The Style Station spoke with model Christine Handy about cancer and her book Walk Beside Me
I first met Christine Handy in the Hollywood Hills at the home of Melissa Meister, founder of The Style Station. I had accepted an invitation to spend some time at Melissa‘s during a photo shoot. Melissa had informed me that the subject was a female cancer survivor and that the theme was “imperfect beauty.” Other than that I knew nothing else about her. When I first arrived Melissa was on a scout for backdrop paper at a nearby photo store. After I was able to let myself in through an intricately designed wrought iron gate Christine greeted me on the upper deck, where I made my way through a most amazing path among a vast array of trees, shrubbery, and foliage, almost forest like. I was immediately struck by her golden blonde hair (which was piled into a knot) her beautiful smile and her graceful stature. After inviting me inside, she like a gracious host offered me a glass of water which I humbly declined. Then she was off to finish getting ready for her shoot. When we could finally sit down to talk Christine was engaging and interesting, in fact within minutes of our conversation we both became blatantly aware of our similarities. We both were from Chicago, we both had children (all boys), and we were both writers. I really wanted to hear her story as she explained to me that a series of painful tests to detect a searing pain in her arm led her to an even more striking event that would change her life forever. Soon after she then learned that she had breast cancer; it was an emotional and devastating time for her. She shared that she had completed a book; a fictional account loosely based on her real-life experience, Walk Beside Me (a national bestseller in its own right) and as we dove deeper into her account of her occurrences I felt a safeness in making my own reveal; to add to the similarities we both were cancer survivors. It was quite a moment.
I then explained to her what I did for Style Station, that I was the Beauty Content Contributor and that I usually wrote articles based on my experience as a makeup artist and so she asked me if by any chance I would be writing this piece. At the time I didn’t know that I would be but apparently, the universe had other plans. When Melissa asked me to come and sit in on the photo shoot she had no idea about my past either and was simply asking me to join for the fun of it as well as the experience of meeting new people and sharing in a day with other strong empowered women. What I experienced was so much more. That next week on a Friday Christine agreed to a phone interview with questions comprised by Melissa Meister and myself. The following is what we learned. Linda Jamison: Tell me where you’re from?
Christine Handy: I was born in Chicago but I was raised in St. Louis and I spent most of my adult years in Texas but currently I live in Miami.
LJ: How old were you when you first started modeling?
CH: I was eleven years old.
LJ: Wow, that young?
Christine laughs at my surprise.
CH: Yes, I modeled until I was 35 years old.
LJ: Oh, I don’t know why but I was under the impression that you still model.
CH: Well I still do some campaigns but my primary years in modeling were from when I was 11 to 35 years old.
LJ: When we first met you expressed that in modeling you felt that your identity was lost on those in the industry creating it for you. Can you elaborate on that?
CH: I think my identity even before modeling was wrapped up into what I looked like. When I started modeling it just enveloped me. My self-worth was wrapped up into what I looked like; for one thing, it was my career path, it was what I chose to do but I also felt like that’s why people were attracted to me. It wasn’t about who I was inside but it was more about my external beauty.
LJ: And that was probably further encouraged because you were in the modeling world.
CH: Well yeah, that’s how you get paid.
We’re both laughing now.
CH: You have to be a certain height, a certain weight, a certain look, blah, blah, blah from their marketing perspective. And so, for instance, I was very conscientious of what I did, I couldn’t cut my hair, I couldn’t change my hair color and I couldn’t be a different size. I had to remain like what I looked like on my comp card which was my resume.
LJ: When you first detected the infection in your arm do you think that was a symptom of cancer?
CH: I think the infection in my arm depleted my body for so long. It went undiagnosed for so many months and my body was fighting that and I believe for me who has no family history of cancer, I was young, I’m allergic to sugar, there are so many reasons why I would never have thought to ever have cancer much less at such a young age. I could probably never get a doctor to say this but yes, I do believe that with an illness in your body other illnesses can manifest.
LJ: When did you first discover that you had cancer? What was your initial reaction?
CH: I felt a lump in my left breast right after my right arm was fused and so for many, many months I wasn’t able to really wash my body because I had so many different casts on my arm. So I would stick my arm out of the shower and pour liquid soap over my shoulder and let it run over my body but I didn’t wash it necessarily. It had been months since I washed my breasts, obviously I didn’t do a breast exam, in fact, I even went to my OB-GYN check-up and he said, “You’re due for your mammogram.” I said, “I can’t; I have a pick line in my arm.” I said, “There’s really no reason to do it. I’m not going to get cancer." So I skipped my mammogram for six months and I probably had cancer the whole time.
LJ: Wow, it’s scary to think that you might be correct.
We both sigh. It’s a pivotal moment in our conversation; there is a gut feeling that she always had but saying it out loud just reconfirms how even more serious the situation was. We move on.
LJ: What was the most difficult part of working through your illness?
CH: Without question, the physical part has been life-changing, for instance, I can’t even add up how many times I’ve been cut into. In fact, the feeling of being touched, when I think about that I think about being cut more than I feel like being touched, like by someone rubbing my back or touching my arm. I had 28 rounds of chemotherapy, I had 18 surgeries in the last 7 years and so physically it's taken a toll. And I’m also in so much pain constantly because of my arm so that emotionally takes a toll and it emotionally wears you down. The emotional weight of all those illnesses and the fear has been life-changing as well in a different regard.
LJ: What are some of the least obvious challenges you face when you’re behind closed doors?
CH: When I’m behind closed doors I look at my scars and I think, “How did this happen?” And well, of course, I know how it happened.
LJ: Is it more the “why”?
CH: Yes, and so that’s challenging. I have to remind myself that everything’s okay and it’s not going to happen again and I’m in a different place emotionally, that I’m strong and I’m capable of love. That gets me through it.
LJ: What is the difference in how you feel about yourself pre and post cancer?
CH: I really feel like I put on this air that I had this really strong self-esteem when I was younger pre-cancer but inside I felt really lost and alone. And once I got through cancer and all of the other illnesses I felt like my feeling of self-love and self-worth — I felt like I was a different person it was so dramatically different. I would not want to go back to that person who was so lost and alone even without scars because I didn’t feel like I had any purpose in life.
LJ: What are the things you like about yourself now?
She laughs unreservedly before answering in her confident voice.
CH: I love everything about me!
I chuckle as well.
LJ: Good answer.
CH: I really do. I love the person I have become. I love the wisdom that I am capable of sharing with others. I love that I love myself and I think that is so important. I love that I have self-esteem because for so many years I didn’t have self-esteem and I didn’t know how to find it. I’m so lucky that I’ve found my self-esteem. I love that I have the ability to share my story in a way that helps other people.
LJ: And now, do you feel more feminine or less feminine when you look at yourself?
CH: I feel more feminine because I feel more like a woman. I feel like because my “warrior women” who stood by me and stood up for me became a force in my life. And now I’m more proud to be a woman; I’m proud to be a part of the female population because we are so powerful. But we’re more powerful together.
LJ: That couldn’t be truer. Can you explain your “imperfect beauty”?
CH: We’re all imperfect beauties, I mean we’re all beautiful but there is no “perfect” other than God. So for me, my "ideal" was trying to be as perfect as I could become and that didn’t get me very far. (Laughter) So I feel like the more imperfect I have become physically, the more powerful I’ve become. I’m much more comfortable and a much more improved version of who I used to be.
Written by: Linda Jamison