One of our favorites interviews with Christine Handy Best Selling Author of Walk Beside Me, Mother, Cancer Survivor, dedicated champion of charity, and Motivational Speaker. She never imagined those dreaded words would be said to her, you have cancer. Christine faced an ominous diagnosis of agressive breast cancer at age 40 and spent the next 15 months in a fight for her life. “Walk Beside Me is a must-read for anyone who has ever lost hope. Christine offers an inspiring message through her novel. I could not put the book down. Christine Handy is inspiring, empowering and shared her incredible journey to inspire others.” Publisher, Cheri Cranford
Missouri Magazine: Tell us a about your hometown and a few memories growing up in Missouri.
Christine Handy: I grew up in St Louis. I am so proud of my roots and upbringing. I loved growing up in Missouri and I especially love the people. Mid westerners are kind, humble, hard workers and I have always found that they root for each other. ‘We are who we surround ourselves with’ is one phrase I always say when I speak to audiences, and that has been true of why I am who I am, because I grew up in such a solid, respectful city with like minded people. I have overcome so many obstacles, but it wouldn’t have happened without my solid foundation and that came from St Louis. My favorite memories from St Louis come from events like going to the Cardinals games and from working there in my teens. I started modeling at the age of 11 years for an agency in St. Louis called Talent Plus. That was my first of many modeling agents and I still have such incredible memories of the jobs and of the agents who worked there. I remember shooting for the St. Louis Cardinals catalog year after year. Since I went to the games with my family, it was so fun and exciting for me to be modeling their athletic wear. I was always very proud to be from a city with such a loyal fan base to our hometown team. Who’s not a Cardinals fan!?
I remember well the beautiful seasons we have in Missouri. I miss that a lot. Missouri is such a beautiful state with pretty distinct seasons which for me was comforting. I remember smelling fall coming and the flowers of spring. I have lived away from Missouri for many years, first in Dallas and now Miami and both of those cities don’t have the seasons like I had growing up. Fall was my favorite and being able to pick apples and having real pumpkin patches made my hometown special. It’s easy to go to the store and buy apples but to pick them is a memory I won’t easily forget. Of course, the best thing about growing up there are the friends and family who have carried and loved me for so long. St Louis is a family town, that was a gift to have grown up there.
Missouri Magazine: Christine, can you briefly walk us through your story
Christine Handy: Where do I begin with my story, it is long and difficult but filled with so much purpose and love. It began in St Louis with a little girl with a dream. I used to dream about writing a book for as long as I can remember. I had a pad of paper under my bed and I would write short stories in my early teens. But instead of following that dream, even though I did get into journalism and writing schools out of high school, I ended up continuing my modeling career which took me to Dallas for college. I attended Southern Methodist University and started working-modeling in Dallas. My modeling career took off and I became a ‘working model’ so to speak. I shot Dillard’s, JC Penney catalogs, I booked bigger jobs in Los Angeles for Guess and I also went to Europe to model for Elite model management. But when I was 35 years old, I started to have some health issues. First a colon resection which had complications and I almost bled to death on the operating table, then 6 years later at 41 I had a minor arm issue that turned into a health catastrophe. I had a torn ligament in my right wrist which could be surgically repaired. Unfortunately, the doctor who performed the surgery left an infection in my right arm undiagnosed for months and months. That doctor told me the pain was in my head and bullied me, but one day I went to get a second opinion and the infection was found. It took one Xray to show the infection and damage. That was all that the doctor needed to do, and my arm would have never been destroyed. I was in surgery almost immediately and within months my right arm was fully fused. The damage to my wrist was unfixable and that led to 9 more surgeries. 6 weeks after my arm was fused, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came out of nowhere. I was 42 years old with no family history and still in a cast from my arm fusion. I went on to have 28 rounds of chemotherapy and more surgeries which included mastectomies, reconstructions, a PICC line and a port. I think in 4 years I had had 18 surgeries and 28 rounds of chemo, a fused arm and chronic pain. It was a whirl wind. I went from being a thriving model, mom and wife to a sickly woman dependent on others to even get a glass of water. But my story wasn’t over, I had really only just begun. When I finally emerged from all those battles and wounds, I went on to write my book, I became a motivational speaker, worked as a breast cancer expert from the patient’s perspective for Fox Radio news and have become a spokesperson for multiple breast cancer organizations. I travel on Humanitarian efforts to Haiti and I am on the Board of a non profit called EBeauty. EBeauty redistributes wigs to women in treatment who can’t afford to purchase one.
Missouri Magazine: How did the idea of your book Walk Beside Me come about?
Christine Handy: I knew when I was going through chemotherapy that I had finally gotten the story that I had wanted to write since I was that little girl with that pad of paper under her bed. I had the story I needed to tell. It may not have been the story I would have chosen but it was the story I was given. When I completed chemo and started to get my feet on the ground while healing from cancer and a fused right arm, I started taking meticulous notes about my experiences and journey. I kept all the texts, emails from the several years I was sick and used those to put my story together. I hired an independent company to interview 28 women who helped me through all the illness and obstacles. Once I had those interviews, I went to work to create an honest story with all the grit and grace and all the pain and triumph.
Missouri Magazine: Tell us a little about your book “Walk Beside Me”. What’s the core message you want readers to be inspired by from your story?
Christine Handy: Walk Beside Me is a fictional depiction of my life and journey. It chronicles my story from being a model and my dependence on my physical appearance to getting sickness after sickness, losing my physical beauty and finding who I was inside. Through months of pain and illness all the while my friends never left my side. Those women took care of me and my family for season after season. They gave up their time, resources and other commitments to stay and help heal me. I was totally lost on who I was and how I would ever see life or light, but they never forsake me. Not only did they show up physically they showed up in prayer. They prayed the entire morning I was in my first surgery to take the cancer out of my breast and when I came out of surgery, the doctor was shocked that the tumor was smaller than what they originally measured. These women taught me to believe in myself and the healing power of God and prayer. They mentored me, fed me, drove me, walked with me and fought for me. It’s no coincidence these women were there for me. I believe this story was meant for a greater purpose. To show women what true friendship looks like and how to do it. This story is an example of why we need to take care of our self-esteem and self-worth before we take hits with health or relationships. Because when I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t know who I was, the only thing I knew was what I looked like. That is not sustaining and without those illnesses and cancer I would have never been able to find me, know me and fulfill my true destiny which was to write this book and give hope to others.
Missouri Magazine: Do you have a personal quote you live by?
Christine Handy: I have a personal quote I live by. “What will you do today because you are exchanging a day in your life for it, make it count” I always say that when I speak to audiences. I had not lived such a thoughtful, purposeful life until I realized my days were truly numbered. Only then I think can we really soar to live our fullest. Make today count, we can’t get it back.
Missouri Magazine: Tell us about your team of Angels.
Christine Handy: My ‘team of angels’ I call them, are the women who stood by me, carried me through the trials. They are courageous and Godly women. Many of them St Louis women. I was living in Dallas at the time but most of my family is still in St Louis, and many of my high school friends came to visit and help during this time, good Mid-Western women. All of them were dedicated to our friendship and they literally became my hands and feet until I could stand on my own. Although I was raised with faith in God, they elevated my understanding of God and His faithfulness. They had so many tricks up their sleeves to nurture my soul during this time. They brought me books on faith and prayer, they taught me to always have faith-based music around and they even posted scriptures all over my house so that in every room and almost everywhere I looked I saw the word of God. They also made me realize my life mattered and that living was a gift, one I needed to use to show others hope and how to live. They were unstoppable which taught me to be unstoppable.
Missouri Magazine: What are you working on now?
Christine Handy: I completed my second book which is a sequel to the first. I love it. It’s very different then the first but I won’t give anything away. It is in the editing phase and will be published I hope this year. I am a motivational speaker and I still do some modeling after all these years. I do love to share my story, there are so many lessons wrapped into my book but written as a novel. I want to inspire people but also, I want to show what
true friendship can look like. Women are often portrayed as caddy and back stabbing; my book is the opposite of that. It’s a beautiful tale of friendship and perseverance.
Missouri Magazine: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Christine Handy: Willow the feature film is also being made. It is in a very early phase of development, but it is truly an incredible script that was written by Ziad Hamzeh, American film maker and award winner screenplay writer and director. I always dreamt that this book would be made into a film and now I am watching all my dreams come true. Walk Beside Me is a novel about cancer, illness and the power of friendship, prayer and hope but it’s about so much more than that. Willow Adair could be anyone- your sister, your mother, your best friend, yourself- and sometimes only by reading fiction do we allow the deepest truths of human experience to wash over us like warm summer rain.