Episode 19 - “From International Model to Surviving Cancer with Author, Christine Handy.”
Meet Christine Handy - a mother, best-selling author, breast cancer survivor, motivational speaker, FOX News breast cancer expert, and humanitarian. In this episode, we talked about her journey from being an international model to surviving cancer and what led her to become who she is today.
3:31 - How her life changed a decade ago
6:01 - "Life built on sand crumbles"
7:10 - A serving heart gave her joy
10:23 - Living from the "outside-in"
11:27 - On writing her story
13:13 - How she came up with the book title
16:42 - How her sickness affected her family
19:50 - Tips on self-esteem
24:35 - Losing her self-worth
27:00 - "You never know what's behind that beautiful picture"
28:20 - Getting joy from non-profit passion projects
31:39 - How she "recharged" after all that chemotherapy
36:23 - Self-love is not selfish
Check out the transcript for this episode in case you missed anything, and click on my website Mindfully Recharged Podcast by Mariana Thomas for the full show notes and information about my guest, Christine Handy.
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Welcome, everyone. This is your host Mariana Thomas, with the Mindfully Recharged podcast. In today's episode, I am talking with Christine Handy. She's a mother, best-selling author, breast cancer survivor. She's a motivational speaker, Fox News Breast Cancer Expert, and humanitarian. Christine is on the Board of Ebeauty, this is a national charitable wig exchange program for those who can't afford wigs during their cancer treatment. Christine is also the President of the Board of People of Purpose - a non-profit company in Palm Beach. I am super excited to bring Christine to you. And most importantly, you have to read her book, you will get to know everything about it during the episode. So, without further ado, let's get to it. See you there.
Intro Speaker 1:13
Welcome to Mindfully Recharged with Mariana Thomas. In this podcast, Mariana brings you mindful conversations and people that will develop and recharge you from the inside-out so that you can increase productivity in your personal and professional life. This is Mindfully Recharged.
Welcome, everyone. And hello, Christine. Welcome to the Mindfully Recharged Podcast. I am super excited and honored to have you with us today. How are you, my friend?
Well, how long do we have?
I know, I know.
No, it’s a long story. And it started about a decade ago. It's a story of hope and perseverance. So hopefully your listeners will like that.
Absolutely. I cannot wait to begin to talk to you because when I met you, I was fascinated right away with you, my friend. I knew that I wanted to bring you to the podcast and that's why I send you that invitation and you gracefully said yes. Thank you so much. So, tell me, where was Christine born? Like what was that like, a little girl growing up?
I was born in Chicago but grew up mostly in St. Louis, Missouri. And then after I was 18, and I went to college, I went to university in Dallas, Texas. And I ended up staying in Dallas for about 23 years, raised my kids there. And now I live in Miami, Florida. So, I've moved around a little bit.
That's awesome. That's awesome. And I can't wait to… we’ll get there… But I can't wait to get to the book because, just the name of the book…
Yes, Walk Beside Me - walk beside us, we should all be walking beside each other. That's the truth of the whole story.
It is, isn't it? Yes. So, Christine, tell me more about the time where life changed.
Yes, life really shifted for me about a decade ago, I was, when I was very young, I wanted to become a model. And I did become a model at the age of 11. Even though it really wasn't something that my parents wanted me to do. I had three other sisters at home. And you know, they were busy, and driving me around to casting calls was not something that they were interested in. But ultimately, they gave in and I was a model for about 30 years. And that was my career. And that's really all I knew, and I loved it. I had a really good experience. I worked all over the country and also in Europe. And, you know, I worked for a lot of great clients. And that's again, that's all I really knew. And I was completely dependent on the external facade, and what I looked like. And what I mean by that was I really wasn't getting to know myself. What do I really like to do? What were my hobbies? Who did I really like to be around? I really just determined my life, my walk in my life, based on my occupation for one. And also, you know, the type of clients I got and really what I looked like, you know, I would go to casting calls and if my hair color wasn't perfectly blonde, they would say something to my agent and I would get in trouble. So, it was a very transactional life. And ultimately, when I was 35, I had a very bad surgery and ended up with two blood transfusions. And six years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so ultimately, I lost the beauty that I was very dependent on. And I lost my hair and I was 90 pounds. And I had a port in my chest and I had scars now all over. And I really couldn't figure out who was I. Because for so long, I was only attracted to the external part of me, that was all I wanted to get to know. And so ultimately, when that came crashing down because when you build your life on sand, it ultimately crashes down. And when ultimately that came down, and…
Hmm, we get it, we get it. Okay, that's a Twitter moment. And right there like Oprah said, I just got to channel Oprah right now, let’s Twitter that “you build your life on sand” and it’s definitely going to…
You're going to crumble down; it crumbles around you. If you build your life on sand, it will crumble around you which ultimately mine did. And it was in the false idols that I adored, it was in a false identity that I adored, that ultimately fell apart. It never, it's not sustainable, it never is. But I thought I could keep it that way forever. And so, when that facade came falling down very quickly, with breast cancer, I had to figure out who I really was inside. And to be totally honest with you, I didn't really want to do that. I didn't want the whole facade to shatter down, I wanted to keep that. And I didn't want to get to know the inside of me. But I was really forced to. And so, as I got to know me with the help of many, many women who shored by my side, to help me get to that place where I wanted to get to know me, now, they basically said to me, we will be the hands and the feet of the Lord to help you until you can help yourself because at the time,
Where did you find these women, like who were they?
They were my lifelong friends. Fortunately, I had not built my female friendships on sand, I had built those on concrete. So, they were rooted, they were strong. And they weren't false idols. They were, you know, we were meant to be in community with people, we're meant to live in community with people. And these women stood by my side. And they also taught me that, you know, life isn't transactional, that people shouldn't be transactional, and they would never leave my side, which they didn't. And so, ultimately, when I started to figure out who I was, I started to realize that life wasn't about, you know, the bag that I could carry, or the street address that I lived on, or the car I was driving. And, and that sounds very cliche, right? But it really, it wasn't just about that it was also about serving other people, and how could I serve other people, I could use my story, my story of this, you know, false identity to ultimately who I became. And so, within storytelling, there's so much power and vulnerability that we can access the world. And when we do that, other people don't feel so alone. And so, what I mean by that is, you know, somebody could go get a COVID shot, right, and they could feel sick. Now, if everybody around them said, the COVID shot was fine for me, I never got sick, you'd think, hmm, there's something wrong with me. There's something that is happening to me, that didn't happen to anybody else. No, that's a tiny example. But if you use that story within cancer, or trauma, or ill, you know, major illnesses, if people think they're walking through it alone, it's a much more difficult path. But if there are stories, or if they're storytelling, then people won't feel so isolated and lonely. And so that's what I decided to do. I decided to use my pain for the purpose to help other people. And ultimately, that serving mentality, that serving heart actually brought me real joy. And so, I was happy in my life for as long as I can remember, but I don't remember feeling much joy.
And that's what I want to…I want to go in there. Right there. I want to ask you, what was it like to be an international beautiful model? You're still beautiful, Christine. I can't imagine before cancer, what you looked like. Yeah, so what was it like being an international model, and then lose your hair and the image?
Yeah, it was it was life-shattering. But it was also life-shattering because my strongholds were in that identity. Now, I knew a lot of other models that worked for me or worked with me, that also had that stronghold, but there were a lot of models that, you know, came in and out of the business and they didn't have that stronghold. And so, they knew who they were outside of the modeling world. I did not. And so, I think that's what really tripped me up because my identity was solely on that one.
Yeah, but that one side, yes.
That one identity.
So, Christine, will you say that you were living from the outside-in?
As clear as day.
Yeah. Well, that brings me as to what I teach is to live from the inside-out, which is completely different. We have these moments in our lives that wake us up, you know, and we have been living from the outside-in, and would really need to bring us out to the inside.
Yeah, those moments are meant to teach. But we have to take the cue. So many people go through trauma and turn into bitterness, versus going through trauma and turning it into storytelling and trying to serve other people. Those are very different, but it's really a choice how we use our pain.
Exactly, absolutely. I mean, how many people had things happen to them, and they go and just harm other people versus adding value?
Right. And what a difference that is right?
What is the difference? Right? That's a huge, huge difference. So, when you talk about - what I wanted to do after that was going to help other people - was that the reason why you decided to write your story?
Yes, that's exactly why I wrote my book, I had a level of intimacy with these women that drew, it didn't just draw other people closer to us, it really changed and permeated in the community around us. And it didn't just affect my life or their life, it affected so many layers of people in the community because they were watching, right, they were watching this level of intimacy in this commitment. And so, I thought to myself, well, if this can change community, think about how much it can change a much broader group, and the serving and in the sharing is about how you carry each other. Right? And not through one season or two seasons, but season after season after illness or trauma or pain. And when you don't forsake people in that kind of environment, you know, people are watching and they learn. And so I thought, well if I write a book about this about women really carry each other instead of, you know, what we see maybe on TV, or in the news about women tearing each other apart, and maybe this can help other people. And it's a bigger platform, right. And so, I wrote my book. And ultimately, it did change hundreds of thousands of lives, literally. And so, my book became a best-seller, and it now is being made into a film and I hope it can continue to change other people's lives because it's such a powerful story about, you know, intimacy and companionship with female friends.
We cannot wait to see that film. We got to definitely let the audience know when that comes out on social media. So, what was the initiative for the name? I mean, it kind of it made sense to me, when you talked about, you know, the women that were right there with you. What made that name happen for you?
Well, I have always walked, you know, through life literally, physically, and emotionally, with my friends. And so even at a young age, when I was modeling, I was always, you know, exercise walking, because I was trying to stay thin and fit. And when I was going through chemotherapy, my friends, even when I was the sickest, they would say, "Okay, come on, let's get up. Let's take a walk around the block, even if it was like 50 feet in one direction and 50 feet back." It was that walking together, metaphorically and physically. And I just said, you know, I have to have "walking" in the name of this book, because it really embodies this whole story. And so, Walk Beside Me is the name of the book, but it's also you know, metaphorically it's ultimately what we should all really do with each other is walk beside each other.
Yes. And I love, as I was reading some of the things in the book, I love how you, each chapter is like, each part of what you are living. You know I saw like, "holiday", and you know, just like everything within the meaning, you know, every holiday or every event, you walk together.
Thank you. Well yeah. It's a powerful story. I hope some of the viewers will have a chance to read it. But it's really is such a privilege to be able to share my story, even the parts of myself that I don't really like, was very vulnerable in telling the story, because you know, you can't really expect people to read a story about your life, if you are saying, “oh, all of this was so great, even an illness, everybody stood by me, and there were no problems, and there was no scandal”, so to speak, but that's not true. And so, I wrote the parts that, you know, weren't as flattering about myself in the book and weren't necessarily the nicest things about myself, I put it all out there. Because you have to in order to be vulnerable, you have to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. And when I was going through breast cancer, I was given a lot of books: self-help books, religious books; which really helped me, they were very powerful in my life. But there wasn't a fictional depiction of somebody walking through that journey. And I wanted that for other people. I wanted somebody to be able to pick up a book and say, “Well, this might happen, or this might not happen, but this happened. And so maybe I don't feel so isolated in my journey.”
And that's what I loved about it. When I picked up the book and I saw the title, then I went inside and looked at every step. I was like, wow, this is incredible. Everyone needs to read this. But the other thing I wanted to ask you, Christine is, what was your family like at that moment? What was the support from the family? We were talking about friends, right? They came along, they walk right beside you. Went for a walk every single day.
At least a few feet.
Yeah. So how did this affect your immediate family?
Yeah, I think it was really difficult. I mean, I have two sons, and they were 11 and 13 years old. And so, for them, you know, boys, they don't like to talk much, especially at that age, they're very introverted. And so, it was hard for them to emote, how they felt about it. But I'll give you one example, of how they showed maybe projected their fear. My young son was in fifth grade at the time. And he came home one day, and I had a brunette wig on, I've been blonde my whole life. But when you have no hair, you know, you can play around with the wigs. And so I thought, Oh, I'm going to get a cute little brunette wig, which I really liked. And he came home from school, and it was on my head. And he literally came over to me and he took the wig off and threw it across the room. And he didn't say a word. But the message was very loud and clear. He wanted his mom to look like his mom. He didn't want his mom to look different.
How did that make you feel?
Protective of him. I never used that wig again. I was very protective of him. And I was so grateful that he had the ability even in anger, right? Anger is fear. He had the ability to say, not in words, but through action, what he needed.
Do you know what just came to me, Christine? What he said to you was “stop living from the outside-in. Because that wig was a representation of living on the outside. Right? You're still wanting to have your hair and you still want it to look beautiful on the outside.
Yup. I sure did.
And for him was like “I want my mom and everything that she represents.” And what she represents right now is no hair and that's fine with me. What a beautiful thing and what a beautiful message.
Yeah. Oh my gosh, our children can teach us so much.
That just melts my heart because I do have a daughter and she is my biggest teacher. I learned so much from her, you know, at this age, and we still learning from them. I have another question, Christine. You know, I know that your mission now is to help women and to make sure that we are adding value to them, and that is my mission as well. This podcast is called Mindfully Recharged. So, I love recharging people with their stories, even when I do a solo podcast about health, wellness, or whatever it is, it’s about recharging people. So, the question is, what tips can you give for women who need a self-esteem boost?
Oh, I have great tips.
I can’t wait.
I love this topic so much because you know if you think about it, my self-esteem was literally at nothing. When I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn't believe in myself at all, like all this, all this facade was all I believed in. And when that's taken away, you have no control over that, right? When it’s taken away, it's gone. And so, I had to really rebuild my self-esteem and I didn't have a coach, I had friends and I had a family. But I was the coach, I had to really search out how am I going to rebuild myself and ultimately, my self-esteem. And so, I really started to discern what I said to myself within my own head. So even if I was playing a game of (not during chemo), but even if I was playing a game of tennis, which I have for the past several years, I would think, and I would remind myself if I hit a shot into the net, I would say to myself, “well, that was a terrible shot.” And I would stop myself and go, “Well, that's not a very nice thing to say to yourself.” And so, I would start really listening to the words that I was saying about myself to myself, that's first. Because what we think about ourselves is what we become right. And then secondly, I was started to discern the people around me and what they were talking to me and saying, for me. And so, if they were advocating for me, I wanted to hear what they were saying, for me. And I also wanted to hear what they were saying to me. And if I wasn't in alignment with how I felt about myself or raising my self-esteem, I had to, in a kind way, push those people out of my life gently. And the other thing I started to discern was what was I watching on TV, what podcast was I listening to, what music was I listening to, what movies were I watching, because all of those voices: myself, your peers, your family, your friends, and outside noise - that ultimately dictates your life, and more importantly, your self-esteem. And so, when you go through that list, and I would recommend people actually writing it down when you go through that list, you can really shift in your perspective and your self-esteem can be raised almost immediately, once you eliminate the negativity from those other voices, including your own. And so, once I started to do that my self-esteem started to get elevated and higher and higher and higher until I finally felt such pride in myself. And it wasn't because of acts, it wasn't because I fought so hard. It wasn't because of my grit, my grace, I wasn't earning my self-love. I just had self-love for myself, we don't have to do it, it's not an activity, in order to get grace and self-love. We just have to be who we are. And that's enough. And so, when I started to talk to myself that way, it started to even get exponentially greater. And you know, pride, the pride is many things. But pride in yourself is a really healthy way to walk through life. And so, and I talked about that with people who talk about my book, because, you know, you see at the beginning of my book, somebody who's so alone, and so lost and towards the end of my book, I ended up physically, almost physically being more alone, like I moved away…
I'm going to ask you at the beginning of the book. I need to finish this, but I had something to ask you from the beginning of the book.
Yeah. So ultimately, when I was more alone, at the end of the book, you know, my friends had said, okay, we've launched you, we're setting you off. When I was in that position, even alone, I felt completely confident. Versus at the beginning of the book, I felt completely alone inside but had all these other people around me.
And so, will you say that you stopped listening, and you started talking? Because what happens is that when we stop listening to all the voices, now we become a little more silent. And we start talking or saying the words that we need to tell ourselves, you know, I tell my clients, stop listening so much. And start talking to yourself. Stop listening to yourself, because all the voices in your head telling you that you're not so good enough, you're not worthy, or whatever it is. You don't tell yourself enough that you are worthy, that you are good enough, that you are beautiful from the inside-out. All those things are about talking to yourself more than listening to yourself.
Yes. I love that. I absolutely love that. So going back to when you talked about the beginning of the book, and this strikes me. I don't know how far you want to go into this. But I just had to ask you when you talked about wanting to kill yourself. What was that moment like?
You know, it was a complete lack of self-worth, I felt like my friends and my family had given me, had used their resources, right? Their love, their compassion, their empathy enough. And I thought that my tokens of love were already used up. And I knew I was about to go through 28 rounds of chemotherapy and who knew how many surgeries and I just said to myself, “I can't do this alone.” And I thought they were going to quit on me because I was quitting on me. So why would anybody else stand by me if I quit on myself? And so, I knew exactly when I was going to take my life. I knew how I was going to take my life. And I was just waiting for my older son to get home from boarding school, to basically tell him I love you. And not I wasn't going to tell him I was going to kill myself.
To say goodbye.
Yeah, in a weird way, in a terrible way. But you know, the other thing about that was, my mind was not in the right place. You know, I was 41 years old, and somebody had just said to me: “You have breast cancer and these are the odds of you surviving that.” That's not a normal thing to go through. That's a really traumatic thing. And in that process, you're going to lose the only identity that you ever thought about yourself. Okay, now, that's a double whammy. And so, my brain was like, I have nowhere else to go, I have to quit because I can't take it. And that was obviously a very selfish reaction. But also, my mind wasn't in the right place. Again, if I had rooted myself on faith and friendship, and community versus fear, and that lost facade, I wouldn't have been in the position I was in.
And afraid of losing the outside. I think it was more than losing all the outside and like, “Oh, my God, I can't live without this.”
Because that's what I thought I was.
And this was what was striking about you when I met you because the first thing that I noticed was your beautiful picture. And I thought, wow, this woman is so gorgeous. And I said that to you. And you said “yeah, you never know what's behind that,” doesn't it?
Isn't that interesting?
Isn't that? And that struck me, and that's when you told me a little bit of this story and I recognized that you have overcome that. You know, because you will never know what’s behind that beautiful picture.
You’ll never know until you actually get interested in the person. You know, until you actually ask questions, until you actually are intentional in getting to know that person and not just the outside. Because I was attracted to you right away, I’m like, “What a beautiful picture.” But also, I was attracted to your energy. It’s so deeper than that. And your aura was so beautiful, I was like I have to know this woman. So that's why I talked to you. And I am so grateful to my intuition, which is one of my superpowers. I always use it and it takes me to the right place.
Good for you.
Yeah. That's one thing I always have to be grateful for. So, I was not wrong when I said I wanted to get to know you. So, let's take it to now the business side. Yes, I know you are on the board of directors of two organizations. What drew you to serve in a nonprofit? You were a famous model making money internationally. And now you work in a nonprofit?
Well, I'd like to say that I make money in the nonprofit, but I only do it for service reasons. I am a motivational speaker by trade. And obviously, my book is being made into a film. So that's where my salary comes from. But I'm on the board of two nonprofits. One is called Ebeauty, which is a wig exchange program for women who cannot afford a wig during treatment. And the other one, I’m the president of the organization called People of Purpose. And we are trying to change the landscape of recidivism in Palm Beach County. So basically, we're trying to help inmates who come out of jail to get jobs, to get well, most importantly, employment. And so, we're trying to change that landscape and we're doing actually a really good job of doing that. So those are kind of my, those are my passion projects and that gives me incredible joy to work on.
What a way of adding value. We have to talk more about that because some have always been interested in knowing about a nonprofit, I have so many people working on them. But um, it doesn't mean you want to get involved with everyone. Right? So there has to be something that aligns with you. So that brings me to this question because, you know, health and wellness is something that I have done for so many years. One of the things right, if you look in my bio, I’m a multi-passionate person, the health and wellness started when I was 16. And my mother passed away when she was 33 years old. I was 13. I feel like if she would take care of her health a little bit more and listened to the doctors, she probably would still be here, but we don't know. Right? God has always a plan. Yeah. So, my question to you Christine, I know that when you do have cancer, you go through a lot of chemos. And I can't even imagine the amount that you went through. And I just want to know, how did you go over so much chemo and still look so beautiful, like you are recharged? I want to know that.
That's a very generous compliment. Thank you. Um, yeah, chemotherapy attacks healthy cells and cancer cells. So, unfortunately, you know, I've had a lot of complications with chemo. But I did hire a nutritionist when I was going through chemotherapy, and I did take, I started to take a lot of supplements. I think my favorite supplement has been milk thistle. I don't know if you're familiar with that one. But that's a good one, it detoxifies your liver. The other one that's a good breast cancer preventer is D3. And I have a couple of oncologists, and they always promote D3. That's a really good one for cancer prevention. I didn't really eat in a different way. I must tell you because I am allergic to sugar. And so, a lot of people say, cancer feeds off sugar, and maybe it does. But as a person who's allergic to sugar and doesn't eat sugar… I got cancer, and I had a pretty aggressive form. So, you know, I think in the health and wellness field, a lot of people make a lot of assumptions about how to heal in certain ways. And a lot of it is applicable, but some of it's not. And so, everybody's different, right? I try to take what I can tolerate what I can't tolerate, and I try to add, I've done other things like acupuncture, I've added acupuncture to my life, I add, you know, of course, I work out, exercise a lot. I walk a lot. And I take supplements, and I get a lot of vitamin C because I live in Florida. But I think doing whatever you feel is going to contribute to your health and well-being albeit very different than other people, then that's, that's important for you. What I don't really like is people making these very global statements about how best to ward off cancer because I don't think they apply to everybody.
That’s interesting. Thank you for the answer, Christine, because, you know, my daughter, she just graduated last year as a Biochemical Engineer. I always had these discussions with her, you know about ingredients and things. And one day we were talking about sugar. And I was telling her as a mom, like telling something to your kids “don't do this and don't do that.” And I told her, “Hey, stop eating so much sugar.” And I remember clearly, she said to me, “Mom, is sugar is not bad. It's how much you take. You got to have a little bit of everything.” She said that to me, and you know what is true. I mean, what you just said - someone who is allergic to sugar, and I hear this all the time: “Cancer loves sugar”, but you never eat sugar, and yet you got it.
And listen, I'm not a physician and I’m sure cancer, you know, I'm sure sugar does - well I’m not sure because I’m not a doctor but maybe it does feed cancer, I don't know but I don't think that blanket statement applies to everybody. Like I said I can't even eat it and so it doesn't apply to me. I think a lot of times those are scare tactics and I don't really like scare tactics I think every, like your daughter, said, everything in moderation is what is more important you know. If you completely take something out of your life just because you're afraid of getting something it's never going to stay it's not going to stick.
And also, just to treat the person right, not the whole entire world. Because not everyone reacts to things the same way.
Fortunately, we're all completely different and we're made perfectly different, so everything doesn't always apply to everybody. We are perfectly imperfect.
That’s right. Well, what an amazing conversation today, Christine you have been a joy. I just want you to remind the audience of the name of the book and also, I want you to tell the audience one thing that you want them to remember about Mindfully Recharging themselves when they go through something like cancer.
Okay. My book is called Walk Beside Me by Christine Handy, and the one tip I can give you is to remember that when you're going through difficult health and well, you know a difficult illness, it IS about you. And don't worry so much about other people at the time, what matters is you taking care of yourself first and it's hard for us women to do. That it's hard for us to put the mask on first, but it's critical. If we don't do that, we're not going to be around to take care of other people, so take care of yourself it's not selfish it's self-love.
I am clapping over here because that is what I preach to my clients. Self-care is not selfish, okay? Make the time to put yourself first. That is exactly what I preach thank you so much and you guys, you know the link to the book will be on the show notes. I’m going to link that in there so you guys can make sure you buy this amazing story; you do not want to miss this story. So, you can read this you know, summer is coming spring, it’s getting beautiful out there so when you're sitting outside you can be reading this amazing story that not only is going to inspire you, but you're probably going to inspire other people with it. It’s not just about buying the book but it's about buying inspiration and through the story. And the book is not the only thing that is coming up, but the film. So, we get to make some noise when that happens. And with that my friend, I thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for being here with us on the Mindfully Recharged podcast. And to you guys, I’ll see you next time on the next episode. Bye.
Thank you for listening, everyone. And don't forget to go to the show notes and click to download your free Mindful and Energetic Living Guide. Also, don't forget to share this podcast with your friends, families, and everyone up there. I want to get this out there to everyone. So, thank you for your support, and I'll see you next week.