Twenty-nine. That’s the number of symptoms I had of breast implant illness, an unofficial (but very real) illness that those with breast implants can experience. Notice that I said “had,” because three months ago, I chose to have my breast implants, and the capsules around them, removed.
I’m not even in the itty bitty titty committee. I’ve got nothing now except three large scars across my chest. After having a direct-to-implant mastectomy four summers ago after being diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, I lived with breast implants for three and a half years. That is, until I realized that not only were they causing me constant pain, but also making me sick. Here I am, three months after having my implants removed and feeling like I’m finally returning to myself again.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Breast Implant Illness, also known as BII. Like I already shared, it is not an official diagnosable condition, but to those of us who suffered from it, it’s real. There are over 50 possible symptoms of BII, including sudden food intolerances, depression and anxiety, digestive issues, liver and kidney problems, dizziness, ear ringing, dehydration, vision issues, weight struggles, and many more. The list is extensive and simply put, horrifying.
You might be wondering, how do we know that a person’s health issues are from their implants and not because they have another condition? Many of the women I’ve spoken with who believe they have or had BII went through extensive medical evaluations, including expensive testing, to try to pin down a diagnosis — to no avail. I can include myself in this group. Over the course of time I had my implants, I had a CT scan, an MRI, attended two rounds of physical therapy, saw my chiropractor and general practitioner, met with a rheumatologist, and had many labs done. Yes, this cost thousands of dollars, and the root cause of my growing list of symptoms was never determined. There were times I wondered if it was all mental.
Unfortunately, many patients with breast implants are told that breast implants are safe and that the patients’ struggles are just in their heads. Some are diagnosed with anxiety or depression and told they just need counseling. Meanwhile, the implants that are sewn into their chest, next to their lungs, heart, and lymphatic system, continue to wreak havoc on their health.
Where is the FDA in all of this? Well, the FDA isn’t on board yet. Currently, they share that the following are risks associated with breast implants: “additional surgeries,” BIA-ALCL (a lymphoma associated with textured breast implants), “systemic symptoms,” “capsular contracture (scar tissue that squeezes the implant),” “breast pain,” implant rupture, implant deflation, a “silent” silicone implant rupture, and “infection.” They do mention BII, sharing that “some women” have reported experiencing “connective tissue diseases (such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis),” “trouble breastfeeding,” and “reproductive problems.” But they state that there isn’t enough evidence to “support an association between breast implants and those diagnoses.” They do acknowledge that patients have reported “joint pain, muscle aches, confusion, chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases” and there is research in play to “better understand” the origins.
When I had my implants, especially during the last few months, I truly felt that I was dying. I spent entire days in bed, trapped in my body. It seemed like anything could trigger what I was told was an autoimmune flare. I was miserable, at times barely able to form sentences or recall words. I woke up most mornings with swollen, stiff joints, and no amount of coffee could give me the energy I needed to parent my children and work. I was also in constant pain. My right shoulder, breast, and ribcage felt like they were on fire. All the yoga, physical therapy, and chiropractic care I did only gave me temporary relief.
I woke up one morning and decided my implants had to go. I made up my mind that even if I only felt ten percent better, it would be worth it. I did extensive research on BII, and I knew, without a doubt, that I had it. Looking good in a swimsuit was not worth not being able to get out of bed. Yes, breast cancer had taken my natural breasts, but having implants didn’t give me myself back. Instead, they steadily took from me until I was barely able to function.
Dr. David Rankin is the founder of Aqua Plastic Surgery and is the Chief Plastic Surgeon at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida has become well-known in the BII community as a superhero. He’s helped thousands of patients, including celebrities such as Kayla Reid, by removing their breast implants. I asked him how quickly his patients feel better after explanting, and he said that some symptoms can go away immediately, while others can take over a year. I also asked him how many of his patients feel better after explanting, and he told me that it’s between eighty-five and ninety percent. Read that again.
No person should be shamed for struggling with a past decision, nor should they be told that their poor health is in their heads. The lack of pre-surgery education, including what exactly is in the implants, is astounding. Many of us are assured that breast implants are perfectly safe and that complications are rare. Yes, there have been a “few” cases of cancer, but there’s no sufficient evidence that BII exists. To me, the proof is in the pudding. When implants come out, a lot of women find their healing, something they’ve desperately desired.
It’s been three months since my surgery, and I’m happy to report that 25 of my 29 symptoms are gone. My experience has taught me that electing to have foreign objects sewn into my body was clearly not a good decision — it stole years from my life. I lost time with my children and husband, job opportunities, and existing without pain and sickness. Having the perfect breasts came with a hefty price tag, and I’m not talking about my medical bills. I am thankful that I had my implants removed and am able to make my way back to my true self.