What I Learned from my Breasts

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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.

Aloha, Dad. And Aloha, Self-Compassion.

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Sometimes, the Universe decides it’s time for you to learn or practice skills.  You notice the same lesson or situation repeating itself until you figure it out.  I believe that if you open your eyes to subtle messages, support and solutions, they are usually waiting in the wings at the ready.  Well, apparently, it’s my time to further hone my self-compassion and quiet the droning voice of criticism and not-enoughism.  Universe, I hear you loud and clear, and I am working on it.  Dude.  Uncle.  Whatever.

Let me set the scene.  Last week, I was visiting family on O’ahu.  Yes, I realize the fact that my people are all in Hawai’i is a good thing when I make my yearly visit home.  My kids spend a week hiking trails tourists don’t usually visit, eating shaved ice known by locals to be the best, playing on uncrowded, breathtaking, and a little harder to find beaches and hanging out with other kids.  Not a bad deal.

For me, it was a little more complicated, of course, as visits home often are.  My dad passed away almost a year ago, and his ashes have been waiting to be scattered.  My sister and I had a distant and difficult relationship with our dad.  As an adult, I see that his life was bubbling over with challenges.  I can understand why he wasn’t fully available to anyone.  He drank, he cheated, he fought hard, and sometimes, he didn’t come home.  When he was home, it wasn’t peaceful.  Police showed up.  I went to sleep praying for quiet at home.  He didn’t remember our birthdays.  Not sure he was certain of his grandkids’ names.

When he was given 6 months to live, my father’s communication with us ramped up.  He told us he loved us.  He wasn’t afraid of death.  He donated his body to the medical school, and asked that we scatter his ashes in a bay that just happens to be a wildlife preserve with deadly currents.  Seriously, Dad?

A month before he died, his girlfriend of 20 years evicted him from her apartment.  He rented a room with a bed, a desk and a tv in an apartment with three men he had never met before.  He deteriorated steadily and relied on my sister to deliver groceries and do his laundry.  Hospice nurses checked on him, but there was no bed available for him in the facility.  He died sitting up in his bed, tv blaring, roommates home but unaware.  Not the best death, but somehow fitting.

Last week, my sister and I paddled a canoe out from the beach in our hometown early Saturday morning.  We shared memories, tears, and laughter, and forgave our dad for his dreaded fish stew, among other things. We remembered him singing happily along with the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, and Simon and Garfunkel. We prepped the water with flowers, and together, dropped his ashes, contained in a sea salt urn, into the ocean that he so loved.

My Guilt

Here’s where the self-flagellation comes in.  And trust, I excel at the self-flagellation.  Imagine each of these statements delivered with a pointing finger and head shaking, brows furrowed:

Didn’t Dad deserve to end up where he wanted?  The thought of hiking the rocky ridge to the water’s threatening edge with my kids scared the BeJesus out of me, but, really did he ask for much?  It was yet another disappointment in the picture of his life.

Was he scared and lonely as he left this Earth?  I flew all the way across the Pacific to see him before he passed, only to leave his apartment hours before he died.

Maybe I should have traveled back more while he was dying.  My sister was stuck with so much responsibility.

Should I have taken him into my home?

During our vacation, I brooded, I cried, I snapped at my family.  I wanted someone to take care of me.  I had to cancel a client call that was scheduled on a particularly rough day for me.  That was a first, and I didn’t feel like much of a professional.

Divine Nods

Here’s where I found support in unexpected places. I gratefully received it.

I decided earlier this summer to participate in an online retreat with two inspiring and rocking women, Christine Arylo and Kristine Carlson.  Immediately after I returned from this trip, our group call centered on the topic of Self-Compassion.  One woman shared her experience of choosing to cancel a work meeting so that she could be available to her family amid a collective emotional crisis.  It was an act of self-compassion. Necessary and forgivable.  I could so relate, having just done the same thing.  Thank you, Universe. I so needed that.

Christine spreads the message of self-love to women and girls, and Kristine, who exudes calm and grace, helps others navigate life and its rocky times with greater ease.  I had no idea when I signed up for their program that I would find both of these women so instrumental in helping me recognize and shake off my self-imposed guilt.  On our trip to O’ahu, the book atop the bedside table of our rental house was a collection of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff writings by both Kristine and her late husband, Richard Carlson.  Bedtime doses of kindness, comfort, and inspiration.  Thank you, Universe.

Divine timing.  One of my most intuitive and present friends in Oakland just happened to text me a message of support as I drove to the cemetery to have my father’s ashes transferred into a biodegradable urn.  I was torn about where to scatter him.  I was upset.  Her words healed and lifted me.  The urn available for my dad was hella heavy.  That took the hiking idea out of the picture.  The mortician was a young, warm, and affable woman (another surprise) who assured me that I was doing the right thing.  Salve for the soul. Thank you, Universe.

I got the message.  I was supported. Now it was my turn to treat myself with kindness and compassion.

My dad’s story was his, not mine.  As much as I would have liked to give him the fairy tale ending, it was not to be.  Honestly, I was as present as being a wife and mother of three living across the ocean could be.  I called weekly and flew home as often as possible.   He would have been miserable at our house, having little patience for children and spaces in which he could not smoke, and being displaced from his home of over 50 years.

I thank my father for teaching me, in his own way, how important it is to be present for my kids.  I will do everything in my power to make my family know that they are precious, safe, and my priority.   Many of my childhood experiences have led me to choose to live in love.  I honor him with a legacy of presence and connection I hope he can find in his new journey.

I am at peace now.  I know I gave me as much as I could, without compromising my own family and wellbeing.  I know I did my best.

So, here’s what I suggest if you need to practice self-compassion:

Remember, you do the best you can in any given circumstance.  We are always learning and growing.  Each experience provides new lessons and opportunities to evolve.  You are being the best you at any given time.

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  Are you as generous with yourself as you  are with loved ones? Do you speak to yourself as kindly as you do your friends and family?  If not, what do you expect to gain from punishing yourself?  We learn more when relaxed and open.  You deserve love too.

If you seek guidance, watch for it.  It may appear in your surroundings in a lesson from a mentor, in a feeling you just know to be true, or in an image or message you seem to hear repeatedly.  Practice connecting to your intuition.  You’ll be surprised at how much it reveals.  The wise voice deep inside knows the truth, and if given the floor, will stand up in your favor.

 

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