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Author Christine Handy: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

I needed to serve others. Because I knew that my pain had purpose, I wanted to teach that to others in order to lighten their load.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Handy.

Meet Christine Handy, Author, Model, Breast Cancer Survivor, Motivational Speaker and Humanitarian. Christine published her first book ‘Walk Beside Me’ in 2016 . It is the works to becoming a film. Recently, Handy collaborated with a bathing suit brand to manufacture a line of swimwear for women who have lost their breasts to cancer. Handy is also on the Board of two Non-Profits: Ebeauty and People of Purpose.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

With pleasure. I was raised by my parents in St. Louis, Mo with my three other sisters. We even had a female dog so my father was definitely outnumbered. I have always been close to my family, but even more so after my cancer diagnosis. I left the Mid-west to go to SMU in Dallas for my undergraduate degree. I stayed in Dallas for more than 20 years but recently relocated to Miami, Florida. Currently, I am getting a masters degree from Harvard University.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My Life Lesson Quote is one I made up at the beginning of my cancer battle. There is always Purpose in Pain. It is a quote I have clung to and lived my life by over the last ten years of life and illness. Pain is inevitable, but how we react to it and what we do with it, is our responsibility. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 1, 2012, I had young children I was trying to love and parent. I also, had just had my right arm fused. From the time I had turned 40 years old to my 41 st birthday, I had gone from being a thriving Mother, model, self proclaimed athlete and wife to a sickly, handicapped woman facing 28 rounds of chemotherapy and who knew how many surgeries. Pain consumed me, emotionally and physically. I had no choice but to give myself a lifeline and that lifeline was my new motto, “There is purpose in pain.” Whether I was going to survive breast cancer or not was out of my control, but I had to believe that all the pain I was enduring had meaning for my life and hopefully for others as well. One of my friends said to me in the early days of my diagnosis, “People are watching you.” I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but she was right. I could model what survival or fighting illness looked like in any way I chose. I could show courage or fear, worry or faith, grace or anger and on and on. I chose to be vulnerable and honest about the suffering but also courageous and hopeful in the fight.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?

I was actually traveling to New York City for an orthopedic doctors appointment when I felt the lump on my left breast. I lived in Dallas at the time, but my arm surgeon was at Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC. I was in a hotel room trying to take a shower with a cast on my right arm that covered my arm from my fingertips to my shoulder. For months, I had poured liquid soap over my shoulder instead of struggling with a bar of soap and a casted arm. On this day, I held the bar of soap while suspending my casted arm out of the shower, and as I gently passed the soap over my left breast, I immediately felt a large, tough lump. My first reaction was panic. I had just been through an enormous health trial that ended in a full wrist fusion in my dominant arm. I was trying to figure out how I was going to be a mom and drive a car with a full fusion. With no family history of breast cancer, it never occurred to me that this could happen, especially at 41 years old. I was diagnosed with cancer 5 days later over the phone.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

The scariest part was the fear that I could or would die and leave my sons behind. I wanted to be their mom, I couldn’t imagine someone else having the privilege of raising them. That haunted me and to some extent still does.

How did you react in the short term?

In the short term I had terrible thoughts and anxiety. One moment I was all in for fighting the disease and the next minute I was too overwhelmed and exhausted to even try. Some days, I told friends and family I was quitting. It was a horrendous roller coaster that pillaged my emotions in many different ways. Fortunately, I quickly started to believe enough in myself and in my faith that I started to really fight the fight.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

I depended heavily on family and friends during treatment. My friends often sent me pictures of them out living when I was too sick to leave my house. They would remind me that someday I would be well again too, and to keep looking at the pictures to see what I could look forward to. My father also gave me an island to swim to so to speak. He promised me a trip when chemotherapy and the surgeries were completed. There are so many hours of waiting when you have cancer. Waiting for various doctors, for surgery, for chemotherapy and even during chemotherapy the time passes slowly. I often focused on that trip, day dreaming of where I might like to go and looking on my phone for places to visit. What my father was doing was giving me another lifeline. Also during this confusing and frightening time, I poured into learning more about faith. I listened to podcasts on faith and spirituality which readjusted my own self pity into trust and confidence in God.

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

I had an enormous group of strong, dedicated women who gave up much of their time to help me and my family throughout my battle. The unity of the group really taught me what it looks like when women become champions together. It goes back to what my friend told me in the beginning of my treatment, that people were watching. My group of friends showing up for me, in turn showed our community that spirit of alignment and self sacrifice. The more they showed up for me, the more courage I had. And the more courage I showed, the more I was helping my family and the community learn to be brave.

In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?

You matter. I had been insecure for so long, cancer showed me that I mattered. Not the disease, but the willingness of family and friends to carry me until I could carry myself. I began to believe in myself again. My community of women embodied that I mattered enough to show up for.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example? I

I learned who I was most importantly. Cancer brought me to my knees, and when I was down there I learned that I had grit and grace, I learned that I didn’t need to rely on my physical appearance for others to give me love or attention, I was whole even with no hair, no external beauty. I was a model. I started very young and my career continued throughout my twenties and thirties. Being faced with cancer and enduring chemotherapy, the loss of my hair and then breasts was traumatic enough without that external value that I measured my self worth on. I had not considered myself worthy of great love and affection without the beauty I had. The good news was that my beauty had nothing to do with why my friends and family loved me. I started to see things, stuff differently. Faith, myself, and relationships became more important than the designer bags or my beautiful long blonde hair.

How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?

I try every single day to bring goodness to the world out of my tragedies. Whether it be on social media, by people reading my book, or my speaking engagements, my message is consistent, there is always hope and purpose in pain.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

I love answering this very important question. Once patients have completed chemotherapy, and or radiation, surgeries, often times the side effects of the solution linger for years. I endured tremendous chemotherapy which left lasting side effects. I am 7 years out from my diagnosis and I have other health issues. The specific chemotherapy regimen I was on ‘could’ affect my heart and it did. Just last year I had my third and fourth mastectomies because of implant complications. I often speak to other cancer patients who share my frustration in the misconception that once treatment is over, complications are behind you too. Being cancer free does not equate to being problem free emotionally or physically after cancer.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

The 5 things I needed to get through cancer were faith in God and a hope for a future. I needed to repeat Let Go and Let God instead of I am scared and have no hope. Secondly, I needed people. I needed family, friends, even strangers to encourage me, cheer me on and show me that I mattered. The simplest asks of kindness went a long way. Sending a text or a letter, even a phone call helped encourage me. It doesn’t require money to help others, often, it only takes a few seconds to send a text. Third, I needed something to look forward to. A place to visit, something that got me out of my head and helped me mediate on a positive and uplifting future experience. That could be a trip to see family or a party at the end of treatment. Fourth, I needed to work on myself. I needed to change the voice in my head to be more encouraging. The old insecure mindset had to shift. And lastly, I needed to serve others. Because I knew that my pain had purpose, I wanted to teach that to others in order to lighten their load.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

I would shout from the rooftops how important self talk is to the well being of our lives. I would teach others how to nurture their self esteem and that it takes time, it’s a daily practice. Just like going to the gym to work on your muscles or going to school to work on your brain, we need daily work to nurture and elevate our self esteem so the world can’t tear it apart.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

I would like to speak to Oprah, sit down and have an intimate chat. She got knocked around as a child and climbed many a ladder to use her voice. One of the greatest voices of all time. I know my story helps people, if I had a bigger voice more and more could learn from my story, my pain. It would not be for my glory at all, but for the opportunity to reach more cancer patients in a collaborative effort with Oprah and in the end we would spread great hope.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.christinehandy.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente helps cancer survivors overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.

Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.

He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Food Network, WW, Bloomberg, Amazon, and Facebook. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.

Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.

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Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 Best-selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor