This October, as part of the Breast Cancer Awareness month, Fashion Scoop wants to share with our readers an inspiring story of friendship, healing and transformation. I have met Christine Handy, a former model, a breast cancer survivor, and now bestselling author to ask her about her life-changing experience.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with breast cancer? Did you have any family history of the disease?
"I was 42 years old. No one in my family had cancer before; neither did I have the BRCA 1 or 2 genes that are linked to the breast cancer. Majority of cases of breast cancer are not connected to family histories. To this day, the scientists can’t find a distinct link between the disease and its cause, be it lifestyle, stress, diet, or anything else. Mine was stage 2 cancer that required 15 months of chemo treatments and subsequent surgeries".
As a model, your profession is heavily dependent on your looks, your energy, and your disposition. What was the hardest for you to deal with – physical pain, changes of your appearance, inability to do things you were able to do before?
"None of that. The hardest was the initial emotional shock upon learning the diagnosis, the necessity to face your mortality. I remember asking the doctor “Am I going to die?” and he gave no answer. I was alone when I received that phone call. I can only describe it as an immersion into total darkness. I have no memory of calling my husband, or my parents to tell them. I know I did, but it was so traumatic, I lost all recollections of that time. The first three weeks after the diagnosis were the darkest in my entire life. When I started chemo treatments, when I started fighting, things settled down".
How were you diagnosed? Was it a routine mammogram, did you actually feel anything prior to it?
"I was very lucky. It was self-diagnosis. I felt the tumor while taking a shower. It was below my nipple, close to the surface. If it was in any other location, it could have been easily missed, and the cancer would have spread further".
You are a mother of two boys. Going through this ordeal must have been extremely distressing both for you as a mother, and for them personally. How did you deal with it?
"Honestly, my mental state was so low initially - I was suicidal. Before cancer diagnosis, I was dealing with other physical issues that really affected my self-esteem. I felt I was sucking all the attention, all the energy out of my family. My boys were 11 and 13 at the time. As a mother I knew that my needs were not supposed to be met by my sons, I was supposed to be the giver. My desire to die was fueled by the misguided selflessness and the thoughts that the children would be better off without me. I didn’t want them watch me suffer; I wanted to protect them any way I could. Even through treatments, I made sure they were as little affected by my physical disabilities as possible. I couldn’t have done it without help, of course".
In the darkest moments, what did you find the most needed - physical presence of someone who cares, the right kind of encouragement, just someone to hold your hand? What’s most important?
"All of it, and none of it. One person, no matter how much he or she cares, can’t answer all the physical and emotional needs of a cancer patient. My husband did the best possible in this situation, but he had to work, to travel, to visit one of our sons, who was in a boarding school out of state at the time. It took a village to carry me through these two years. My friends literally saved my life. There was never a day, when one of them didn’t come over, they stayed overnight when my husband was out of town, they prepared meals for my family. For two years they drove me, because I couldn’t drive by myself. I couldn’t have survived without them".
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through this experience?
"It has brought the most profound change in me. I understood the importance of mutual support, the necessity to help each other, carry each other through life’s trials. I will be eternally grateful to my friends, and I want to share the message that
friends, after your family, are the most important part of our lives. Friendships can and do sustain life, when needed. It is especially important for us, women. For some reason, there is still a lot of negativity, gossip, backstabbing in female relationships. No one wins in that! We, women, are nurturers by nature, by helping each other we can make major positive impact on this world. We need to build each other up, not destroy".
You are cancer-free now, you look amazing, and this tragic experience is behind you. How would you say it affected your values, your perceptions of what’s important in life?
"I have always been a spiritual person, but it strengthened my faith in God, my understanding of my purpose. It also changed the priorities of what is important in my life. Now, I think not in terms of WHAT is important, but WHO is important. The focus is on people, not on stuff. I used to be all caught up in what people thought of me, my reputation, in the appearances of things. I understand how superfluous all this is. You won’t believe how liberating it is to not care about other people’s perceptions".
You said in one of your interviews that beating cancer made you want to live even more? What did you mean by that?
"Before cancer, it seems that I was just going through motions trying to be the perfect model, the perfect mother, wife, socialite, you name it… Then, everything crumbled. My self-esteem crumbled. This experience allowed me to understand how unimportant all of that is. I have seen that the real joy, the real purpose in life is in helping people. I have transformed into a new improved version of self that I like more and respect more. I am bringing this message into the world, and I want to positively impact other people’s lives. I have a passion now".
How did the idea of a book come about? Did you start writing as an escape? Were you still in treatments?
"During chemo I started saving and organizing emails and text messages that I was receiving at the time. I knew I would go back to them eventually. The thought of a book was there, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. Definitely it was not a priority at the time. Once chemo ended, and I sufficiently rested, I went back to all the information I saved and reviewed it. It was very difficult. All the dark moments came back to the surface; and I was able to relive them again. However, it healed me emotionally and helped me process everything I have been through. Only then I seriously started on the project".
What was the creative process like?
"I decided I would write a fictional narrative based on my personal experiences. I also needed an unbiased perception of the situation that was not coming from my own perspective. I hired a third party to interview all 28 of my friends who were part of my recovery during these two years. They were an integral part of the process. I wanted to know what motivated them and how they felt when they were watching me suffer. Their recollections were essential to the writing and to the success of the book".
“Walk Beside Me” became a best seller April, 16h of this year. What did you feel when you found out of your success?
"I am very proud of my book. I have written it in nine months, and it was a true labor of love. I felt I needed to deliver this story, this message into the world. I was extremely happy to have it published, and now that it received its acclaim, I understand how important it was to make it happen. If it changes even one life, I am satisfied – it is exactly what I wanted".
If you have to summarize, what would be the one message, which you want to convey to our readers?
"One would be very difficult. I can list three, if I may. Believe in the higher wisdom of God. Embrace the power of women, and surround yourself with people who build you up, not tear you down. You must build your foundation on rock, not on sand, then you can withstand any storm life brings your way".