A Model, Author, and Breast Cancer Survivor Who Learned to Ask for Help: Christine Handy

A Model, Author, and Breast Cancer Survivor Who Learned to Ask for Help: Christine Handy


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #89 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Christine Handy, a motivational speaker, author, and breast cancer survivor.

In 2016, Christine released her first book Walk Beside Me, a fictional depiction of her illness and a long road to recovery. After her diagnosis, Christine now aims to serve as a spokesperson, speaker, and Ambassador for cancer-related causes.

An accomplished model, Christine began her career at the age of 11 in her hometown of St. Louis. Throughout her career, she has done campaigns for notable brands like Guess, J. Crew, JC Penney, Bud Light, Pepsi, Petco, and Target.

In today's episode, Christine shares her “favorite mistake” story about “quitting” on herself and being afraid to ask for help while battling cancer. How did she manage to put aside pride and to learn to ask for help?

Other topics and questions:

  • What led to not wanting the help anymore?
  • What turned you around?
  • We believe we’re helping others by not asking for help
  • Tell us about the book — Walk Beside Me — Why a fictionalization?
  • Who would you want to play you in the movie that's being made? Jamie King
  • Why does self-esteem need to be worked on every day?
  • Why do you have to question authority?
  • Find her on

Scroll down to find:

  • Video of the episode
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

Watch the Episode:


Christine Handy - "I think we believe that we're helping other people by not asking for help."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 89, Christine Handy, model, author, speaker, and breast cancer survivor.

Christine Handy (7s):
I didn't realize that it was pride at the time, but when I figured out it was my ego, that was tripping me up, then I got rid of it pretty quickly. I think we believe that we're helping other people by not asking for help.

Mark Graban (22s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistake,podcast.com for show notes, links, and more for information about Christine's book. Walk Beside Me, go to markgraban.com/mistake89. Thanks for listening. And now on with the show, my guest today is Christine Handy.

Mark Graban (1m 5s):
She is a motivational speaker and author, and she is a breast cancer survivor. So before I tell you more about her, Christine, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Christine Handy (1m 15s):
Thank you so much for having me. I'm sure.

Mark Graban (1m 17s):
Really excited to hear your story. And there's a lot we can talk about today to tell you a little bit more about Christine. She released her first book Walk Beside Me, a fictional depiction of her illness and long road to recovery. So a quick detour, when an author refers to their book as a first book, there's probably more books inside of you, you think?

Christine Handy (1m 37s):
Yeah, I've already written another one. I just haven't published it yet. Okay.

Mark Graban (1m 40s):
So there you go. That was not a mistake in guests on my part. So that's great. So Christine was an accomplished model who began her career at the age of 11 in her hometown of St. Louis. And so through her career, she's done campaigns for notable brands, such as guest, J crew, JC penney, bud light, Pepsi, Petco and target. So that's quite a range that you got to work with. And after her diagnosis, again, Christina is a breast cancer survivor. She now aims to serve as a spokesperson speaker and ambassador for cancer related causes. So I'm again, thank you for that advocacy work, of course.

Mark Graban (2m 20s):
And again, thank you for being here on the podcast.

Christine Handy (2m 23s):

Mark Graban (2m 25s):
So as we normally do here, we'll kind of jump right in and ask, you know, Christie and looking back, what is your favorite mistake? What was it?

Christine Handy (2m 33s):
Well, I had to think about that for a while, cause I've made a lot of mistakes, but I think the best mistake I ever made was quitting on myself. Have you ever had that before? I've, you know, I've had some

Mark Graban (2m 45s):
Guests, I'm sure your story will be unique. I I've had a two who said they didn't believe in themselves and that's different than quitting on themselves, I guess. So what, what led you to that conclusion that you quit on yourself?

Christine Handy (2m 58s):
So when I was with cancer, I had been very dependent on my looks and I used my value in the external world, right. To my, to help my modeling career. And so I was very dependent on that. It was very dependent on the external world and when I was diagnosed with cancer, you know, at that point I had just come off with a year of a bad doctor and a fused arm. And I was looking into my life like, how am I going to move forward with a fused arm? What does that look like? And I'm not going to raise my children and how am I going to drive a car? And you know what? I had so many questions and then I was diagnosed with cancer and I thought, there's no way I'm getting through this because when the oncologist that I had 28 rounds of chemo, I thought, well, I'm not going to ask for help.

Christine Handy (3m 43s):
My friends and family had just used, I used up all the tokens for my friends and family with this year of arm issues. And so I'm never going to be able to ask for help because I had too much pride. And so I have to quit. And I didn't know whether I was going to get through cancer or not. So it was at least in my control, like how I went out and, and I started to tell people, you know, I, I didn't, I don't want you to think that you could have done something, but I'm not fighting. I'm quitting and it's nothing about you, but this is too big of a road and too big of a mountain to climb and I'm not willing to do it. And, and so once I, once, I mean, I really believed that though.

Christine Handy (4m 22s):
I was determined that I was not gonna move forward and, and it wasn't a cry for help. It was really just a becoming right of what I controlled, what I was able to control and what I was able to not to control. And so when I quit and I started to speak about it, my friends and my family said, no, not only will we never forsake you, but God will never forsake you. And they kept showing up. Even when I was quitting, they kept showing up. People kept showing up. They, they may calendars to, for somebody to be at my house every day. And so ultimately I was all in cause they were all in. And when I lost, you know, I went to, ultimately, I lost my, myself, my pride, my ego, and, and succumb to the fact that I needed help.

Christine Handy (5m 7s):
And it was, I was able to ask for help. That's when that's, when my life changed for ever. And so significantly, you know, when people, when people show up, they say to you, we believe in you. And then when people start to believe in you, then you can take that and run with it and start to believe in yourself. And that's what I did. And I realized that my value wasn't dependent on the external, it was really only dependent on what was inside and slowly, I started to figure out who I was and what mattered in life. And it wasn't the bags that I was no longer able to carry. And it wasn't the stuff. And it wasn't people pleasing. It was the life.

Christine Handy (5m 47s):
It was the, the bonds that I was making. It was the value I put into serving other people and sharing my story and my journey. And so I feel like for me, when I really, my life, ultimately it catapult me into where I am now, which is a public speaker. I have a best-selling book out, my books being made into a film. And it was that loss of self, which ultimately became, gave me the opportunity to be incredibly vulnerable about my life. And that's what changed. Especially I had such a big paradigm shift in my life that that's what really changed the course of my life. Hmm.

Mark Graban (6m 23s):
Wow. So it seems like, you know, going back, you know, what, you're, you're telling you, the story, Christine seemed like they were kind of two pivotal moments, one that occurred where you, you didn't feel comfortable anymore asking for help or receiving help after you went through with your arm. And then the second point was sort of coming around to realizing that it was okay to accept that help, like going back to the first, do you know, was it, was this just sort of a gradual thing as you were going through the situation with your arm, where you were starting to feel bad about accepting that help?

Christine Handy (6m 58s):
You know, I, I think what happened with me was I was, I was a model for a long, long time and that dependency on external value started to chip away my self esteem. And when I had the incident with the doctor who I chose to have surgery with when he started to bully me, because there was something really wrong with my arm after the surgery and he just didn't want to take responsibility. And so he basically said, you know, the pain and the swelling is in your head. And I have no response. I have no responsibility for this. And, and I, you know, for many months believed him. And, and so I think it was a gradual self-esteem unraveling.

Christine Handy (7m 39s):
And so by the time I was diagnosed with cancer, I just didn't have any assurance in myself. I didn't feel like I had any value to this world. And it was all because I had just let myself esteem go and just let it, allowed it to get shipped away until it was just non-existent. And I don't think that we, we realized that the work that's happening when we're going through it. But I think if we were to step back and really take an aerial view of our lives, I even do this on a day-to-day basis. Now I step back and go, okay, where are you stumbling? It's in that, stepping back where we can really see the roads that were not meant to be on. And so I tried to talk about my story as much as I can, because I think it can help so many people, you know, where we trip ourselves up with our pride and our ego and our shame and, and lack of self-love.

Christine Handy (8m 33s):
And the other thing that I think is so critical is we get aloud. We get, we expect people to do things for us, like nurture our self-esteem and when our expectations change and we go, no, I don't need you to do that. I need to do that for me, it releases right. And, and it takes all that pressure off ourselves. And so the people that dependence on the people, and that depends on the beauty and the dependence on the material, things, it just goes away and there's a, there's a shift and you become dependent on helping and serving. And that, that ultimately is a self-esteem nurturer as well. Yeah.

Mark Graban (9m 7s):
Well, it's unfortunate that it sounds like the doctor you had dealt with through his actions was, was, was damaging your self esteem, where, you know, you, you realize you, you have actual pain and there are circumstances for that to be denied is really unfortunate. You know, I mean, I, in, in my day job, I spent a lot of time focused on working to prevent what's often framed as patient safety or patient harm. You know, I had a guest recently, Dr. David Mayer, who's with the National Patient Safety Movement Foundation. And you know, a lot of times we think of that harm as being physical, a surgeon cuts into the wrong side of a patient or patient gets an infection while they're in the hospital.

Mark Graban (9m 51s):
It sounds like what you went through was, was a form of emotional harm. If, if that's not too strongly stated,

Christine Handy (9m 59s):
No, I mean, he, we ultimately sued him. I have a fused arm because of him, his negligence. And I did have an infection the whole time. He told me I had RSD and I didn't, he told me, I had, he told me literally that I was a hysterical housewife and that the pain was in my head. Quite literally, those were his words. And so when I ultimately went to see a second opinion and the doctor took one x-ray and every bone in my wrist was broken and it had dropped into a pile on the base of my arm, all of my bones. And he said, you know, this is, this could have been prevented. And of course it could have been, it was, it was an infection that was eating away my arm for seven months. And so it was just colossal tornado, right?

Christine Handy (10m 44s):
And then ultimately my arm was fused and bone grafted and had cadaver bones. And I ultimately had another, I had a cadaver Achilles tendon put in to, just to push in some of the pain. And after that happened, I was up in New York city getting my six week checkup from my surgeon in New York. Ultimately I went to HSS, which is a hospital in New York or one of the best orthopedic hospitals in the world where like, and so I went up there to fix the damage, so to speak. And I was up there in a hotel waiting to go to my appointment and I was trying to take a shower. And for the past several months when I was home, I would just pour liquid soap over my shoulder and let it wash down my body because I had all these casts.

Christine Handy (11m 27s):
So my arm was out of the shower. And so I was at the hotel. I called down to the front desk. I said, it needs liquid soap. And they said, no, we don't have any use of bar soap. So I kept to my arm out of the shower and I tried to use a bar of soap and wash my body. And I found, I washed my breasts for the first time in months. And I found a lump immediately. And three days later I was diagnosed with cancer. So it was just, it was a colossal nightmare.

Mark Graban (11m 52s):
That's the bad upon bad

Christine Handy (11m 54s):
News. Yeah. So how do you go from there? Right. Wow. And so you figured that out, right? So the,

Mark Graban (12m 2s):
The, the next pivotal point of, I guess, you know, putting, as you know, you used the word pride, putting the pride aside and accepting help. Was, was that also gradual or was there a pivotal moment?

Christine Handy (12m 17s):
I didn't realize it was pride at the time, but when I figured out it was my ego, that was tripping me up, then I got rid of it pretty quickly. But I think that we don't, I think we, I think we believe that we're helping other people by not asking for help when I think it's ultimately a self-esteem issue. And so when I was able to differentiate between the two and able to ask for help, knowing that I wasn't putting people out, it was actually a blessing in their life to ask for help because they wanted to walk the journey with me. And I was basically cutting them out of a beautiful in my life, even though it was a season after season of despair and trauma, they were, they were worried about that.

Christine Handy (12m 59s):
You know, my friends and my family used the resource in their time and, you know, their ability to comfort and it take me and share on the journey with me. And that wasn't, that wasn't a problem for them, but I, but I thought it would be a problem for them. And it was my misinformation misunderstanding that caused me to really fight, you know, not fight for my life until ultimately I did.

Mark Graban (13m 22s):
It sounds like, you know, there's maybe a category of mistakes where we self censor instead of making request and having the possibility to being told. No, we tell ourselves no. And we don't even ask. Right. I mean, I think of that in workplace scenarios a time recently where I almost self censored and I'm glad I didn't because I was afraid like, well, if I ask, if I make this request, I might be told no. Right. But then I realized, well, what if I get told? No. Okay, fine. That's the same situation I was in without asking, but that, but that can be difficult.

Christine Handy (13m 57s):
Yeah. Yeah. And I think, I think a lot of us are very dependent on outside approval. Right. And so for me, I definitely was. And when that gets taken, when you realize, when you mature mace, basically out of that, your life can really shift. And that fortunately happened to me. I'm not really, I don't care what other people think of me. And that's very freeing.

Mark Graban (14m 16s):
That is, and I'm, I'm half jokingly. I'm going to ask listeners, please rate and review the podcast because there's, there's, I will admit to lucky to that external validation, but I want to Christine, if you can tell us, I'm curious, then what led to the book, Walk Beside Me and it's a fictionalized version. So I'm curious to hear the story of taking on that project. And then why, why taking that approach of fictionalizing? It,

Christine Handy (14m 44s):
Well, I felt like I was in such an extreme situation with the arm. Like I had a fused arm at 41, you know, I didn't know anybody with a fused arm. And even my doctor in New York said we don't fuse women's men's arms at 41. That's a last resort. And then to be diagnosed with breast cancer on top of that, I thought this is pretty extreme. And then to have people show up for me and continually show up for me season after season and for my paradigm shift, right. To go from a very self-involved and kind of, I wouldn't say just self-involved right to very selfless person. And I think that shift was important for people to realize.

Christine Handy (15m 26s):
And I knew that I was able to tell the story. I knew that I was going to be vulnerable, vulnerable enough to share it. And so I figured, you know, after watching lots of Bravo and lots of TV during chemotherapy, I witnessed a lot of people tearing each other down on TV and networks and, and films and shows. And I thought, you know, my story isn't that my story is about women carrying each other. And I think this needs to be shown to our world. And the other reason I wrote the book was because there weren't a lot of books on stories about breast cancer. There were a lot of self-help books, but there wasn't a tail right there. Wasn't a, there wasn't storytelling as much. There, there is a little bit now. And I, I th I think there was a space for that and, and a woman needed to hear, you know, the good, the bad and the ugly and the hope.

Christine Handy (16m 10s):
Right. And so that's, those are the two reasons I wrote it. And I I'm actually, I mean, obviously I'm very glad I wrote it because it gave me a platform to share my story. And the only reason it's not, self-serving my platform to share my story. Isn't about me. It's about helping other people realize that maybe they were in the situation that I was in, and maybe I can change their plight. Right. That's the goal. Yeah. Yeah. So it's what, I'm sorry, I didn't get a second opinion, you know? Yeah. The bully doctor, you know, there's so many messages in my story that can help other people.

Mark Graban (16m 46s):
Yeah. That's what I was going to ask. Those key takeaways and those lessons. So any, any others beyond the two that you mentioned there? I

Christine Handy (16m 52s):
Think that women are powerful United and I think we're so we're so sparse and, and when we're not United and it can do so much damage either way. You know, it's like, I feel, you know, when, when my friends really showed up for me, it changed my life. It saved my life. And I try to preach that a lot because we can change each other's lives. We have that ability and just, and showing up for people. If you look at, if you read articles about suicide, you will read that just one text message to somebody that's about to take their life, stops them. And so it's really that simple, a text message, a call, a FaceTime, an email, anything, just any sort of reaching out.

Christine Handy (17m 35s):
And when I was going through cancer, I would have people, I had a lot of people show up for me. And so there were people in my community that I lived in, who said, oh, after I was finished, you know, I wanted to, I wanted to stop by, but it looked like you were taking care of people were there for you. And I said to them, thank you. But if you see somebody else like that in the future, just knock on their door, give them a call.

Mark Graban (18m 0s):
There's another example of not self-censoring.

Christine Handy (18m 3s):
Yeah, because you, there's not a, there's not, there's not a good measure to how much we need. Right. Who's to say. And so the more people that reached out to me, the better that my self-esteem gotten, the better my life got. So having a couple extra neighbor's kitchen that might've helped more, you know? So I want people to show up for people because it's that critical

Mark Graban (18m 25s):
Having help is not. Yes, no, it's a matter of how much that's what you're saying.

Christine Handy (18m 29s):
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Graban (18m 33s):
Before, I guess, you know, a kind of serious question related to the book. But before that, you know, when you're talking about something being made into a movie, it's kind of the classic question. Then I assume the protagonists is modeled after yourself. Who would you want to play you in that movie? Then?

Christine Handy (18m 48s):
I'm a big fan of Jamie King's, she's a former supermodel, but an actor TV. Well, she's a film actress and also a TV actress. And she's, she's just a tough woman. I don't, I obviously don't know her, but she, she fits the, she fits the role and, and she's also fits the, the age. So it has to be somebody between 38 and 41. And so she fits all the boxes for me, but I'm not in charge of that. I don't get to pick,

Mark Graban (19m 16s):
I would pick Jamie King, hopefully whoever they ended up casting, doesn't turn out to be a mistake that might not be a favorite. No, but, but back to the, you know, the more serious topic around the story and the book earlier, you talked about self-esteem and I was curious, you know, maybe having you elaborate on that of nurturing that in, in, in your, in ourselves, you, you, you talk on, on, on your website about working on this every day. What can you, can you share more about why that's so important and why the everyday piece?

Christine Handy (19m 49s):
Yeah. I work on mine everyday because I can fall back into the trap of not feeling very good about myself. And I know that about myself. And so I, you know, I, in my daily walk, I listen to certain podcasts and I on social media, I watched certain people because they fill my soul with uplifting messages about being worthy. And, and, and so I gravitate towards that content, if I didn't actively pursue that my self esteem would waver. And so, you know, I think self esteem is like a muscle. Like you have to work it out. You know, you work out your muscles at a gym, you go for walks.

Christine Handy (20m 32s):
You, you know, I'm, I'm in school. I'm getting my master's degree in creative writing and literature at Harvard. So I'm working on my brain, right. There's space in every day of my life where I can work on my self esteem. And it's, I think it's critical. That's

Mark Graban (20m 46s):
Something I've never, I never thought of it that way of thinking of it as a muscle that it may atrophy.

Christine Handy (20m 53s):
It definitely does. It doesn't, it may not, may. It does. And the other thing is you have to remind yourself of what you're feeding your brain, and I'm not talking about food necessarily. I'm talking about the voices you listen to and including your own, you don't for me that I trip myself up sometimes. And I'll be like, you know, darn it, I can't believe you just said that. And then I say to myself, really like, give yourself some grace, you know, you're not perfect. And, and so it's like, self-talk and self-love, and I want to listen to people that are uplifting. I don't want fluff, but I want to listen to people that have some real meat on their stories and are honest. And, and that's the other thing about self self-esteem and social media.

Christine Handy (21m 34s):
I think it's such a problem in our society, because even I do this, we put our best face forward. Right. What our best pictures out there in order for people to read what's underneath. Right. And so I'll, I'll, I will occasionally say to people, okay, I'm putting my best picture out there because I want you to, I want to grab you, but what I really want you to do is read what's underneath. And so don't think for one second, that that picture is reality, right? Cause it's not, you know, I've edited it and the lighting and the whatever. And so I just try to be really honest about that because especially young people, they're looking at us as models and say, not literally models, but, you know, models of, you know, in, in our society and influencers or whatever speakers and they're looking at us for, you know, to teach.

Christine Handy (22m 24s):
And I want to be very truthful about that.

Mark Graban (22m 28s):
One other question for you, Christine, an important topic for you is, you know, the idea of questioning authority, I guess whether that's a doctor like to some doctors, you know, asking for a second opinion, they may feel like you're questioning their quote unquote authority, even though I'm I might argue, well, no, it's your right. It's your duty to ask for a second opinion. So I don't know, you know, if you have something more to share about speaking up within healthcare, or is there a more general point that you'd like to share about questioning authority?

Christine Handy (22m 59s):
You know, I, I was taught I'm 50, so I was taught when I was young that I shouldn't question authority. And it wasn't just inside my home that I was taught that it was society taught me that, and I don't claim that everybody was taught that, but for me, it had an impact on my life. And I really didn't question authority for a long time. And I got manipulated and bullied. And obviously now I live in constant pain because of my arm. And, and so I, I like to speak about questioning authority because it's not you're right. It is a right one and it's not, it's not insulting a person to do that. And that's their pride and ego getting in the way.

Christine Handy (23m 40s):
And if we, if they, if we sense that they're doing that, then you should definitely question their authority.

Mark Graban (23m 46s):
Yeah. That's a good point. And I'm guessing some of that came from your experience with the physician. If you're, if you're pushing back and they're getting dismissive or attacking you instead of really reflecting on their work and the impact that had on you. Yeah. That, that does seem like a red flag.

Christine Handy (24m 1s):
Well, I mean, there's that even happens with, within friendships within families, you know, people are, can be very bullish and for a long time, I just allowed it and didn't speak up. Or when I spoke up, if I was put in my place or told to stay in my lane, I did until I was faced with life and death. And that's when I didn't do that anymore. I said, no more. I'm not going to be pushed around. I voice matters. My life matters. And I'm going to take care of myself. And part of taking care of myself is questioning authority.

Mark Graban (24m 36s):
Christine, I'm glad. Well, for one, thank you for coming on and sharing the story. You know, secondly, I'm, I'm glad that you know, that you are in the survivor category and you know, that, that sharing your story, you know, if there's anybody listening now who is struggling with similar thoughts, I'm sure what you've shared, you know, here today and in the book is inspiring and helpful. So thank you on all those counts. Our guests has been Christine Handy. Again, her book is Walk Beside Me and that's that's available. So I hope people will go check that out and we'll keep our eye out for, for the movie.

Christine Handy (25m 15s):
That's great. It's called Willow the feature film

Mark Graban (25m 18s):
Willow. Yeah. So this is very much in the works then.

Christine Handy (25m 22s):
Oh yes. Yes. It's been a couple of years in the works and I, there were supposed to start filming last March, but because of probate, they didn't. And so we think maybe this summer,

Mark Graban (25m 33s):
Well, we'll look forward to things, getting more back to normal and get back to work on that. So I'm Christine, thank you so much. It was really nice meeting you and thanks for being on the podcast.

Christine Handy (25m 44s):
Thank you for having me.

Mark Graban (25m 45s):
Thanks again to Christine Handy for being our guest today for links, show notes and more information about her and her work. Go to markgraban.com/mistake89. As always. I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about rot ones, because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me myfavoritemistakepodcast@gmail.com. And again, our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com.

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's upcoming book is The Mistakes That Make Us. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.