By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Erica Warren Griffin never had breast cancer but she has suffered from the disease all the same.
Griffin is a cosmetologist and owner of Belle Ame Salon. In her line of work she has cut the hair of many women suffering from breast cancer after the chemotherapy caused it to fall out.
But when she had to cut Charlene Miller’s hair, Griffin felt the real pain of breast cancer.
Miller was Griffin’s grandmother who died of breast cancer in April. Griffin said her 78-year-old grandmother was a gorgeous lady with gorgeous hair for which she was well known.
While the cancer robbed Miller of her beautiful locks, it took a lot more from her granddaughter and family.
“That was the hardest hair cut I ever had to give,” said Griffin. “She kept telling me that it was only hair and that it would grow back, but it never did. She didn’t know it would never grow back. That was a hard day for me.”
Miller, a very active woman before her fatal bout with cancer, was a breast cancer survivor before the disease finally claimed her life in April. Griffin said she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer first in 2007 and had her breast removed to stop the disease from destroying the rest of her body.
Miller decided not to go through chemo the first time, a decision Griffin said may have caused her cancer to resurface in October 2010.
“She probably would still be alive had she gone through chemo the first time,” said Griffin. “But when it came back she didn’t have a choice. She was such a strong woman her whole life, but when the cancer came back it took her fast. She became ill very quickly and that was very hard for us. We just weren’t used to seeing her sick like that.”
When her grandmother was initially diagnosed with breast cancer, Griffin said the scariest thing for the family was not knowing what was going to happen next. Her aunt had survived breast cancer years earlier, but no one was prepared for the family’s matriarch to be hit with such a devastating illness.
“We first went through the scare of not knowing how serious the cancer was and if she’d survive it,” said Griffin. “The word cancer is scary enough, but to have that word attached to a close family member is almost unbearable.”
Griffin said it was hard to see her grandmother become so sick so fast. She said she can’t remember a day Miller had to take any medication and even in her late 70s she had always driven herself.
Now Griffin has a new understanding of how breast cancer can affect families. She cuts and styles the hair of many women suffering from the disease. Losing their hair is a very traumatic thing for woman, said Griffin.
“Hair is very important to a woman,” she said. “It’s one thing that makes us feel pretty and like a woman. When we have women who’ve lost their hair due to cancer they are just devastated and sometimes humiliated from it. So I try to encourage them when I cut their hair and let them know they are still beautiful.”