Please Stop Gaslighting Women With Breast Implant Illness

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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I recently wrote an article about my experience with breast implant illness, and frankly, how I feel sorry for women living with breast implants. Many times, we have been tricked or manipulated into getting them and keeping them, even though thousands of women have explanted due to being very, very sick from their implants. Some of the comments I received in response to my article came from women with implants, and wow, the gaslighting was out of freaking control.

I get that learning about breast implant illness, or BII, is a hard truth. In fact, before I decided to get breast implants after my breast cancer diagnosis, a friend cautioned me. She gently implored me to do some serious research. I didn’t listen, and I then lost three and half years of my life due to the symptoms of breast implant illness. I don’t share my story to shame others, but to educate them. However, no matter how hard I try, I still face a lot of gaslighting from women and from the medical community.

I first want to say that those of us who share our intimate horror stories with breast implant illness are motivated by a single factor: We all want to save others from the same torturous, expensive fate. Talking about the dangers of breast implants is hardly glorious or glamourous. In fact, everyone would much rather look at pretty, perfect breasts on social media than discuss the realities of breast cancer, breast implant issues, and explanting — that is, having breast implants removed.

The topics I cover definitely have an ick-factor to them. I can practically hear Alexis Rose say, “Ew” every time I publish a piece on what it was like to live as a rapidly aging zombie, sick (nearly to death, it felt like) from the silicone bags sewn into my chest. I get it. Medical talk can make any of us cringe and feel queasy. But you know what’s worse than breast implant talk? Living with two toxic bags sewn under your skin, near your heart, lungs, and lymph nodes, knowing they are making you very ill, is way more “ew” than simply forewarning women to consider the risks of implants.

I’m disturbed that fellow women are so quick to discount others who share their stories. Our story is our story, and our truth is our truth. Again, we have no motivation to share our stories besides our deeply held belief that women’s health matters and that we all deserve a beautiful, happy, healthy life. When your personal experience tells you that breast implants do anything but give women what they deserve, you feel so convicted that you can’t help but tell others.

When we are met with nay-sayers, it’s so disheartening. We’ve already faced this with the medical community. Many of us who consider or move forward with explanting have dealt with years of doubt, shame, and blaming-the-victim. (Nothing is worse than blaming the victim.)

When we tell our doctors that we are dealing with sudden food intolerances, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, rashes, constipation, dry eyes, unspecified autoimmune diagnoses, and some of the other fifty plus symptoms of BII, we are often met with a ton of testing. We’re talking scans, like CTs and ultrasounds, blood work, and examinations. If you’re thinking that these sound expensive, time consuming, and draining, you are right.

Many times, these render no definitive medical diagnosis. Why, might you ask? First of all, breast implant illness isn’t an official medical diagnosis. There’s no test for it. BII is a constellation of symptoms, and sometimes they confusingly mimic other conditions. How can someone be diagnosed with something that doesn’t exist? They can’t. We have to self-diagnose.

Because breast implant ilnness isn’t a “real” diagnosis, even though the symptoms we face can render us bedridden, unable to work, and unable to parent our kids, we have to advocate relentlessly for ourselves at medical appointments. Many doctors haven’t heard of BII. Even when we educate them, some claim that our condition is “all in our heads.” After all, breast implants are FDA approved. Ahem, look again. They are FDA approved, and they also come with a black box warning.

This single point speaks volumes. Some women who have their breast implants removed ask to have their implants given to them after surgery. These are items we paid for. Sometimes doctors allow it, and sometimes they don’t. You might be wondering, why can’t a patient keep the items they paid for? Doctors have told women, it’s because the implants are “medical, hazardous waste.” So, if implants are too toxic to be given to the patient to keep, how are they safe enough to implant into the body?

When I share my story with others, some women pipe up that they have implants and they are “perfectly fine.” They have absolutely no medical issues from their implants. I don’t live in her body, and I can’t tell her otherwise. However, some of these same women have confessed to me at other times how they have dealt with some odd symptoms that the doctor can’t figure out. Heartburn, a neck rash that comes and goes, possibly irritable bowel syndrome, swollen joints in the morning, headaches, infertility, and much more. If I dare suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s their implants, they shut down.

I get it. Breasts are freaking complicated. Many of us don’t want to break up with our boobs, even when they weren’t really ours to begin with. I admit, I loved the way my implants looked in a swimsuit. For the first time in my life, my breasts were the same size and shape. I could wear whatever I wanted and know I’d look really, really good.

But I was so sick. The symptoms added up and then worsened. My body was screaming at me every day. I felt like I was at least eighty years old. Everything from getting out of bed to pouring a glass of water took tremendous effort. I never knew if I would have an OK day, one I could keep up with work and my family, or a terrible day, where I couldn’t get enough sleep or water.

When someone denies my story, especially another woman, it’s infuriating. I am speaking my experience to help save her and others like her, who are considering implants, who have them and aren’t feeling their best, or chose to explant and need some affirmation. I’m not getting any cash prizes or trophies for being flat-chested. I’m doing it because I care.

I definitely think that in years to come, breast implant illness will become an official medical diagnosis and women like me, women who were gravely ill from implants, will be more accepted and believed. It’s hard to wait for that season, but in the meantime, I will not stop sharing just because my story makes others uncomfortable.

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