Christine Toner’s story is not defined by her diagnosis
By ELLYN SANTIAGO
It was on a summer day, and her 25th wedding anniversary, that Christine Toner’s physician called and confirmed the diagnosis.
“I dropped the phone,” the 55-year-old mother of two, shares. ”It was like a two-by-four hit me straight on the head.”
In 2019, a friend of Christine’s shared the news of her unexpected breast cancer diagnosis on social media in an effort to encourage friends to get mammograms.
“Her courage sparked my action,” she recalls.
But when the call came, there was no time for her to absorb the news, to fathom what it meant.
“My husband retrieved the phone and resumed speaking with the doctor,” she remembers. “But at that moment, there was simply no time to process, as we had to be at a celebration we were hosting in an hour.”
The evening was “pretty much a blur,” she says, adding that she was “quite literally surrounded in a circle of love by 40 of my most cherished family and friends.”
“As I look back on one of the worst days of my life and a night spent on my knees pleading until sunrise, I was still being held in the highest form of love I have ever felt.”
And importantly for her, Christine moved forward: “So I say this with conviction, my story is not defined through my diagnosis.”
She says that she no longer has the words to discuss the cancer, nor does she wish to “dig through the paperwork to find them.”
“I’ve literally put all of that in a box sealed in the attic and no longer honor those details. To recount those details—and quite frankly the isolation, the fear, the trauma a diagnosis brings—makes no sense to me. Instead, I honor the daily practice of thriving in the midst of it all, and I am ever grateful for the lessons I am learning.”
A wellness journey carried her through the darkest of times
What Christine did was embrace “science-based wellness practices” on her own, with practitioners, and “with my incredible medical team at Emory University,” which carried her through “the darkest of times.”
“Oh my goodness, as I am recounting this all, I’m feeling again how incredibly held I was from the moment I heard the words …you have cancer. As I think about it, there’s been a thread in my life I’ve been following all along.”
Christine, a creative, had been working with a life coach before her diagnosis, “So we just pivoted, and she met me where I was each week.”
“My husband stepped up as an advocate in all ways, so I wasn’t constantly recounting my diagnosis or chasing doctors. I truly gave in and gave up control,” she confides. “I also had two therapists, but after a while, I was sick of the talking, so I moved on and worked with a thought leader who sparked my creativity.”
She dedicated herself to a mix of wellness practices to aid in her healing that unknowingly became a mantra for her future. Core principles.
Stillness: “I was shaken to my core, drowning in the diagnosis of fear and these practices allowed me to sit in stillness, so I could listen to the whispers on my breath.”
Nourishment: “About three years before my diagnosis, I had a friend who helped me with supplements and who, lo and behold, was part of a nutritionist team specializing in cancer diagnoses. They don’t practice anymore, but they were pivotal in my journey to thrive.”
Radical self-care: “This is where weekly remote Reiki, physical therapy—my therapist at Emory was everything to me—and simple yoga therapy sometimes in bed, plus walking every day, thanks to Covid-19, helped. I created and wrote out a daily mantra that is my lifeline to this day.”
Connection: “At the time of my diagnosis, I was in a virtual book study group, which carried me through and helped hone my spiritual soundness. I also joined cancer support classes at Piedmont Hospital, which were amazing.”
Intentional beauty: “I was intentional with what I wore to my doctor appointments, how I packed for all the hospital visits, and even down to the water bottle I carried around. But I also learned that beauty for me is also about digging deeper and seeing myself as art, where nothing is broken and instead, the pieces are so much more beautiful gilded back together.”
As a creator and collaborator for nearly three decades, her mission, she says, is to “create meaningful visual beauty.” She founded STAY127, a “global collection of beautiful properties in distinct locations centered around holistic healing.”
Part of that mission includes her C2cancer-redefined initiative, an “online and immersive experience to help a woman navigate her cancer diagnosis through the lens of beauty,” which includes weekly C2 community calls. “These calls are cathartic,” she says. “My healing journey is continual. It’s not a one-and-done.”
“I wish to give women a sanctuary: to rest, receive, and redefine their diagnoses—to see themselves in a new light, through a new lens, that could elevate their healing. Quite frankly, it’s the curated mindset that I was searching for when I was going through my diagnosis. I seek to create this within the lens of beauty — and it’s not superficial. It’s actually deeper. It’s about elevating your vision so that you are empowered,” Christine says. “To see your life as an incredible, beautiful, and miraculous transformation, not broken in pieces. Instead, elevate and empower to not only fight and survive …but to thrive even in the midst of it all.”
The importance of TBBCF for Christine
“I connected with TBBCF many, many years ago through my dear friend Ellen Swercewski,” Christine says. “At one point my design company created a walk t-shirt, and event graphics, and produced fundraisers through my affiliation with ONEHOPE. In 2009, my sister walked and my girls and I followed all along the way with dry clothes and lots of cheers. It was incredible. Who knew that 10 years later I would face a diagnosis myself? Life is amazing that way. And the work that TBBCF does to 100 percent fund breast cancer research is truly awe-inspiring.”
For Christine, the cancer diagnosis was, indeed, life-changing. But in a positive way.
“I came through this health challenge transformed with a mission to empower women to see their true brilliance and intrinsic beauty, to not only survive a diagnosis but to thrive even in the midst of it.”