The Innocence I Left Behind After My Breast Cancer Diagnosis
I started my career as a model when I was 11 years old. I modeled during high school, throughout college, when I was married and between pregnancies and having my children. I remember when I had found out I was pregnant with my first child and I had already booked the Just Add Water bathing suit National campaign. I wasn’t ready to tell my modeling agency so I did the shoot anyway. Fortunately, it was my first baby and nobody could tell that I was pregnant. That was who I was, my job was that important and I was that determined. I was a life-long model and had planned to do it forever. Modeling was what I knew and it was comforting. Being in front of the camera was so ingrained in me that it was where I felt most comfortable in this world and safest.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 41 and I thought that my career was definitely over. Of course that wasn’t my first concern but when you are diagnosed with cancer you cling to the familiar and the comforting. Modeling was that for me. The diagnosis was traumatic enough, but the dependency I had on my external looks was shattering as well. I had become so influenced by my external beauty I didn’t truly know who I was inside.
After 28 rounds and 15 months of chemotherapy and about 10 surgeries (but who’s counting), I had to come to grips with the fact that what I looked like meant nothing. The importance of who I was came from within. The facade, the mask that I had once worn looked different now but so was I.
Breast cancer wasn’t the end to my career or my life, it was just a beginning to a new career and journey. Since my cancer diagnosis, I have gone on to write a best-selling novel called Walk Beside Me and I have become a National motivational speaker, the modeling was just a stepping stool to train me to shine in this new becoming.
The world sees beauty in a way that we can understand until we can’t anymore. My real beauty was bubbling to come out but I wouldn’t let it. I was staunch in standing firm in the familiar yet temporary self-worth that was rooted in my modeling career even though I knew it felt fleeting. It wasn’t until I almost lost my life that I really started to live it. That innocence that we leave behind after our diagnosis is not understood by all, but those who follow in our footsteps not only need to look to us for understanding but we need to provide a shelter of hope. In doing so we share our stories, which provides such hope.
My value is not dependent on anything external, not beauty, not things, not people. My value is determined by who I am inside and that is what I found during cancer. I found myself–the best version possible. The gifting of cancer can really become extraordinary if we are willing to share it. When I was diagnosed I had no friends or family with the disease and no family history. It felt very isolating and lonely. But once I figured out who I really was and I had the courage to share it, the vulnerability gave a voice to so many who had none, including me.
It’s the purpose in the pain that matters. It’s the giving back, the cheering each other on that saves lives. We need each other and that doesn’t have anything to do with our looks or our appearance. We need the inside to shore each other forward and that becomes the most beautiful site on earth.
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Christine Handy is a National and International model. Best selling Author of Walk Beside Me, motivational Speaker, FOX radio news breast cancer expert, Nationally recognized Humanitarian.