Published July 24, 2012
Former child star Mary McDonough says the pressures of Hollywood led her to take drastic actions to lose weight and have plastic surgery, which ultimately caused several health problems, including lupus.
After appearing on “The Homecoming” as a child, she tried to reinvent herself in a process that included getting breast implants. But over the next decade, her health deteriorated until she was ultimately diagnosed with the brutal autoimmune disease. After getting her implants removed, McDonough says her health improved drastically and she ultimately became part of a class action suit against the implant makers.
She recounts her journey in 'Lessons From the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton,' which was recently released in paperback.” Fox411 spoke to the actress, who offered candid testimony on her struggles.
Fox411: Why did you decide to get breast implants?
Mary McDonough: I was trying to be successful as an actress and I kept hearing, 'Well they went blond and booby.' It was the 'Dallas' era, big hair, big boobs, so I thought in order to compete in the industry that I want to work in I had to fit in. All my friends were getting breast implants so I thought I should do it. Within 24 hours I broke out in a rash on my back.
Fox411: You believe your lupus was caused by the silicone.
MM: Here's what I always say. There are people who are going to say I'm crazy and certainly Dow will tell you I'm nuts. Every plastic surgeon who keeps telling women on the internet that they're totally safe are not talking about the actual scientific studies that were done which were not completed that did talk about a link. The FDA's own scientists have their own studies which started to link auto-immune diseases to the implants. I was a very, very healthy girl. I got implants, I got sick. I had them for ten years. I got them out and I started to get better and I am in remission from lupus so you do the math.
We know that lupus can be chemically triggered. Implants bleed silicone gel, even if they're not ruptured. Mine were completely disintegrated.
Fox411: You were part of a class action suit.
MM: I was. I got a little bit of money out of it. It was depleted because they (Dow) filed for Chapter 11. It was reimbursement for medical expenses, it was nothing compared to what I'd been through and continue to go through as a result.
Fox411: Your daughter has had many health issues which you think is linked to your implants.
MM: The manufacturers are not doing the follow-up studies they promised the FDA they would do. The children have completely fallen through. All I know is she had bouts with vomiting all the time. She was born with low Apgar scores which can be normal. She has had different disabilities and problems with her health throughout her childhood. She still has stuff. We know from Dow's own studies that certain silicones cross placental barriers so even if you don't breast feed what happened to her? There's no implant to go in and remove from the kid so it's very scary.
Fox411: You're obviously very anti-implant.
MM: It's the complete line of crap that surgeons are still selling people. If you have big boobs you'll feel better about yourself. Somehow a sac of silicone is going to heal your innermost troubles and your personal difficulties. I had to go inside and deal with the hole I was trying to fill that I filled with food, that I filled with silicone. I had to sit down with myself and go, 'What am I trying to do here?' It was a lot of soul searching, a lot of mistakes and yet I've come out the other side which I feel very blessed about.
Fox411: You write that while on 'The Waltons' you suffered from low self-esteem.
MM: I didn't think I was ugly but they would whisper to me that I was the "pretty one." It was not a comforting thing. It was something that was going to hurt other people's feelings. Also just this pressure, 'Oh since you're that, that is your only value,' and with that you have to be skinny, you have to wear makeup, this whole kind of BS image that was all of a sudden put on me and I didn't feel comfortable with it at all. It certainly was not how I felt.
Fox411: What did you call yourself?
MM: I called myself hog body. I look at drawings from my diary back then and I'm just sad. The picture in the book shows what I really looked like and the drawing is how I felt but what I realized through being a life coach and doing work-shops on body image, it's all about identifying these myths or what people believe about themselves and other people. Like, 'she's a cheerleader, her life must be easy.' It's all about the emotional tattoos we put on ourselves and other people.
Fox411: You were encouraged to lose weight.
MM: Oh yeah I was being injected with pregnant women's urine. I went to a doctor who gave me thyroid shots to stimulate the metabolism which instead completely shuts your thyroid down. It was insane. Pre-digested protein drinks that were pre-digested in a cow's stomach. It was disgusting. I did everything to try and fit into what I thought they wanted me to be.
Fox411: Your faith helped you work through your issues. You were raised a Catholic and you describe your spiritual journey.
MM: I would describe myself as a spiritual Buddhist/Christian. Wayne Dyer is a real touchstone for me. I'm very much about embracing all religions and all people. It brought me to a place where God wasn't sitting on a throne constantly trying to punish me. I found my way to a more loving God.
Fox411: It seems like 'The Waltons' set was very happy.
MM: It was. We had and still have some family dysfunction here and there, it was like a real family. But we are actually incredibly close. We see each other all the time. We're at each other's weddings, kids birthdays and unfortunately funerals at times. We've kind of weathered it all with each other which is really kind of unheard of. I don't know of any other show where people are actually as close as we are. There's a group of us that have dinner five times a year together and whenever I'm in New York I see Richard (John-Boy).
Fox411: It's still so popular.
MM: It's on three different networks right now. People write to me every single day on my Facebook fan page. People wish that the world was still like that and they want to go back in time. The other thing is that they didn't have a family and the show represents family to them and now there's a second and third generation of people who are sharing the show because of the values and morals that are in the show. There was a sense of community, of people coming together to help each other during tough times and we're having such tough times right now.
Fox411: You ended up with no money after the show finished.
MM: It is a classic story. It happens to 90 percent of kid actors. I started over. So when I worked as a waitress or bar tender people always said, 'Why are you doing this? You don't have to work again.'
Fox411: And you weren't paid very well.
MM: The company we worked for was cheap. There were five adults who were making ok money and we were just the kids so we didn't make very much money. We get like eight cents an airing from cable.