My eyes were dry, all day every day. I went to my optometrist, multiple times, until we found a magical twice-daily (and beyond expensive) eye drop that somewhat helped. A few months later, I was at my general practitioner’s office, complaining of abdominal pain. All my lab work looked great, and the next step was a scan. The result? A whole lot of stool — AKA, constipation. (Ew.) I was also dealing with perpetual urinary tract pain, which I self-treated with cranberry pills. My anxiety kept increasing, as did dizzy spells and insomnia. My sex drive was non-existent, and I felt like a zombie.
Not only did I have seemingly random and unrelated symptoms, but my shoulders hurt. The relentless pain held steady, even after rounds and rounds of physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and endless “gentle” yoga exercises. I bought new pillows, committed to sleeping on my back, and doing daily stretches. The pain would ease up for maybe a day and then come back. An MRI revealed no damage. I also dealt with a six-month intercostal muscle strain stint, ironically caused by stretching too much. I always had ice packs and a heating pad on me, trying to provide some relief.
The thing is, even though I had a diagnosis for almost every symptom (dry eye syndrome, constipation, muscle strain), I wasn’t getting better even though I followed the doctor’s every order. In fact, I was getting worse. I had joint and muscle pain, plus extreme fatigue. I would wake up at 7 a.m., only to desperately need a nap by eleven and yearn to be in bed by eight — at the latest. This was followed by brain fog, sound and vision sensitivity, and ear ringing. Each morning, I woke up wondering what fresh hell awaited me. As a result, I spiraled into depression — a mental health disorder I had never dealt with before. Honestly, I thought I was dying, and no one was throwing me a life jacket.
It was only after having a conversation with a dental hygienist (while she was all up in my mouth) about her friend who had her implants removed due to illness, did I realize that I absolutely was being poisoned by my silicone breast implants. There has been no other reasonable explanation for the various symptoms I was experiencing, since no scan, no blood draw, and no doctor has been able to tell me why I’m so sick and how all my symptoms relate.
Breast implant illness is not an official medical diagnosis, but if you look it up, you’ll find loads of information online, including the more than fifty possible symptoms. The symptom list alone — in which I could check off about twenty of my own symptoms — convinced me I had BII. However, it was also the stories I read on women’s blogs and on social media that solidified my stance. Even if BII isn’t “official” in the eyes of the medical community, to me we shouldn’t dare deny the thousands of stories women have shared about how the foreign objects in their bodies have caused them to become gravely ill.
Don’t just take my word for it. Some (though certainly not all or enough) plastic surgeons even discuss BII (though not always by that name) on their websites. Several reputable sites, including M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, and the FDA, host articles on the risks of breast implants. The information is out there, but the sound research and diagnosis availability is not.
What I learned from the women who bravely chose to share their stories is that when problematic breast implants — no matter the type — remain in the body, no diet regime, exercise routine, supplement schedule, or anything else can combat BII. The root of the problem can’t be bandaged or coddled into submission. The only way to possibly recover is to remove the implants and capsules completely and help the body detox — which can take months or even years. The women’s testimonials claim that the longer you’ve had implants, the longer you can expect to need to detox.
For many women, myself included, this is a big freaking deal, but removing implants isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. First, there’s the cost, which women have shared costs them around $10,000, give or take a few thousand. Most of us don’t have that kind of cash laying around. Insurance companies, in most cases, aren’t going to cover implant removal on the grounds of a patient feeling ill.
There’s also the mental and emotional health impact that comes with removing implants. We hear all the time that appearance doesn’t matter, that boobs are “just” boobs, and that we are so much more than our weight, measurements, and curves. While I think most of us agree that these are beautiful mantras, the fact is, our relationships with our bodies are complicated and shouldn’t be judged by others.
Implant removal requires several weeks of recovery, which means time off work, finding childcare and household help, and someone to drive you to and from appointments. Some women have to travel across several states for their implant removal procedure. During a pandemic, these situations can be particularly difficult.
Women have shared that they are desperately trying to save the money or somehow secure the cash to get their implants removed. Some are bedridden, unable to work or take care of their children. Others are just barely making it, teetering on the edge of a total breakdown. Meanwhile, the medical community overwhelmingly tries to convince us that our sickness isn’t real and that perhaps there’s something else wrong with us. Of course, it’s important to rule out other health conditions, but the symptoms of BII can overlap a ton of other diagnoses.
Over all of the years I’ve had implants and of the dozens of medical appointments I’ve had for my symptoms and pain, not one medical professional has suggested to me that perhaps it’s my implants that are making me sick. Read that again. Not one.
I understand I can’t be diagnosed with something that doesn’t officially exist, yet I feel betrayed and abandoned by those I trusted to investigate my symptoms and help me pinpoint why I felt so terrible. I didn’t need another scan, another pill, or more stretches. I needed the source of the problem out of my body — ASAP — for a chance at feeling like myself again.
I’m not throwing plastic surgeons under the proverbial bus. In fact, some are downright angels. They safely and properly remove implants for women who need or want them gone. Some offer alternative-to-implants post-breast cancer reconstructive options, if that’s what their patient desires. Others are helping breast cancer patients go flat and fabulous — something that takes a very particular skill set.
Despite the fact that I have lived sick for a long time, I don’t subscribe to the all-doctors-are-deceptors rhetoric. I believe that like all professions, there are good professionals and bad apples. A good doctor will believe a woman who says she’s sick and work to do whatever they can to help her. I also believe that we need to make BII an official medical diagnosis, giving our medical professionals the opportunity to diagnose women with it rather than sending them on their way — yet again — without help.
I did everything in my power to feel better. I ate organic, used my elliptical every morning, guzzled water, gave up alcohol, and only used “clean” beauty and cleaning products. I spent thousands and thousands of hard-earned dollars attending medical visits and ordering supplements. These may have helped — a bit — but they were nothing in comparison to the two beasts inside my chest.
Now I’m not only in the process of recovering from saying goodbye to my implants, but I’m trying to figure out how to heal from regret. How do I forgive myself for the choice I made to prioritize aesthetics over health? How do I move forward? It empowers me to at least be able to share my story with others and hopefully put a bug in their ear that silicone, whether implanted or injected, has some serious risks. Ignorance is not bliss. Now, I’m going to make up for lost time and, hopefully, get my health back.