What I Learned from my Breasts

Standard

I am one of many health coach drop-outs.  I haven’t had a client in years.  I was tired of people looking me up and down, puzzled, when learning that I guided others in living a healthy lifestyle.  I felt like I had FRAUD written all over my inflamed, heavier-than-ever body. Marketing myself was out of the question.

In 2011, after birthing 3 babies and breastfeeding each for at least 2 years, I decided to revitalize my tired, hollowed-out breasts.  I had provided for my kids, and why wouldn’t I boost myself to look and feel better if that was an option?!  I had quite a few friends who had decided to go for breast augmentation with great results.  Why not?

I researched.  The downside of breast augmentation that I found in my search seemed pretty avoidable with a competent surgeon.  According to the FDA, risks include capsular contraction, implant rupture, wrinkling or unevenness in the breast tissue, pain, and infection. The incidence of suicide is also higher in women with breast implants.  I was honestly pretty happy with my body and who I was regardless, so I figured suicide wasn’t something I would have to worry about.  Also, my surgeon reassured me that the new silicone implants were even safer than saline, and look, you can cut them in half and they won’t ooze or fall apart!  Totally safe.  Let me just tell you – those risks didn’t even scratch the surface of the dangers lurking.

My whole experience with the augmentation surgery is enough to save for another blog post, but when it was over and my bandages were removed, I was floored.  I was looking for a little lift, a little volume, and to fill a full B cup, or a small C cup, but what I got was an E cup.  I was cartoonish relative to where I started.  Holy crap.  I’m not sure what my surgeon was hearing during what I thought was our uncomplicated conversation, but apparently, he considered himself the more knowledgable artist and me, the medium, and I now know he leans toward the pornish.

I hoped that with time, I’d get used to these heavy silicone balls I now sported on my chest.  It seemed like finding clothes that fit this crazy new shape would be my biggest challenge.  What I didn’t count on was my healthy body gradually breaking down in so many ways. For someone who had never had anything more serious than a bout of mono in 6th grade and some allergies, I embarked on a rocky road of ever-increasing illnesses. It started with a bit of weight gain around my waist during the first year – a place that had never been a problem area for me, even after pregnancies.  I was, after all, 46, so maybe I had to change up my diet and workouts.

I cleansed, I continued to exercise consistently, I cut out dairy, grains, sugar, soy, corn, and upped my leafy greens and veggies only to continue packing on the pounds.  A lot of them.  Like 50 over 5 years.  I saw doctors.  They concluded that this was the natural progression of aging. (“You’re approaching 50.”)  Over time, I became increasingly exhausted.  I could not get through a day without dropping off to sleep in the afternoon, but sleeping well at night became a rarity.  I was frickin exhausted.

My joints ached constantly.  My ankles were chronically swollen like pillows.  I now had a verifiable spare tire around my waist.  People started to ask me suspiciously if I was still dancing and working out.  I was.  My eyes were dry enough to kick out my contact lenses after an hour or so.  And, my brain was a mess.  I couldn’t remember words, names of places, what I was doing from one minute to the next.  I began to feel numbness and tingling in my limbs on a regular basis.  When I saw a naturopath, she looked at my labs and diagnosed severe adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance, anemia, high cholesterol, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and an imbalance of healthy and ugly microorganisms in my gut.  I had appendicitis and developed an umbilical hernia. (When I asked whether my implants might be the culprit, she dismissed the notion – it was probably the fact that I was stressed out with 3 kids).  People stopped recognizing me and I didn’t fit any of my clothes.  This was decidedly not simply about being near 50.  And no wonder suicide rates increase with implants.

And, yes, I was a health coach.  A depressed, fat, unhealthy, fally-aparty health coach.  But, you know what?  Having the knowledge I did, which only highlighted to me that there was SO MUCH I had yet to learn, opened the doors to my healing journey.  I looked for answers outside of mainstream medicine.  I had acupuncture, trained in yoga and Ayurveda, studied herbal medicine, had regular bodywork, and switched naturopaths so that I felt heard and respected.  Most importantly, I started listening carefully to my body. Depressingly, nothing seemed to improve.

One evening, as I was getting dressed to go out with friends, I searched for clothes that didn’t look like sausage casing on my body and broke down in frustrated, humiliated tears for the thousandth time.  I prayed out loud for answers.  Really.  What the hell was happening?  Why weren’t any of my efforts helping me heal?  I pulled myself together, put on some stretchy clothes, and went out.  During dinner, my friend mentioned that another mom in town, who coincidentally had implants as well, had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  At that instant, I had total clarity.  My implants.  Everything shifted after I had that surgery, and the momentum of decline was only increasing.  They had to go.  My friend looked doubtful at my revelation, but I knew.

I went home and did a new search for side effects of silicone implants.  It was mind-blowing!  I found THOUSANDS of women who suffered from similar symptoms as I had, if not worse.  There are women who have had to stop working because they no longer have the strength and stamina to show up and last through a day on the job, and many who depend on help from others just to get dressed and function on a day-to-day basis.  I found a published autopsy of a woman who had lived with implants for many years.  Her post-mortem labs showed silicone by-products present in tissues throughout her body.  I even learned that breast implants are associated with a cancer called Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.  Yikes.

Rheumatologist Arthur Brawer, who has studied silicone toxicity extensively, believes that once in the body, implants are bombarded by bacteria and white blood cells that  break the silicone down into compounds that adversely affect normal bodily processes. These chemicals bleed through the implants’ casing, and infiltrate the body, disrupting normal functioning in numerous ways, and resulting in an exhaustive list of symptoms, many of which I experienced.  Despite years of scientific research examining silicone toxicity, particularly in women with breast implants, doctors disagree about the validity of breast implant illness.  It’s not difficult to find a counter-chorus of medical professionals essentially calling these women hysterical, or victims of a psychosomatic disorder.  There is, after all, money to be made with implants.  How did I possibly miss this 5 years earlier?  Could I had seen some of this and figured these women were a little off, misinformed, or too blamey?  God, I hope not.

Fast-forward a year and I had my implants removed by a different surgeon who validated my experience and skillfully removed the implants and their surrounding scar capsules.  They were perfectly intact.  I woke up from surgery, and instantly, despite the narcotics running through my post-anesthesia body, could think clearly.  It was as if a heavy veil had been lifted from my cognition.  My joints already felt looser and more comfortable.

It’s been almost 2 years since my surgery now, and I am feeling more like myself every day.  The journey to wellness is a gradual and slower-than-I’d-prefer process, but I am a much more vibrant person these days.  I’m still working on shedding the extra layers from my body, and it’s happening in spurts.  I’ve learned that I’m healing myself from the inside-out, system by system.  I don’t have to fall asleep every afternoon, and actually sleep through the night.  I wake up with great energy, put my contact lenses in without difficulty, experience no more tingly limbs, and my labs are gradually going back to normal.  No more Hashimoto’s, very mild adrenal fatigue, and my strong body feels like it’s returning to me. I have an incredibly talented and caring team of healers who support, listen, and teach me.  I have learned to act as one of my own healers as well.  After all, no one else understands my body better. I am appreciative of my body’s intelligence, fortitude, and I know to listen closely to its messages with compassion.  The education I’ve gained through this experience has been invaluable.  And, I feel hopeful for the first time in years.

I think back to the time that, in the thick of my illness, heartbroken by my mysterious decline, my Ayurvedic practitioner friend advised me that I would learn from my journey and become a more effective and empathetic healer.  I believe that she was right.

Healthy Habit: Spit it out!

Standard

“Cervical cancer. You’ll need chemotherapy and radiation.”

This was the way my dear friend was told she was sick.  No emotion at all in the delivery, flung from across the room.  Like a clean, crisp swipe of a sword through the wisp of hope reaching for a false alarm.

“Do you have any questions?”  So many.  But even I, sitting as support, and rarely at a loss for words, had a difficult time imagining which to ask first.  So, we said no.  And the doctor left the room.  So much for my role.

I was dumbfounded.  How could an oncologist share that diagnosis in such a cold way? I imagined him breaking the worst news to people day after day, and I wondered how he dealt with such a difficult task. Maybe he had to numb himself just to cope. Regardless of his reasons, I wanted him to acknowledge my friend’s feelings, to sit next to her while he shared the news, and exhibit some sense of empathy.

Instead, it felt like there was no room or time for emotion. There were labs to be drawn, paperwork to sign.  My friend never shed a tear until she was alone at home. What happens to our bodies when we don’t feel safe expressing emotions? I know from personal experience that what goes on in the privacy of our minds directly influences the way our bodies function.

Alone

During my pregnancy with my second child, I had silently stressed about my very sensitive boy having some sort of toddler breakdown when a newborn stole the show. I did realize that first kids survive the arrival of a sibling all the time, so I chalked it up to pregnancy hormone-induced anxiety and kept my craziness to myself.

Once I went into labor, my body decided not to cooperate. Despite laboring actively for more time than it would have taken me to walk a marathon, really slowly, I was stuck. Not even halfway there. As the hospital staff readied an operating room for my cesarian section, my brilliant doula quietly asked me if there wasn’t anything I was worried about. That I should verbalize any concern I might have.  I let the cat out of the bag and told her I worried that my son might never forgive me for producing a sibling.

Well, guess what?  Instantaneously, I became violently ill; one of the delightful signs that birth is imminent.  Well, imminent, as in after an hour of pushing.  My doctor was floored.  Note to self: do NOT stuff feelings.  Ever.

So what does that mean for my friend, for health care professionals that deal with sad situations every day, for worried parents or children, or anyone who happens to feel feelings? According to social psychologist James W. Pennebaker, talking or writing about problems or worries helps improve health. In his book, “Opening Up,” Pennebaker reveals that individuals who experience the death of a loved one frequently develop health problems the year following the death if they choose not to talk about it.  Those who are able to express their emotions end up developing significantly fewer health problems during that time period than their silent counterparts.

Actually talking about how we feel also helps us process and resolve fears.  One UCLA study took a group of spider-phobes and exposed each to a spider. Out of four groups, only the one in which subjects expressed their feelings about the spider (“I’m terrified!”) were able to move closer to it at the end of the experiment. Even using language to disempower the spider (“that spider can’t hurt me”) had no effect on the subjects’ fear.

So? Feelings should be aired out. Talk about them. Maybe not with the  person standing next to you in line at the post office; choose someone you can trust, and who won’t judge, correct or fix you.  It doesn’t mean the situation that created those feelings will be resolved, of course, but it may prevent any further harm that harbored fear, sadness, or worry can cause.

Depressed girl gets counseling and comfort from a caring therapist.

If you’re not one to talk about your personal business, or your trusted, non-judgmental ear is unavailable at that moment, write about it instead.  You don’t need to show anyone else your writing, so if you’re not into sharing, this is the method for you. Take the time to put pen to paper when you are going through a tough time.  Write about the incident that upset you, or whatever you may be feeling, and don’t hold back.  Let those ugly, crazy, perhaps embarrassing, emotions spill out on paper, and if you want, destroy your writing when you finish.

It is so easy to shelve our feelings as we move through our days. For many, keeping busy creates a safe distance from those feelings, but the price of avoidance may be high.  For your own wellbeing, steel yourself and address even the hardest emotions at some point.  Sit with them, feel them, and express.  Moving them along and bringing light to them will make you happier and healthier.

Beautiful young woman jumping on a green meadow with a colored tissue