Super Christa Wittmier
A few clicks down Christa Wittmier’s blog homepage, there is a small section that reads, “am I still alive? AM I L-I-V-I-N-G?!,” followed by a collection of some of her recent Instagram photos.
It’s partly indicative of the type of humor that she’s managed to keep through her battle with cancer in the last two years — when she struggled to blow out the candles on her birthday cake in December, she reminded the crowd, laughing, that she had cancer in her lungs — and partly, well, a practical update. After all, a few months after she had declared that she had beat cancer, she found out it had returned — and had spread to various organs, including her brain.
She was told that she only had six months to live.
After that, Wittmier made a conscious effort to take a step back from many facets of her life in order to focus on healing. That meant declining certain social invitations, reducing her DJ gigs, and most notably, retiring from her marketing job at Young’s Market Company of Hawaii in December. Now, that six-months prognosis was nearly a year ago.
“I am just naturally a workaholic — I like to be busy doing stuff,” Wittmier says. “So having to take a step back was really, really, really hard.
“Now I am fragile and I need to be more mindful of what I am doing with my time.”
One of the key things she is doing with her time now is creating new ways to share her story in order to help others.
She’s been working on a documentary about her battle with cancer, and she’s got a book in the works. She’s also detailed her experiences — along with resources and advice — on her blog and in a paper titled ‘Cancer Plan of Attack’ aimed at those who are newly diagnosed. Next up, Wittmier’s speaking at the Wanderlust Oahu festival at 1 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 26) at Turtle Bay Resort in Surfer The Bar, marking her largest speaking engagement to date.
“It is really hard when you’re sick to open up, so I am opening waayyy up,” she says. “I am going to bare it all so people really know the down and dirty.
“Now, every single day is a gift,” she continues. “And I will be living to the fullest, doing everything I want to do, but also just working as hard as I can to share my story with as many people as possible, so that I can help as many people as possible.”
Wittmier made her name in Honolulu covering the local nightlife scene, but her penchant for storytelling goes back further than that — back to when she was a 19-year-old writing in her journal every night before bed while traveling the world in the Navy.
Enlisting in the Navy, she explains, was “a ticket out of my hometown” in Washington state.
“It was a beautiful place to grow up … but I had that little bug inside of me, like, I gotta go.”
Working as an information systems technician, Wittmier was stationed in Naples, Italy, then Cornwall, England, then out at sea. During her down time, she got to see the world — all of Europe, various countries in Africa, Australia, Greece, Hong Kong.
“Our schedules were really lax,” she recalls. “You work for two weeks and then you pull into a beautiful port. It was like summer camp for grown-ups.”
At one point, her ship pulled into Pearl Harbor, and Wittmier instantly felt a connection with Hawaii. (She felt herself lured in by what she can only describe as seemingly preternatural forces: “There is something here that is more powerful than a human way to put it into words. It’s like there was just … an energy or something that grabs hold of you, puts its fingers in you and just says, ‘stay.'”)
After just one night in Hawaii, she sought out a Navy assignment that would allow her to move here — and she found one in 2002. Working a swing shift made it easy for her to go out, and she spent her nights checking out art shows, concerts, parties and bars in the then-burgeoning Chinatown.
“There was always something to do, there was always stuff going on, and I was always really excited to go and do all of it,” she says.
As a way to stay in touch with her family and her friends around the world, Wittmier started a blog detailing her new life. It was simply a consolidated way to keep everyone in the loop. What she didn’t realize was that she was attracting a wider audience.
“I first thought that I was just typing to my friends and family, but I realized that I was typing to strangers, too,” she says. “Anybody could look, and I was honestly honored that anybody would want to look at my life.”
She remembers being simultaneously shocked and flattered the first time she saw her name mentioned in a newspaper article — she had shown up at a party with her hair dyed red, and a nightlife reporter mentioned it. Suddenly, she was the type of person who attracted attention when they dyed their hair.
Her role as a public figure expanded when she was offered her own nightlife column in Honolulu Weekly in 2008, later also contributing to other publications (including this one, where she pens SuperTech). In between throwing events as senior marketing director at Young’s Market Company of Hawaii, she also became a mainstay in the music scene as DJ SuperCW. Playing feel-good house music, SuperCW has held club residences and opened for big-name artists including Above & Beyond.
That list of activities sounds exhausting even for somebody who is in perfect health, let alone someone who was battling stage four breast cancer. But Wittmier continued working every time she felt good enough, and nearly as soon as she was told that she was cancer free in fall 2015, she jumped right back into her busy schedule.
“I really did love my job. But when I was at the height of when I was ill, I was doing my day job at Young’s, I was DJing at night, I was the director for
Now, though, Wittmier has a new mantra: “I’m going to work a little and play a lot.”
“It’s the opposite of what I was doing.”
The idea to create a documentary on her experience came in September 2015, in her doctor’s office right after she was told that she was cancer free. When she found out that the cancer had returned in spring 2016, sharing that story felt even more pressing.
“When I shared everything that I was going through on my Snapchat, it gave off the vibe of ‘oh, you are so strong, you are so positive.’ I think this film is going to really show people a side of me that they have not seen before.”
The film, tentatively titled Invisible Illness, depicts a rawer side of what Wittmier has gone through — low points as well as celebratory moments, the many other things that happened in between and after what was shown in her Snapchat. (The project currently is in post-production, but no release date is set.)
“Christa is an open book in her life in general,” says Nina Pullella, a close friend who was instrumental in starting the documentary and whom Wittmier credits as helping her learn how to eat healthy. “She’s one of the most open and honest people that I have ever met. I think she is a very humble person, so I think she is able to remove that ego and see the bigger picture of helping people.
“She sees herself almost like a medium — she had her experience with this disease so that she could help other people get through it.”
“She’s touched a lot of people’s lives in the community,” adds Gerard Elmore, producer on Invisible Illness. “She’s very selfless and even this movie isn’t about her. Every time I see her, it’s ‘we are going to change lives.'”
When local business owner Leanne Kirk was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 at just 33 years old, she was overwhelmed.
“When your doctor tells you that, you feel like you are going to die tomorrow,” Kirk says.
But after hearing about Wittmier through mutual friends, Kirk began reading her blog and the ‘Cancer Plan of Attack.’ Wittmier’s information introduced her to practical advice — like drinking plenty of water before chemo — as well as things that she could do on top of her doctor-prescribed treatment, like maintaining a healthy diet and alternative medicines.
“It led me to believe that I had a chance,” Kirk says, “and that being diagnosed with cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence. It made me feel very motivated. Reading her blog, it made me see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”
It’s impacts like that that Wittmier hopes to multiply with her outreach efforts. But even though she admits that sharing in this capacity has been challenging, she also feels that she has to do it.
“I am pretty sure that this is happening because I was meant to share my story and help people and give them hope and give them options to treat their cancer.
“I have to share my story with as many people as possible, because I see that it gives them hope,” she says. “If I can do that for the rest of my life, then that is all I really need to do.”
As of her most recent scans in January, there is no longer any evidence of cancer in her body, except for three spots in her brain (where there previously had been 40). But on nearly a daily basis, Wittmier thinks back to that day last May, when she found out that the cancer had returned.
“It’s hard because you want to celebrate, but then you realize, well, that could come back at any time,” she says.
“How do you restart a life that was supposed to be over?” Wittmier muses. “The answer is you don’t. There is no restart; it’s a whole new beginning. Every day. You live exactly the life you want, which is what everybody could be doing — they don’t need a tragic incident or illness to kick start their belief system. The power I have found inside me and demonstrated by fighting cancer is the same power that is inside every human. It just takes a little practice to find it.”
And that, Wittmier feels, is one of the most significant aspects to her outreach work, and particularly Invisible Illness: that it’s not just for people who are ill.
“I am hoping that it can really help people who are stuck in any aspect of their life — if they are not doing what they want to do, if they are just feeling like this isn’t who I am or where I want to be. I want people to come out of this film feeling inspired and full of life and love.
“Today, I am doing everything I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m working now on pure love and passion — for helping others by sharing my cancer story, playing music and writing. Every day it’s a new chance to do whatever I dream. I’m just so happy for that opportunity.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND UPDATES FROM WITTMIER, VISIT SUPERCW.COM. FOR MORE ON THE FILM, VISIT SNAPCHATCANCER.COM. WITTMIER WILL BE DJING AT WANDERLUST ON SATURDAY (FEB. 25) AT 2 P.M. AND SPEAKING SUNDAY (FEB. 26) AT 1 P.M. (SINGLE-DAY TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE, AND HER TALK IS OPEN TO EVERYONE FOR A DROP-IN FEE OF $40.) VISIT WANDERLUST.COM/FESTIVALS/OAHU.