Empowerment Series: International Model, Author, Motivational Speaker, and Christine Handy Shares her Courage with AW
It is estimated that a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 2 minutes. Each year, in the United States, 1 in 8 women will be given the news, they have breast cancer. This is the most common cancer among American women. Unfortunately, most of us know someone who has endured the pain of this disease. The better news is that breast cancer is also 1 of 5 cancers with the highest survival rate. More than 3.8 million women in the country have recovered. Improved awareness, early detection, and successful treatment options are responsible for saving countless lives.
Christine Handy is one of those breast cancer survivors. In 2012, the She-Hero was diagnosed, since then she’s had many surgeries and more than a year of chemotherapy. Despite the trauma, she continues to thrive, living her best life. The devastating experience brought on a transformation that gave her purpose. She is using the gift of life to spread faith, change lives and bring hope to as many men and women as possible. Devoting herself to serving others has become her mission. She shares her story around the world, is a board member of several charities, and mentors those who need it. The author of the best-selling book “Walk Beside Me” has also been seen on FOX, CBS, NBC, and BuzzFeed.
AW sat down with this courageous woman to discuss her journey to healing. Our lengthy conversation over Zoom provided a true visual of Christine’s challenges and triumph. This is an incredible story of resilience that demonstrates the power of the human spirit. I’m sure you will be inspired by the highlights of our chat.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this journey and the biggest lesson? I started my modeling career at a very young age, it’s been 40 years. The journey began with a lot of self-discovery. I was trying to figure out where I fit in the modeling world and society.
At age 35, I had my first major surgery, part of my colon was removed. This was a traumatic experience and my first brush with death due to complications. Fortunately, I scarred well, came out ok. I was trained to care about the way I looked, addicted to the praise. I realize this was me trying to get validation from the outside. I was dependent on external relationships, modeling jobs, and society. Then at 41, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was no family history, I did everything right but there I was, thinking that ultimately I would lose my hair – my beauty. Pride and ego were faltered. I was ashamed to ask for help, I couldn’t do it. My friends, eventually, helped me understand how I would be able to help others if I fought for myself. I ended up fighting for my life.
My darkest moment – the day of the diagnosis, taking the call. I was alone at home with the news. It took about a month before I found my defining moment. I went from being self-involved to only serving others. I love sharing my story because I want to inspire. From that point, 10 years ago to now, so much has changed.
During my journey, I am learning to embrace pain and use it as a motivator. I believe it has helped me push forward and out of dark moments. Have you had a similar experience that you can share? Once diagnosed, I had a mastectomy. I waited a couple of years to get healthy then went for a second mastectomy. The new textured implants were great, I loved them and there was no pain. I was happy with my implants from 2015 to 2020 until the FDA recalled textured implants for risk of cancer. Now, it was the beginning of March during a CoVid lockdown. I was dealing with a staph infection, lots of pain, and it was a tough time to be in the hospital. The doctors also had a difficult time figuring out how to get rid of the infection.
One day, after returning from a trip, more trouble. I noticed a fever and discharge from my breast. I got on facetime with the oncologist. The immediate response was to send an ambulance that would transfer me to the hospital. I had a Mrsa infection, it was critical. I was admitted, right away, the doctors excavated the breast. This pushed me over the edge, plus CoVid put me in the hospital alone. It was my breaking point, I realized how dangerous it was for me to feel this bad. I was in an emotionally traumatic space. A doctor visited my room to check on me. He must have seen through me when he said, “Don’t let this break you.” I think he knew I was shutting down, he noticed that something was wrong.
When you don’t have the courage, you lose the will to live. It was a breaking point. I had to find fierce determination to help myself then help others through their trauma.
You have mentioned that you “found joy in your life.” For many people, true joy is elusive. We don’t quite arrive at that place, maybe because we look for it, externally. What does joy look for you today, compared to the time prior to your second act? I thought joy came from a new bag or material things. It was the holidays, I was really sick but tried to open presents with my kids. I was going through chemotherapy, and my son, who was 13 at the time, gave me an orange bag that looked like a Hermes. In a box was a hand-carved cross he made for me. I thought it was a bracelet from Hermes, what he gifted me was the nicest thing anyone has ever given me. Initially, I was most concerned with the packaging without knowing what was inside. It was a profound moment for me and my family.
Fast forward, I attended a speaking engagement at a jail to share my painful experiences. I received an embrace from inmates in the audience who were grateful for the inspiration. Great joy came from the spirit of serving. It did not come from a place of self but for selfless. I was happy for a long time but not joyful. The inmates did not care who I was or what I had, they wanted the hope, I was bringing. Things don’t bring joy, I now understand “There is no Uhaul behind the Hurst.” We have to put things into perspective. What we worship we become. My beauty was stolen at 41 with chemotherapy, I do not depend on the temporal, that’s why my self-esteem is unshakeable.
You wrote “Walk Beside Me” which is being turned into a movie. Congratulations! Can you explain why you decided to share your story? Are there any details you can share about the film? The film, “Willow” is a fictional depiction of my life that shows the transformation. A woman without self-esteem becomes a courageous person through trauma. I wanted to demonstrate women supporting women. The world often depicts women pitted against each other but when I was sick, the women around me were there for me. They gave up their lives and resources to be present, by my side. When I wrote this book, I wanted to show the story in a way that would reflect everything they did for me. In May 2020, we stopped the filming due to CoVid. The screenplay resembles the book which I really love. It has my grit, grace, and perseverance.
We can talk about your inspirational story for hours! Your resilience can serve as motivation to anyone going through difficult times in their life. What have you learned about yourself that has surprised you? I was very dependent on interpersonal l relationships. Throughout my life, I never felt that I could be on my own. About 5 years ago, my husband and I separated, which left me struggling more than during my illness. Co-dependency was the story of my life, it had its claws on me. Being alone was a cause for my anxiety but in time, I got over the discomfort. The space was filled with helping others. I’ve replaced my co-dependency with work but I continue to work on getting a balance.
I like to end AW interviews with a positive message. Can you share advice, mantra, affirmation, or some words that helped you during some of the toughest moments in your life? Firstly, my favorite affirmation. “Let go and let God.” Get rid of the pain, the only person you hurt is yourself. It takes practice, and will not work overnight. Secondly, remember that when we react to people, things, or situations; we can react with malice, compassion, or pride. Think about which way you want to react to things, reacting out of compassion, changes you and the people around you. It shifts your spirit and your heart guiding you to a peaceful light. It’s a gift.
AW is thankful to Christine Handy for sharing her powerful story of hope. She has gone through serious physical and mental pain while battling immense medical challenges. The experience did not make her bitter, instead, it gave her newfound purpose which she pays forward to anyone in need. Her work to bring hope continues to be her mission and joy.
Life jams our plate a lot. During moments of hardship, we can become convinced that God or the Universe is giving us more than we can handle. Good things happen to good people but bad things happen, too. Throughout my own personal journey, I have felt pummeled by the realities of financial and emotional struggles. Having the resilience to combat adversity fills me with gratitude and perpetuates strength that inspires me to keep pushing forward.
The gift of the human spirit is one of the most amazing gifts we possess. Tapping into that energy can reinvigorate the soul. Many have fought their way back to life from catastrophe, illness, poverty, and despair. The belief we can do anything is key to any comeback story, as is self-love. Everyone has the power to overcome suffering but must be willing to take the bull by the horns in order to transform pain into purpose.
“This interview has been condensed for clarity.” The full interview can be found on AW Confidential YouTube channel.
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