It is a sunny September morning and sisters Amelia and Annalise nibble on bagels in the kitchen while entertaining baby brother Luke. After brewing a pot of coffee, Jennifer Griffin and her husband, Greg Myre, usher their daughters off to school in a domestic scene playing out at thousands of households around the country. But for this couple, such routine is hardly the norm.
Only a week before, Griffin, FOX News national security correspondent, awoke in the tumult of Kabul, Afghanistan, where she landed an exclusive interview with General David Petraeus. She and Myre, a senior editor at National Public Radio, have spent more than 15 years together as foreign journalists in South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Russia and Israel.
The couple met in South Africa in late 1989 when Myre was covering the imminent release of Nelson Mandela for the Associated Press and Griffin was a cub reporter for The Harvard Crimson. A long-distance relationship unfolded; Griffin remembers taking “romantic” satellite calls in her college dining hall from Myre, in Kuwait covering the first Gulf War. After graduating, she launched her freelance career in Somalia, where Myre was reporting for AP, and later they moved to Pakistan. Married in 1994, they honeymooned in a sandbagged house in Kabul as rockets rained down on the city.
Their work took them to Cyprus in 1995, Moscow in 1996 and Jerusalem in 1999, where Myre was a correspondent for The New York Times and Griffin joined FOX News. Eventually, their daughters Amelia and Annalise were both born in a Jerusalem hospital overlooking the Old City. Myre and Griffin continued to cover the Middle East from Israel until FOX offered Griffin a position in Washington in 2007.
After sharing five temporary residences in seven countries, they finally bought the very first house of their own. The 1925 Neo-Classical gem in Embassy Row attracted the itinerant journalists as an “urban oasis” with its private garden and pool and unique neighborhood. “It’s very international,” says Griffin. “We’re surrounded by embassies and ambassadors’ homes. We also have the National Cathedral, the largest mosque in the city and one of the main synagogues up the road. It feels like a mini-Jerusalem.”
As the couple and their girls settled in, they turned to interior designer Marlies Venute to upgrade the home’s interiors, which had not been touched since a renovation in the 1960s (designed in part by DC architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen).
Venute’s plan utilized every inch of the house for the family of four who then had a baby on the way. She upgraded the kitchen, adding a built-in bar for breakfasts on the run. She replaced the drafty French doors in the living room and restored its original fireplace. Doorways were widened and soffits eliminated to let in natural light and views of the home’s leafy surroundings.
On the second floor, a pull-down stair led to the attic; Venute shifted a few doors and walls to make way for a permanent staircase. Now the attic, once suitable for storage only, houses Annalise’s bedroom, a spacious new bathroom and Myre’s home office.
A neutral palette lets the dazzling art, antique maps and Oriental carpets Myre and Griffin have collected abroad take center stage. Venute designed glass shelves to display their mementoes in the dining room, while hand-painted tiles from Jerusalem and Armenia embellish the kitchen backsplash and the new shower wall.
“It was important to us that the house be a scrapbook of our 15 to 20 years spent overseas,” says Griffin. “Every piece in here was bought at a moment in time when we were covering a particular story. All these pieces are not necessarily valuable, but truly valuable to us because of the memories.”
As the family adjusted to life in the nation’s capital, Griffin prepared a cozy nursery for Luke, who was born in March 2009. Then, she created a headline of her own. While nursing her son, Griffin detected a lump and was diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer. What ensued was a brave and public fight that saw this intrepid reporter through a double mastectomy and 17 rounds of chemotherapy.
Griffin took refuge in her home, her friends and her family. She set up her bedroom and sitting room as a self-contained area where she could read, watch TV or work on a laptop. “All the sublime colors we chose for the walls were so healing,” she recalls. “This was our cocoon. When you’re in the year that you fight breast cancer—which too many women have to go through—you want to be surrounded by the people you love, the things you love and you want to be reminded of what it is you’re fighting for. All of these pieces represented how we love to live life and the places we’ve gone and so they just inspired me.”
Griffin was buoyed by a support system that circles the globe. Friends in Israel sent her “evil eye” necklaces and slipped pink-colored notes of prayer into cracks in the Western Wall. A producer in Russia arranged for the delivery of healthy meals.
“People I hadn’t seen since second grade found me on Facebook,” Griffin marvels. We took the diagnosis front on,” she continues. “We never said, ‘Why us?’ I feel like all the skills we’ve acquired overseas as journalists, in conflict zones [helped]. We attacked this in the same way we would attack a tough story.”
Myre agrees. “I’ve often said to myself, ‘Look how these people are coping in extraordinary circumstances, showing remarkable resilience and not complaining about their situations.’ There’s a good lesson in that.”
Declared cancer-free on April 20, 2010 (her birthday), Griffin returned to work with a bang. The ever-chic reporter with now-short (and fashionably gray) hair, steely blue eyes and a dazzling smile boarded a plane to Kabul on her first day back on the job. She spent two days with Petraeus and asked the commander some tough questions during her live interview, which aired in late August.
The General, who had worked with Griffin before, emailed her periodically during her illness. Also a cancer survivor, Petraeus invited her to go running with him when she was better. Though Griffin presented him with a pair of pink-trimmed running shoes in Kabul, they didn’t have time for the run. “He challenged me to some sit-ups and I feel very confident with my abs these days because I’ve been doing pilates,” jokes Griffin. “So we have a standing date to do some ab work.”
The future looks bright for the family as Griffin feels stronger than ever and Luke starts his first year of preschool. In March 2011, This Burning Land, a book Myre and Griffin co-authored on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will be published by Wiley.
Despite her busy workload, Griffin continues her fight against breast cancer. She still makes almost daily entries in her blog (jengriffinblog.blogspot.com), where she has shared everything from the loss of her long, glamorous tresses to nutrition advice and updates on Triple Negative research. Griffin receives—and answers—countless emails from newly diagnosed patients. She supports Look Good, Feel Better, which donates cosmetics and lends support to cancer patients dealing with hair loss. Also an advocate for Susan G. Komen, Griffin will serve as ambassador for the first Race for the Cure in Jerusalem on October 28, 2010.
“I had a wonderful response to my cancer treatment, but for the next three years I’m still in a pretty dangerous position where recurrence can happen,” explains Griffin, sitting with Myre by her side in the home that has been their haven. “I need things to be discovered yesterday and therefore, we are very active in raising money and awareness.
“I feel that my role, psychologically, is to help women say to themselves, ‘You’re going to have a tough year, you’re going to get through this and your family is going to get stronger,’” she continues. “You can never pay back all the people who helped you. But you can certainly pay it forward.”
Photographer Bob Narod is based in Herndon, Virginia.