Thanksgiving with Travis and Amy Griffith: faith, family, community and music

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Travis Griffith remembers that it was just around the first of the year.

“It started out to be what I thought was sciatica, because it got harder to drive. I had pain in my hip,” he said. “One morning I got up to get ready to go to school and I got out of bed and I had a ‘hitch’ in my hip, and sometimes it works its way out – I’ve had those before. That’s what it felt like. It never worked its way out.”

The teacher at Switzerland County Elementary School lived with the pain and discomfort until around Spring Break this past March.

“Mom and the kids and I and Amy, we all went down to Brunswick, Georgia, to my Aunt Deborah’s. Driving down there, driving was horrible, because sitting on the sciatic nerve. So I came back and I thought I needed to go to the doctor or the chiropractor or something and figure out what was going on.”

Going to a chiropractor, Griffith said that things never really got any better; so he decided that he would go to Beacon Orthopedic for an x-ray, and doctors there believed that it could possibly be a pinched nerve in his back. From there he was sent to Cincinnati for an MRI that same day.

“That’s when they found a softball-sized tumor in my hip,” he said quietly. “That’s when everything kind of just changed.”

Wife Amy was busy getting ready for son Trayton’s graduation party, and the couple decided that Travis would go to the doctor while Amy got supplies for the party.

“I told him that if they wanted to do back surgery, that he needed to go ahead and get it scheduled so he could heal,” Amy said. “He called me and said, ‘I’ve got cancer’. I told him that wasn’t even funny to tell me; but he was serious.”

A doctor was recommended who is a specialist in dealing with this type of malignancies, and Travis was admitted to the hospital in an effort to get the tremendous pain that he was feeling under control.

A stay in the hospital was successful in getting the pain under control, and Travis came home, with Amy, who is a nurse, at his side.

As the couple began to plot a course of action to attack the cancer, they were dealt another blow.

“It was on the 13th of June,” Amy said. “He had fallen in the bathroom, and I knew immediately he had had a stroke. He had a facial droop. He couldn’t move his left side at all. Luckily our EMS responded quickly and was able to get the helicopter here.”

Amy said that with Travis in the neurology unit at UC Hospital, the decision was made to continue to move forward with the cancer treatments.

In the midst of all of the chaos going on around them, the couple says that they also saw God’s hand working.

“I was told multiple times by the neurosurgeons that he was extremely lucky to have survived that stroke,” Amy said. “It was clots from the leg, and the clots moved up. He had one clot that went clear through the carotid artery clear through the main artery of the brain, cutting off 3/4ths of the circulation to the brain. The way it moved through there is, that we’re all born with a hole in our heart, and when the baby takes its first breath, it closes – but his didn’t. Fortunately it didn’t, because it would have been a massive heart attack that most likely he wouldn’t have survived that.”

That resulted in a two week stay at University before Travis was transferred to Drake Hospital for rehabilitation.

While all of that was going on, oncologists had performed two biopsies on the tumor, but still weren’t able to identify what it was so that a plan of treatment could be established. Doctors knew that the cancer was a sarcoma (Sarcomas are rare forms of cancer that grow in connective tissue – cells that connect or support other kinds of tissue in your body. These tumors are most common in the bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, nerves, fat, and blood vessels of your arms and legs, but they can also happen in other areas of your body. Source: Mayo Clinic).

After 15 days at Drake, Travis was discharged from Drake. The rehabilitation was extremely painful, because the tumor is wrapped around the sciatic nerve in his hip; but the stay did help to get the medications balanced to get the pain under control.

From there, Travis headed to -of all places – Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati – because of the type of sarcoma that doctors where zeroing in on (Ewing’s sarcoma) is primarily found in younger patients, and one of the doctors at Children’s sits on the sarcoma board. That happened around the first of July.

“I could tell from the look on his face when he saw Travis – we spent hours there that day, that he knew Travis needed treatment right away,” Amy said. “He said, ‘this is very aggressive, we have to get some type of treatment started.’ They admitted him that night. Kinsley (the couple’s oldest daughter), she was with me that day. I knew that if they didn’t do something quickly, that he wasn’t going to be here.”

Doctors had hoped to keep Travis at Children’s for treatment; but with the prior stroke and other issues, the decision was made to begin treatment at UC.

Being hit with the hardest form of chemotherapy, a PET scan between treatments two and three showed that the size of the tumor had been cut in half, but during one of the PET scans, doctors discovered more issues: a spot was found on Travis’s thyroid. Nodules in his lungs were also found. Still those locations were also responding to the treatment that was focused on the hip, but more tests showed that those spots were yet another form of cancer.

About a month ago, the pain began to return, and three weeks ago a new scan showed that the tumors were no longer responding to the treatment, pushing doctors to begin to look at other options for treatment.

A new treatment has been started now, and other options such as clinical trials are also being considered. He gets this week off, and then begins a new round on November 30th. Radiation and proton beam radiation are also being considered.

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But this isn’t a story about cancer. This is a story about the love that a man finds in music, community, and family.

A smile creeps unto Travis’s lips and his eyes sparkle when he talks about music. He doesn’t remember a time when music wasn’t in his life. From his grandparents to his parents, to Travis and brother Brandon; and now on to Travis’s children – music is intertwined with daily life.

Growing up in the Pleasant area, the son of Terry and Cynthia Griffith, Travis grew up helping on the farm that they lived on, with Terry also working at the power plant in Madison and Cynthia teaching in the county. Sister Diane made it a family of five.

“We’ve always been a musical family, we’ve always had music.” Travis says. “It’s like here at this house. We’ve always got music playing, some how, some place. Church. Always doing something. Guitars and singing. There was always something going on.”

Travis tells that when Terry was in high school he had a band called “The Deuces”, and said that during this year’s Swiss Wine Festival some of the band members had a reunion. Terry passed away in 2008.

“Churches. Revivals. We were always doing something,” Travis says. “Brandon and I, with him playing the drums and me playing the guitar, we were always doing something at the house, music-wise.”

So what is it about music that draws Travis Griffith?

“It’s just a place for me to just empty the mind,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what kind. That’s the thing, people always ask. We’ve always had growing up bluegrass, gospel, country, rock and roll. The Stones. It’s never been a specific type of music, it’s just playing music. It’s just a place to unload. That’s the thing I miss right now. Since the stroke, I can’t. My hands don’t move the way they used to, so I haven’t been able to play guitar or anything for a long time.”

Music is also a spark for his memory.

“I can’t listen to bluegrass and think about grandma and grandpa and growing up. I can also listen to the Gaithers and think about days of revivals, back in the day when revivals were revivals and everybody sang and you had all the harmonies,” he said. “To me, music is music.”

And then there’s Travis’s love for his community.

“This community is amazing,” he says. “When they did the benefits and stuff. It’s just amazing, the number of people. You think you know people until something like this happens, and then you really get to know people. There’s people I haven’t seen or talked to since back in grade school. There’s people who come and see me who I haven’t seen forever. It’s just amazing the outreach and how strong the community is. That’s the cool thing about small communities. Not saying we couldn’t do it without them, but it makes it a whole lot easier.”

And the donations have been there when needed.

“On the day that they brought the money out from the benefit, our stove and refrigerator went out at the same time on the same day,” Amy said. “You’ve got to have a stove and a refrigerator. Both went out at the very same time, and later that day, they walked in with those donations. It was amazing.”

Following in his mother’s footsteps, Travis has been teaching for the past 20 years, most of those at Switzerland County Elementary School after spending his first year at Cartmell Elementary in Carrollton, Kentucky.

“Mom always said I’d be a teacher,” he smiles. “I always disagreed and said ‘no’. Things have a way of working out.”

At the core of all of the things going on in the life of Travis Griffith is his family.

Travis and Amy have four children. Son Trayton is a 2017 graduate of Switzerland County High School; daughter Kinsley is a junior and a starter on the Lady Pacer varsity basketball team; Analyse is five and in kindergarten at Switzerland County Elementary; and daughter Kendall just turned one this past August.

“This has brought Travis and me really close,” Amy says.

“We’ve talked about that a lot, when we’ve been at the hospital and it’s just her and I,” Travis says. “There’s nobody else around. All of this has brought us a lot closer. Appreciation for a lot of different things. Different outlook on life, especially having young kids.”

Analyse talks about the “monster with spikes” inside daddy’s hip; and Kendall draws close to her daddy, knowing that he needs her for him to get better.

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So, what’s Travis Griffith thankful for?

“My family,” he says quietly. “Without them, there’s no way I could ever get through this. The community. It feels like they’ve just bent over backwards to be with us and support us.

“God. My faith, Something to have faith in. We were talking the other day, that if He didn’t want me to be here anymore, there’s been all sorts of opportunities. I had the stroke. I’ve had cancer. I guess number one is my faith, and the faith that my family has, the same kind of faith and brings us all together. We have a commonality, I guess. Family is the big thing.

“There are times when you feel…..not lost, but alone. They’re the ones who are always there.”

– Pat Lanman