Healing Breast Implant Illness

Date
Jul, 31, 2020

Here’s my story of breast implant illness – symptoms, emotional healing, and info on explanting. I touch briefly on social and economic intersections. This is written with so much love. I hope my story can help you!


I was a child of the 90’s, which glorified skinny bodies with round silicone chest balls boobs. In elementary school, I remember flipping through my mom’s Victoria’s Secret catalog, thinking verbatim, “That’s how boobs should look. Pushed up and separated.” (I wish I were making that up.)

Some people who get implants did so because they felt very insecure. That wasn’t exactly me. I didn’t hate my breasts, but wanted “more” and stuffed my A cups into the biggest bras possible. At the age of 20, my family experienced a crisis that rocked my life. At 21, I felt bold enough to go through with breast implant surgery.

I found a plastic surgeon multiple people I knew had gone to. Later, I learned that other doctors in the area call them the “meat factory for boobs,” but I digress. I had 350cc silicone implants placed under the muscle, via an incision below my breast fold. I felt happy, they were shiny new toys that gave me confidence.

Ignoring intuition: the start of breast implant illness

Turns out, “more” was not better. In 2017, about 2 years post-surgery, I was living in Paris. This was the beginning of my spiritual awakening, and I was starting to see my soul – the true ‘me.’

I started feeling uncomfortable with my implants, both physically (they were starting to pull and hurt) and emotionally. My body felt foreign to me. I didn’t know why, but felt deep in my soul that I needed to get the implants out. (I was also dealing with chronic illness, but didn’t make the connection yet – I still believed implants were safe.)

From Paris, I scheduled a consultation with my original surgeon for the next time I was home, to talk about my options.

My doctor convinced me not to remove the implants, and instead replace them with smaller ones. His reasoning was that my original implants were so large, removing them altogether could cause my muscle to somehow “collapse” and “re-attach to the chest wall improperly.” Aesthetically, he said I “wouldn’t be happy with the results.”

TWO HUGE RED FLAGS.

First, a good surgeon will know how to do muscle repair, if it’s even necessary. Replacing larger implants with smaller implants as a “middle step” to explanting (as my surgeon suggested) is not medically necessary.

Second, what authority did he have to assert that I wouldn’t be happy with my own body? Looking back, I feel angry that a man old enough to be my father and who had daughters of his own said that to me.

Between false medical information and emotional manipulation, hidden behind the guise of “I care for you,” my surgeon convinced me that I preferred a smaller pair of implants. Maybe he made more money, or maybe it hurt his ego to “undo” his work and see a woman choose being natural (thus not needing him). Maybe he really believed it, I don’t know. Regardless, it was manipulation based on his biases, bordering on narcissistic abuse. It was in opposition to my best interest and expressed wishes.

Looking back, I should have not walked, but RUN out of there. But at the time, I knew nothing about breast implant illness, lacked confidence, and simply trusted my doctor. (By the way, my explant surgeon, who is a woman, was appalled that he manipulated me like that.)

Smaller implants, growing problems

I went through with the implant exchange surgery, and at first felt great. My breasts were nearly half the size and looked more natural, at least initially. Not long after, the new implants began causing the same issues – visible rippling, pulling, and pain. I was also developing worsening chronic illness symptoms.

While all of this was happening, my spiritual and intuitive connection continued deepening. Once again, I started feeling an urgency that the implants NEEDED to come out of my body. I didn’t yet have information to back it up, but my intuition knew.

Learning about breast implant illness

Eventually, I stumbled across a YouTube video from Alexandra’s GirlyTalk on Breast Implant Illness. Realizing I was far from the only person going through this, I cried tears of relief. Alexandra’s video prompted me to do a deep dive on breast implant illness.

More searching led me to the website, Healing Breast Implant Illness. I read every word, and ended up joining the private Facebook group for people with implants.

The group contained (mainly women) of all ages and backgrounds: grandparents, breast cancer survivors, younger women like myself. All of them were in this group because they had breast implant illness (or were thinking of getting implants), and needed support.

Some stories were inspiring – people with similar symptoms to mine, healing after explanting. Others were tragic – people whose quality of life was destroyed from breast implant illness. Some women lost their jobs, or were unable to enjoy exercise, hobbies, family.

Not everyone could afford the explant surgery, which can cost double the amount of implanting and insurance almost never covers. People’s lives were stolen. Others were rebuilding. All was preventable.

My breast implant illness symptoms

I’ve talked about this before – I have been living with chronic illness for a long time. (Although, I am in a space now where I AM healing – I know a big change is near!)

Unlike other people, implants were not the start of my chronic illness. However, I haven’t a single doubt that they contributed, adding new symptoms and worsening underlying ones.

Within the first year of having breast implants, I had my first medical burnout. I always had anxiety, but this was much more than that and very visceral. It was so severe that by the time I put in my two weeks at work, I couldn’t even finish them. I was essentially bedridden for a time, exhausted and having the worst panic attacks of my life, and could not drive as even my vision was temporarily affected. That would not be my last medical burnout. I’ve had many of varying severity since.

A lot happened to lead up to that moment, and it would be wrong to put all the blame on breast implants. My physical and emotional health were imbalanced for a long while before them. However, I believe that the extra physical stress of the implants sent my body over the edge. From there, my health began to spiral into what I still deal with today.

I jotted this list of my breast implant illness symptoms in February 2019, a few months before explanting:

list of breast implant illness symptoms, breast implant complications, breast implant illness recovery
A few of my breast implant illness symptoms, not including other chronic illness symptoms. (ps, ‘lightening’ should say ‘lightning’!)

This list was specifically for my insurance, so it isn’t exhaustive, but it does capture some of what I was going through.

Symptom improvement

All of the symptoms in the first category disappeared after explanting, minus the numbness in my lower breast. (Conventional medicine says it’s permanent nerve damage, but I have hope that massage, energy healing, and acupuncture can help).

My fatigue actually did improve after explanting. Not completely (it’s still one of my main symptoms), but there has been a lasting, noticeable difference. The others – headache, brain fog, digestion – little to no improvement honestly. But I had ALL of these symptoms long before I had implants.

What makes breast implants harmful?

There are many symptoms of breast implant illness, and it looks different for each individual. Please read a comprehensive list here.

Most plastic surgeons will say that breast implants are totally safe, naming only the possibility of rupture or capsular contracture (a condition where the scar tissue around the implant hardens and constricts, which can cause pain and disfiguration). Surgeons tell patients that both of these complications are rare and reversible.

However, these are far from the only issues that can occur. Silicone contains heavy metals (among other neurotoxins and carcinogens), which can build up in our organs and tissues. Breast implants and scar tissue capsules (which bodies form to contain the implant) can harbor mold and bacteria, causing constant low-level infections.

Human bodies are warm, obviously. Clinical trials were not long or detailed enough to prove safety over years, within the environment of a 98.6º F human body. Despite what doctors tell us, it is not confirmed that breast implants do not leech and degrade. If they didn’t, why else would surgeons and manufacturers require patients to replace them every 10 years? Let that sink in.

Our food, soil, air, and water are already contaminated, so all of us have at least some level of buildup. The addition of breast implants can be the final straw for a full-blown chronic illness. Effects can present symptomatically elsewhere in the body – it doesn’t have to be in the chest area.

Breast implants and Lymphoma

One type of textured Allergan breast implants were recalled by the FDA because they were scientifically linked to a rare type of Lymphoma cancer. The FDA and World Health Organization have both acknowledged this; it isn’t speculation.

Breast implants and breathing difficulties

Breast implants are heavy. They exert pressure on our rib cage, vital organs, and milk ducts for no functional reason, like a paperweight on our lungs (at least, that’s how it felt to me). I couldn’t take a full deep breath with implants – even the second pair, which were literally the smallest possible.

The very first thing I noticed when I woke up from explant surgery was that I finally could breathe! I kept taking deep breaths just for fun, because I forgot what it felt like for my lungs to fully expand. This is a common experience for many people who explant.

Consider what not taking full breaths does to our anxiety and oxygen levels, especially if you’re someone who is active. This alone affects the entire body!

What about saline implants?

Saline is NOT safer than silicone. In reality, saline has been known to cause even more complications. Plus, the shell of all saline implants is made of silicone.

With saline, surgeons insert an empty silicone shell, and then fill it inside the body through a valve on the implant.

When saline implants are removed, many surgeons’ standard procedure is to drain the implant inside of people’s bodies (often in-office under local anesthesia), then remove the silicone shell later in general surgery. The idea is that the body absorbs the saline (salt water), and the scar can be smaller than removing a filled implant.

The problem is that sometimes, it’s not “just” salt water, and there’s no way of telling from the outside. There are people who found LITERAL MOLD growing inside their saline implants after explanting. Most of these patients came from board certified plastic surgeons in Western countries.

(If you have saline implants, NEVER let your surgeon drain them inside of you!)

How do breast implants differ from other medical implants?

Breast Implants do not behave like a medically necessary implant. Knee replacements, for example, help the knee perform its intended job. They alleviate stress from other body parts, and are often made of different materials (not silicone). Breast implants only add stress, without providing value to the body.

Is it possible that medically necessary implants could cause similar complications? Perhaps. But something that is life-saving is well worth any potential risk. Having bigger boobs may make people feel better emotionally, at least temporarily, but we absolutely can live a full life without them. The same cannot be said for something like a heart pacemaker.

Scientific evidence on breast implant illness

I am positive that medical science will recognize breast implant illness eventually. But implants generate massive profit for plastic surgeons and medical device companies. Plus, symptoms can vary greatly between individuals (as far as being measurable in research). It’s going to take time.

While evidence is largely anecdotal for now, some plastic surgeons are no longer implanting patients because of breast implant illness. Experts are conducting formal research. I believe this knowledge will become mainstream, but we shouldn’t wait until it does to take care of our bodies.

If you know someone with breast implants, please visit the Healing Breast Implant Illness website as a start. There are also countless YouTube videos, podcast episodes, and articles on this topic.

Bottom line on breast implant illness

Breast implants are not medically necessary. They physically stress the body simply by the weight of them on our lungs and vital organs. The body never stops recognizing them as foreign, and therefore will expend energy rejecting them. This is why scar tissue capsules form around each implant – the body tries to contain the “invader.”

This immune response, coupled with toxins in the implant shell and filler (regardless of whether it’s silicone or saline), can cause an array of chronic illness symptoms, known collectively as breast implant illness.

Sometimes, breast implant illness is extreme, leading to debilitating fatigue, infections, autoimmune, or cancer. Other times, symptoms are more subtle (like joint pain, anxiety, or headaches). Some people develop symptoms weeks after implanting, others after years. They can appear anytime.

The truth is that we can never know how implants will affect us, even if we have them already. Just because we don’t FEEL symptoms now, doesn’t mean imbalances are not already starting. There is no safe window. There are no safe breast implants.

Breast Explant Surgery

My explant experience

I explanted in Germany with Dr. Bianca Baican. She was my angel, and I would recommend her to anyone in Europe. Dr. Baican is highly skilled in proper explant (“en bloc” – meaning the implant and scar tissue capsule are taken out in one piece, in case of spillage or pathogens). She also sent my capsule to get tested for pathology (mold, bacterial infections), in case further treatment would be needed.

I stayed 2 nights in the hospital, which was very comfortable. Nurses gave me an herbal formula for sleep, versus a pharmaceutical (in Germany, herbs are more mainstream). I appreciated that they did not load me up on narcotics, and took the gentlest approach possible to effectively ease my pain.

Practical tips before you explant:

Please use the checklist on the Healing BII site. I strongly recommend seeing a surgeon from the approved list. It’s how I found Dr. Baican. And utilize the Facebook group to connect with other people – it saved me!

A few things I want to emphasize:

  1. Find a surgeon who will perform your explant “en bloc” and put it in writing. En Bloc takes a lot of skill. Many surgeons do not know how, and will try to talk you out of it. Some will even tell you it’s not necessary to remove the capsule at all. Walk RUN out of there. If the surgeon cuts into the capsule, everything inside of it will spill into your body. En bloc is non-negotiable.
  2. Ask for photos of your implants after they are removed. First with the capsule attached (proof of “en bloc”), then with the clean implant and capsules next to each other. Your name should be in the photos. You can find examples of these online.
  3. Ask your doctor to send your capsules to pathology. There is likely an extra cost. You want to be certain whether there is an infection, and if so, what type.
  4. Keep your implants: your surgeon is to return them to you, cleaned and in a sealed bag. You paid for them, they are yours, it is 100% legal. Walk away if they tell you they can’t do that. If there is to be a lawsuit even years later, this is part of your evidence. (Doctors know this.)
  5. Do NOT go to your implant surgeon for explant. I don’t care how much you think you like them. (Learn from me, and many who made this mistake.)
  6. NEVER let a surgeon drain saline implants inside of your body. Get a proper en bloc explant, always.

Health insurance and social impact

Healthcare is very different in Europe. I was living in France at the time of explant. Because of my health complications, my French health insurance covered the cost of explant surgery (!!!). This further validates the reality of breast implant illness (and the reality of health insurance in America).

As the clock ticks in the United States, people fight their insurance companies while they fight for their lives. Coverage for explant surgery is extremely rare.

This disproportionately affects people of lower income, particularly as explant costs so much more than implant. (Also, please don’t think that only rich people have breast implants – social pressure is rampant for everyone, and many save for a very long time to get them.)

Some people got implants after mastectomy, surviving breast cancer just to get sick again from breast implants. I’ve heard stories of doctors pushing implants on mastectomy patients, even if they said they didn’t want them. It’s heartbreaking that insurance will cover implant after mastectomy, but not explant.

The way most doctors and health insurance companies treat people with implants, especially in the United States, is a form of gaslighting. Society pushes us to value big boobs. When we get sick from the breast implants our doctors promise are safe, it’s our fault or we are imagining things… even though most are unwilling to do the research either way.

Everyone with breast implant illness deserves financial access to breast explant surgery. Period.

The intersections of feminism, capitalism, social and racial justice as they relate to breast implants deserve its own post. I hope this gets us all at least thinking about that.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, I encourage everyone to stay far away from breast implants. The potential damage costs much more (in money and quality of life) than they are worth.

I love my natural breasts SO MUCH after explanting. I did not grieve those toxic bags for one second. Without implants, I feel like myself again, like my body belongs fully to me. My life was very different, very traumatic at the time I got breast implants. Having them prolonged that suffering in more ways than one. I needed to breathe again, and now I can.

Today, healing chronic illness is my top priority, and there is no way I could do this with breast implants still in my body. As long as my immune system was fighting the implants, my body couldn’t repair anything else. I have a chance at life now.

I genuinely feel beautiful with my explant scars and am happy to tell anyone about breast implant illness. Would I make the same choice again? Hell no. But I also do not regret it, because ultimately, having gotten the implants I wanted as a little girl, and then realizing I never needed them, healed my spirit.

My breast implant journey helped me fall in love with my natural self. This human body is my home, and I am grateful to love myself and others from within it.

Words of encouragement

I know it can feel scary and like a waste of money, even loss of identity to explant, but I beg you to consider it. Health is everything, which too many of us don’t realize until we lose it. None of this is your fault.

If you experience symptoms of breast implant illness, or if anything pre-existing has gotten worse since implanting, please don’t ignore it.

We can always learn to love ourselves more, but we cannot undo the damage of breast implants as long as they still are in our bodies. If you have breast implant illness, you CAN heal. You need to explant as soon as you can.

If you still decide to get implants or keep the ones you have, that is okay. You deserve to do what feels right for you. Nobody told me this information before implanting, and I’m honestly unsure whether it would have changed my mind back then. We really do need to go through things our own way. (This also goes for the loved ones of people with implants – I encourage you to practice unconditional love and support!)

So, what are your thoughts on breast implant illness?

Was any of this information new to you? Do you have or want breast implants, and do you still after reading this? Has anyone in your life been affected by implants?

If this was helpful, please share the link, leave a comment below, or reach out to me on Instagram! It means so much to me to hear from you.

The more people who know breast implant illness, the fewer of us will feel unwell.

I look forward to hearing from you!

All of my love,
Lena xx

breast implant illness, breast implants, healing breast implant illness
December 2015: two months after my first set of breast implants. It’s visible how much I was struggling emotionally. Big boobs, little joy. And to think I was in Puerto Rico on vacation in this picture!
breast implant illness, healing breast implant illness, breast explant surgery, explant recovery
April 2019: one day after explant surgery. I felt beautiful and was so grateful to begin healing from breast implant illness. Do you see the difference in energy, even in the hospital vs. the last picture on vacation?
breast implant illness, healing breast implant illness, breast explant, explant scars
April 2020: My beautiful scars, one year post-explant. The reason they are so much lower than my breast fold is because my implant surgeon put them all the way down there. But I don’t mind it one bit. I am so in love with my natural body. These scars tell a story of resilience. Healing from breast implant illness is possible!

lenazell

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