A Survivor’s Story: Faith, Family, Fitness

Guest Writer: Erica Griffin, Breast Cancer Survivor

“Breast cancer does not scare me.” These were the words I heard from my doctor in September 2008. Though my 30-year-old head was spinning with a diagnosis that came out of nowhere, her confident words stuck out to me like a neon sign at night.

Up until that point, my life had revolved around my husband, Jack, my high school sweetheart; our three children: Tyler, Zachary and Katie; and my love of running. Breast cancer had no place in my life. I was convinced that this was NOT my life. But it was. This was real. And the lump we had been watching for over a year – and had been assured that it was nothing – was indeed cancer. Shocking doesn’t even describe how I felt. I have no family history of breast cancer. I have maintained a healthy weight all my life by eating right and exercising. And I was only 30 years old.

So after hearing my doctor’s shocking words, I clung to the only things that I knew to be true: my faith, my family, and my fitness. I knew that my faith in God would carry me through and that He would take care of me. My family would be my source of love and unending support. And running would be my normalcy and my strength. We prepared for the fight all together.

Erica running as a survivor in her first Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure, 2009

Erica running as a survivor in her first Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure, 2009

I had a lumpectomy and all the lymph nodes removed from under my right arm. Five of ten of them were positive for cancer. Following surgery, I had six rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, a full year of targeted drug treatment with Herceptin, and I still continue on hormone therapy. I had treatment every three weeks, and my doctors and treatment center are three hours away.

The roughest part of this was during radiation. We made the drive five times a week for six weeks. I would get up in the morning at 5 am, have some coffee and prayer time, go get on the treadmill for 45 minutes to an hour, then start waking up the kids for school. I would leave at 7:30 am, drop the boys off at school (Katie wasn’t old enough yet), and we would head to my radiation appointment, which was at 10:40 am every day. Afterwards, we would grab a quick lunch and drive home, making it home around 2:30 pm, in time to pick up the boys from school. Looking back, I can’t believe I did it. But with the support of my family and friends, who all took turns driving me and keeping me company, the time really flew by.

Erica running in the 2013 Komen St. Louis Race

Erica running in the 2013 Komen St. Louis Race

I read a quote from runner Monte Davis that says, “Running long and hard is an ideal antidepressant, since it’s hard to run and feel sorry for yourself at the same time.” I have lived this quote in my own life. Throughout it all, I continued running. The month that I had to take off after surgery felt like forever because running is a part of me. It is part of who I am. To me, it means more than health and fitness, it goes beyond that; it’s “me-time” and during this time of my life it meant normalcy and strength. I also knew that it would only do me good to keep physically active during treatments. And boy, did it! I sailed through my year of treatment strong. With every step I could hear my doctor’s words in my head: “Breast cancer does NOT scare me.”

Our family has actually benefited from my diagnosis with breast cancer. It seems strange, but it is so true. It has put our lives in very clear perspective. We realize what is truly important. No longer are things such as money, bills and the petty day-to-day things that used to concern us, nearly as important. We have learned to take the time to slow down and enjoy each other, and to thank God for every moment we are given together. It has strengthened our faith and made our family so much stronger. And I’m thankful for the lesson.

Winner! Erica was the first breast cancer survivor to cross the finish line at the 2013 Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure

Winner! Erica was the first breast cancer survivor to cross the finish line at the 2013 Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure

Since my last treatment in October 2009, I have had the opportunity to speak at several women’s events about my journey with breast cancer. I have such a desire to help others. I want to reach out to other young women who have had a diagnosis with breast cancer and tell them to be strong and believe you can WIN this fight! Be positive and put it in your mind that you WILL win. Even when you think you can’t wait one more minute for that test result, or that you can’t possibly take one more treatment, remember to rise up and stand strong…you have a whole army of fellow survivors standing behind you, living PROOF that YES YOU CAN.