worn jeans. I lent her my crushed suede jacket, and she went up for her close-up and looked like she had been modeling all her life. She was full of confidence, laughter, and sass. I gave her my coat to keep. It looked so good on her.
One of the other models we called Tina Turner because she brought her shortest mini-skirt suit, go-go boots, and an attitude to match. Every wig she put on, she looked like a different hot Motown singer. She also was grinning as she walked out the door. Everyone was. There were hugs all around.
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The Toughest Assignment: Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Perhaps it was the call from my high school friend’s neighbor, whose friend, a young mother of three, was just diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, or maybe it was the unexpected post on my Facebook page;
Hi I am a 36 yr old mother of 3 (under 5) recently dx TNBC and PREGNANT 12 wks. Starting chemo this week after a mastectomy 6 wks ago. Interested in your feedback regarding diet/exercise during chemo and after. I am a zumba lover and run (not long distances). What other specifics have you found to reduce recurrence? As you might imagine, after my #1 fear of getting through the chemo and then caring for an infant while sick, my #2 fear is recurrence. I cannot die. St Louis, Missouri.
Or maybe it was how we all felt socked in the gut when we heard that ABC’s Robin Roberts would be starting chemo again, albeit for a different form of cancer, but a cancer that resulted from the first rounds of chemo she had received to treat triple-negative breast cancer. Robin had just spoken at the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation’s gala days before she made her stunning announcement.
The breast cancer sorority is like that famous line from The Godfather, when Al Pacino tries to leave and complains of the Mafia, “They keep pulling me back in.” All survivors live in fear of a recurrence, and all survivors will at some point be called on to help those who are diagnosed next. That’s why the sorority that no one ever wanted to join is so strong.
I was diagnosed with Stage III triple-negative breast cancer on September 28, 2009. My son was six months old; my daughters were six and nine. I had breastfed all of them. I didn’t think you could get breast cancer while you were pregnant and nursing. But I did. A 9 centimeter (cm) tumor—the size of a grapefruit—and a smaller 2 cm tumor were found in my right breast. I was diagnosed on a Monday; I started chemo the following Tuesday. Seventeen rounds later I underwent a double mastectomy and six weeks of radiation. My hair came back a silver gray. I kept it short—“high and tight” as they like to say at the Pentagon.
I was used to covering wars and even wearing Kevlar while pregnant and reporting from the Middle East, but I never expected to have to cover a war inside my own body. I left nothing to chance. Triple-negative patients don’t have a tamoxifen or Herceptin® (trastuzumab) to prevent a recurrence. What I have is exercise and a low-fat, near-vegan diet to keep a triple-negative recurrence at bay. I consider exercising 45 minutes my tamoxifen. I did Pilates and ran throughout chemo.
It’s been almost three years since my diagnosis. My doctors say I am fine, out of the danger zone, but I am still a little shell-shocked, suffering from mild post-traumatic stress, if you will, and I am unable to leave my battle buddies behind. There are still so many of us treading through this deadly minefield every day.
Jennifer Griffin completed six months of chemotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer, after which she received the exciting news that she is cancer-free. She has since undergone a bilateral mastectomy with simultaneous breast reconstruction surgery, followed by radiation treatment. Jennifer participated in a Look Good…Feel Better workshop and photo shoot in March and is a champion of the program.