Cindy Ashton is a singer, entertainer, and entrepreneur, but she is also living with an invisible illness. At 11 days old, Cindy’s parents were told she had a 20% chance of living. After 14 surgeries, including 3 heart surgeries, and chronic pain, Cindy is still living her dream singing and entertaining.
For Invisible Illness Week (October 17 – 23) BELLA Magazine spoke with Cindy about her life, her story, and what life is like living with an invisible illness.
I understand you were only supposed to have a 20% chance to live. Could you tell me about your story?
As a fetus, I was swimming around my mother’s belly sporting jazz hands. I always knew that I was destined to grace stages across the world… but my body had other plans for me.
I was born with a 20% of living, heart failure and structural damage on the left side of my body. I had my 1st heart surgery at 11 days old, my 2nd at 5 years old and a 3rd at 14. I had to have casts on my legs as a toddler in hopes that my legs would grow out correctly and I would be able to walk… let alone dance. I had speech therapy to learn how to speak… let alone sing.
Growing up in and out of hospitals, trying to advocate for myself taught me that my voice didn’t matter. Living with an “invisible” illness and chronic pain my whole life, I learned that because people couldn’t SEE the illness, they didn’t believe my word. Over my life, I have heard, “you look fine” and “don’t be such a drama queen” millions of times.
As a result, I have dedicated my life to learning the art, craft and science of how to get your voice heard and speak from your power.
How did you get into singing?
As a young child, I would dim the lights in my living room, put on the record player and sing along with Helen Reddy “I am woman hear me roar…” Singing was never a choice. It was the thing that my soul was destined to do but the challenges was…
Because of the multiple surgeries and trauma to my body, including a damaged lung, I lived in horrible pain and unable to sleep through the night until I was 29 years old. It affected my ability to sing and perform.
Back in the day, there was no playbook on how to manage the pain. I took it upon myself to study everything related to trauma, test out multiple of types of healing modalities and get my degree in Kinesiology (the study of the human body), specializing in relaxation therapy.
After my 3rd heart at surgery at 14, my pain levels were between 50-80% on any given day. Now, at 46 years old, they are down to 5-15%. It has literally taken me a lifetime to unravel the trauma on multiple levels and be able to sing the way I do today.
My first real opportunity to sing was when I was 16 years old. In grade 9, I got kicked out of choir because the teacher said, “You can’t sing.” Devastated, I turned my attention to dancing instead. But if something is your destiny, nothing can stop it.
I changed schools in grade 11 and the stage band teacher, Mr. St. Cyr, asked me to audition for the solo. I told him, “I can’t sing.” And he said, “try anyway.” I did and he was blown away. A couple of months later, I stood in front of 800 students in my high school in a gold dress and white gloves and sang Peggy Lee’s Fever! I got a standing ovation and that was the first time in my life that I had a glimmer of hope that my dream could come true.
What is it like to share your story?
Difficult. It takes bravery. Over my lifetime of speaking about “invisible disability,” I have had to face ‘law of attraction’ people who would say things to me like “your thoughts create your reality” and essentially shame me, saying it was my fault I was ill. Or those life coaches I worked with who said I wasn’t working hard enough to heal my illness. Or the people who only see the radiant performer on stage and can’t believe that I have to manage pain and illness every day of my life. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting.
But I do it. And I will keep doing it. 51% of American’s live with at least one chronic condition. I am not alone. And while thankfully we do have such things as integrative medicine doctors today, the solutions out there still seem to be more about taking medication. I have been medication free since I was 15 and while some people absolutely need medication, we need to continue to educate people on meditation, healthy eating, movement, how to release trauma at the somatic level, alternative healing modalities and so much more.
What is one piece of advice you could share with our readers?
If you are one of the 51% that lives with chronic illness:
1. NEVER make any decisions of significancy when your body is firing off in distress and you can’t think clearly.
2. Do yin yoga. It is practiced on the floor and is a series of long holds. It calms the nervous systems and releases the pain/trauma at a deeper cellular level because the fascia is being released.
3. Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – the relaxation response. The simplest way to do it is to breathe into your belly and then exhale nice and long. Repeat for several minutes.
4. Avoid eating foods and drinking anything that is high in sugar, gluten and caffeine. Keep those as low as possible as they trigger muscle spasms.
5. Move frequently. It is important to keep the blood flowing in your body. Take time several times a day to get up and move gently.
Is there anything else our readers should know about you or your story?
For years, I felt so alone on this journey. But I have discovered that each and everyone of us is battle something that other people can’t see. We all feel invisible in some way at some point in our lives. If we all remember that, then perhaps we can be kinder and more compassionate with others.
To learn more about Cindy and her story visit www.cindyashton.com and www.speakfromyourpower.com!
LIVE YOUR MOST BELLA LIFE!
BELLA Magazine is a national subscription- and newsstand-based lifestyle publication offering a curated guide to fashion, beauty, health, philanthropy, arts and culture, cuisine, celebrities, and entertainment.
At BELLA, we spotlight the ideal that Life Is BEAUTIFUL!
Don’t miss a beat! Subscribe + #follow @bellamag.co!