NC woman finds sisterhood in cancer

Claire Weinberg speaks to Pippa Burnett and Dee Handyside
October 14, 2011 2:33:26 PM PDT
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a North Carolina woman is sharing her experience with the four words that can change a woman's life forever: "You have breast cancer."

Claire Weinberg was diagnosed in 2008 after finding a lump during a self-exam. She had chemotherapy followed by a lumpectomy at Duke University Medical center. Then, she had more chemo and radiation.

Three years later, Weinberg says she feels like a new person. She is a healthy wife, mom of 6-year-old son Gabriel, a businesswoman, and a fashion model.

Weinberg lives in North Carolina, but grew up in the village of Burwash, England. She discovered two of her childhood friends were diagnosed with breast cancer too.

Pippa Burnett still lives in England and Dee Handyside lives in Australia.

The three have been able to support each other and share their experiences live through the Skype video web site.

Burnett was told in 2001 she would only live two to three years. She had a mastectomy, lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and a total hysterectomy. Not only is she alive and well 10 years later, she says her life is better than it ever has been.

Handyside lost her mother to breast cancer. Just weeks after she was diagnosed, her sister and cousin were diagnosed as well. They all went through treatments together.

All three women talked with ABC11 about the shock upon diagnosis, the trials of treatment, and the frustrations from people they call "on the outside" - those who have not been diagnosed.

"Having two or three people saying to me when I'm ill, 'keep positive, it's only in the mind.' It's so annoying!" said Handyside.

Burnett recalled having to comfort family members instead of being comforted herself.

But the overwhelming outcome among them all is not of fear or despair, but incredible new lives filled with strength, joy, and most of all hope.

"You're in a position to reinvent yourself," Burnett said. "Put all the things back in your life that you let go or didn't think you had at the time - or you didn't allow yourself the opportunity to get involved."

"It’s [breast cancer] actually not all bad. A lot of joyful experiences have come out of this," Handyside offered.

Handyside, who was a musician before her diagnosis, now has a CD available on iTunes. Called "Genetic," it's now the endorsed fundraising CD for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. She is also writing a mini-musical and recording it at home.

Burnett, among many other things, goes on holidays a lot, sings, keeps Dexter cattle, paints, and enjoys her social life. She is also developing a line of natural cosmetics that will launch in the UK in 2012 at department stores.

More at: www.blendcollective.co.uk

Weinberg speaks publicly about her journey. She plans to write a book on helping parents talk to their children about cancer. She was inspired by sharing her story with her young son, Gabriel, who was just 3 1/2 years old when she was diagnosed. She is also currently making a photo documentary of her life before, during and after cancer.

"What I'm hoping to achieve is to give people a sense of hope. It might sound trite and clichéd, it [breast cancer] is devastating and terrible, but it doesn't have to be the end," she explained. "It's not the ending of anything. It can be the start of something unique and special, and it gives us another opportunity."

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