Cancer messed with the wrong person

How breast cancer taught one woman to be the boss of her health — and why she wants you to do the same

Dec. 6, 2011, is the day Tina Griffith’s world turned upside down. At just 38 years old, she was told she had breast cancer.

“I got the call at work, and it was like I was punched in the gut,” Griffith said. “Everything became a blur, and I couldn’t hear anything the nurse was telling me after hearing ‘malignant.’ I was sure I was going to die.”

After meeting with doctors and undergoing more testing, she learned her stage 2A cancer could be removed with surgery — still, Griffith hit a low point.

“I had a strong support system in my family, and I was always a happy person. I loved to laugh and joke,” she said. “But I fell into a funk. I closed the curtains and kept to myself. I cried a lot.”

Then she drew on her strong faith in God.

“I woke up one morning and heard, ‘If you are going to pray to me, why are you crying? And if you are going to cry, why pray?’” Griffith said. “At that point I realized God’s got this — I’ve got this.”

For Griffith, it was a turning point. She realized she was in charge of her life — she was the boss.

“I decided I was going to define my cancer journey; it wasn’t going to define me,” she said. “You can go down into a valley for a little while, but you can’t stay there.”

In retrospect, though, Griffith had been the boss all along. She took charge of her health long before her breast cancer diagnosis. Because she knew her family history of breast cancer and cystic breasts, as well as the importance of doing monthly self-exams, her cancer was found years before she would have gotten her first mammogram.

Griffith saw her OB/GYN every year for well-woman exams and made sure her doctor knew her history. And because she was vigilant about doing monthly self-exams, she found the cancerous lump and brought it to her doctor’s attention.

“Recommendations on screenings and genetic testing are ever-changing, and regular visits with your OB/GYN or primary care provider can give you up-to-date advice on screenings,” said R. Paige Walker, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton Women’s Specialists.

Now Griffith shares what she’s learned to help others be the boss of their health — and their life. She has motivated family members to start going to the doctor, and she organizes an annual health fair that provides mammograms through the Norton Healthcare Mobile Prevention Center. The fair started at her church but has grown so large, it’s now held at a community center in West Louisville.

The insights she has gained through her cancer experience also have taught Griffith to really start living and doing, to not put things off and to enjoy life more.

“I don’t stress anymore. I try not to be mad. Life is too short,” she said. “Life can change between a tick and a tock.”

In December 2016, Griffith will celebrate being a five-year cancer survivor.


Two ways you can be the boss of your health

1. Maintain an ongoing relationship with an OB/GYN. If you haven’t had a well-woman exam in a year and need a physician, we can help you find one.

2. Take a free online breast cancer risk assessment to identify your personal risk factors and what you can do to change them.

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