“I was 11 years old with a dream. I wanted to become a model. I had the courage and drive to do it but there were obstacles in my way. I wasn’t the only one in my family, and my mom was busy. But I found a way – I was a determined young girl and that quality of determination ended up keeping me alive years later. Looking back, I see my younger self and applaud that tenacity to live out my dream. I went on to model for over 20 years, graduated from a great university, married and had 2 amazing sons. Life was good, so I thought…
From a physical standpoint I was a self-professed athlete, healthy, I am (was) allergic to sugar and I was ‘happy’ with my life and what it looked like. I looked like that statuesque model.
In 2006 my life shifted. I was 35 years old and had an emergency colon surgery. That was not in my plan, why did my healthy body have a colon issue? But there was no time for self-pity. I was in surgery immediately. While in surgery, the doctor nicked a vein in my pelvis bone which caused internal bleeding. Ultimately the doctor had to cut me wide open to ﬁnd the source of the bleeding or I would have bled to death on the operating table.
I remember signing papers in the hospital before the surgery that said, ‘Check here if willing to receive blood in case of emergency.’ I asked my doctor, ‘Why would I need blood?,’ and he replied, ‘You won’t, it’s just a formality.’ I trusted him. Sure enough, I needed lots of blood to replenish all that had bled out of me. I woke up from surgery in the recovery room with a port in my neck (I didn’t even know what a port was) a blood bag above my head with an IV ﬂowing into my neck to give me the blood I needed to survive.
That recovery was long and complicated, lonely and confusing. About a year later, I ﬁnally felt alive and determined to get myself back into model shape and to return to being the fulltime mom and wife I had always wanted to be. But that didn’t last long. In 2011 a ligament in my right wrist tore. Not from any accident, just from doing mom stuff, folding laundry, driving, carrying loads of boys’ athletic gear and taking lots of yoga classes. I interviewed 3 doctors and chose the Stanford grad. He seemed more than capable. He was young and the clinic he worked in I knew well, having taken my boys there for their minor athletic injuries. He was also the orthopedic doctor to the Dallas Mavericks, he must be the best doctor, right?
6 weeks post-surgery the cast came off. It was right before Christmas and I had a lot to do for my family. I was ready to do physical therapy, get better and go back to the hamster wheel of raising boys, working, being an athlete and living my perfect suburbia life. 2 days after the cast came off, my right arm ballooned and it looked like my thigh bone. The swelling was grotesque but the pain was unimaginable. The pain was so intense I stayed in my bed holding my arm like a baby. I called my doctor on that Sunday which I was taught never to do, but I was desperate. He told me I over-iced it and hung up.
I believed him. Aren’t we supposed to believe the doctor? Aren’t we supposed to trust authority? He had the Stanford medical degree, not me.
The Hippocratic Oath of physicians is, ‘First, do no harm.’ As a woman I was taught to listen to the man’s voice above my own, but why? I look back and I reject that thinking but that was all I knew. For the next 6 months I followed my doctor’s orders meticulously, I was a rule follower, a good girl. He sent me to a physical therapist away from his ofﬁce to a public hospital with a therapist who worked in a burn unit. I showed up 5 days a week to a burn unit with a PT doctor who tried desperately to get my wrist to move. He hooked me up to casts that made me vomit just putting them on, but then they cranked the cast up with a lever and dragged my unmovable wrist into a position that seemed to move it but ultimately all the casts, and machines they used broke every single bone in my right wrist.
During those 6 long months my hair thinned, I isolated myself at home lying in bed when I wasn’t at physical therapy. I stopped eating much food, lost weight and was hardly living. Pain medication wasn’t helping either. For 6 months I went and trusted the doctors, the process, while every day the undiagnosed infection ate away all of the cartilage in my wrist as well. I hadn’t had enough courage to see a second opinion when my arm wasn’t getting better, because my surgeon was telling me the pain and swelling was in my head. He labeled me as a hysterical housewife and made me question my own judgement. He got angry with me when I suggested I might see another doctor.
But ﬁnally with some prodding from my friends I sought out another opinion. It literally took one short visit with the new doctor, one Xray and he immediately saw the damage, knew it was an infection and within hours I was in surgery again. He tried to dig out as much infection as possible, a PICC line was put into my upper arm and threaded to my heart to start pumping what my doctor called ‘World War 2’ antibiotics. I had a bone infection called osteomyelitis which is one of the hardest to eradicate. My arm was destroyed.
After my arm was fully fused, I started to try to imagine a life with no wrist, a life that wasn’t supposed to happen to me. How was I going to drive, cook, do yoga, carry anything? What did the pain look like, would I ever be without pain? The answer was no.
At my 6-week post arm fusion checkup I felt a lump on my left breast. You see, for that entire year of the debacle with my arm, I was in a cast for that whole time, and when I showered, I would pour liquid soap over my shoulder and let it run down my body. I couldn’t use my right arm to wash myself so I hadn’t done a self-check on my breast or even felt my breast. I was never worried about that because I was young, 41, had no reason to fear cancer with no family history , etc… But sure enough I felt that lump, and 5 days later, I was diagnosed with cancer.
I was home alone when I got the call, I will never forget that. I could hardly dial my phone to call my family, my mom or even my husband after the call from the breast specialist with my cast on my arm. I was in my robe unable to dress by myself, just told I had cancer and was fumbling through tears trying to call anyone to come help me.
I decided that day I was going to take my life. I felt like I had used up all the favors and support from friends and family over the course of the last year with my arm. I knew I couldn’t survive chemotherapy and breast cancer alone and I was too prideful to really ask for help. I decided killing myself would do my family and friends a favor. I was a liability, not an asset. I had gone from being a thriving mother, model and athlete to a sickly woman needing constant care. My life had crumbled.
Despair, hopelessness were my new names. My ﬁght and determination that that 11-year-old showed had been chipped away year after year and I couldn’t ﬁnd her anymore. How had I allowed bullies to hurt me and cripple me and my arm to a point of being unrecognizable in my own mirror? I was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 1, 2012. For the next 30 days I saw breast cancer pink everywhere. Breast cancer awareness month had taken on a whole new meaning. It was now about me and I despised it, pink went from being my favorite color to my least favorite. But pink was the last thing I needed to focus on, how was I going to kill myself and get out of that constant unknown painful space?
Within days, the doctors appointments had become too much for me emotionally. I had been in a doctors ofﬁce already for a whole year. I started to really start talking to my loved ones about my exit from this world. I wanted them to know it wasn’t them, it was me and my decision. I told them I was too needy, I told them about the lies that had been told to me, I wasn’t worthy, I was sucking everyone around me dry. But the truth was, those were lies, and it wasn’t until my friends came to my house, my bed, my side, and begged me to ﬁght, that I realized it.. They taught me the lies of the enemy weren’t truth. They told me God would never forsake me and they wouldn’t either. They shared the promises of the Bible and their words started to sink in. It was October 30, the day I had a port put in to administer chemo. The day before my ﬁrst chemo that I said ‘yes’ I am ready to ﬁght! And I did.
We fought together another long, painful, devastating battle that was ﬁlled with physical, emotional pain, 18 surgeries, 28 rounds of chemo and countless trips to the emergency room when I wasn’t sure I would make it back home. My poor body was so weak and so tired I barely survived.
After I completed chemotherapy, ﬁnished my breast surgeries, arm surgeries and started to heal, I wrote a book called Walk Beside Me. My life, my story would not be wasted. Pain always has purpose and until we share our stories we can’t truly use our pain to help others. Sharing our stories is a vulnerable process and difﬁcult but worth it. I would have never chosen the story God gave me to tell, but it’s the one I got and I had a responsibility to inspire, and move others to give them hope and a reason to ﬁght.
I am now living in Miami, Florida. I still consider myself an athlete, my arm pain is tolerable, I still do some modeling and my book is being made into a ﬁlm. The joy I feel speaking about my story to give others a glimpse of hope is like no other joy I felt in my pre-cancer life. I have gotten into the habit of asking myself on a daily basis, ‘Does this support the life I am trying to create?’ And if it doesn’t, I don’t do it. I found that little girl again, but in a new and improved version. All scarred up, but better than ever.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christine Handy of Miami, Florida. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her website, and learn more about her book here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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