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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Meghan's Call To Trust Your Instincts

A Thriver Shares Her Experiences With Breast Implant Illness And Explant Surgery

I’ve never been a good writer, but I wanted to share my experience with breast implants.

Breast Reconstruction

In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer HR+ PR + HER2- stage 2 grade 2. For those of you unfamiliar hormone positive, the cancer moved beyond where it started and was growing at a moderately fast pace. Given the history of breast cancer on my father’s side, I opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. As it turned out, they found grade 0 on my “noncancer” side, so it was a good call as I would have had to go through treatment again. I had some concerns about recon, as I have a preexisting connective tissue disorder, but my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. As it turned out it was a problem, but not my biggest problem.

My initial surgery went well, and I healed perfectly... until I didn’t. I had little pain as my skin stretched easily, so I happily got fills every 2-3 weeks. The scars looked great, but the expander on the right had a strange bulge at the bottom. I was told not to worry; the expander was probably in an awkward position. I stopped the fills and waited for the exchange to implants. Several months later, I had the exchange and I looked awesome. Perfect size large B- small C- just right I thought. Within weeks the expanders were moving all over the place. I had to wear a tight sports bra 24/27 to keep them from moving. Uncomfortable is an understatement.

About 9 months later, in 2018ish, I was in the OR again exchanging for textured implants that would allow scar tissue to grow into the texture to keep them in place. My PS called my husband after the surgery and his exact words were, “It was a shitshow in there." The implants had moved around so much that they tore up my chest wall. He felt confident that this would be the fix. They were not perfect and still moved some, but nothing like before. They worked better than no texture, so I thought it was best to stop complaining and be thankful for what I had. They also looked great.

In 2019, I was informed that the allergen textured implants were being recalled for causing cancer. My first thought was panic, and my second thought was get them out ASAP.

So another surgery, but in the meantime, I also had acute appendicitis surgery, oophorectomy, and hand surgery. I knew this would be the last one as my plastic surgeon knew my body and had figured out what needed to be done to keep the implants from moving; under the chest muscle and sewn to my ribs should hold it all in place. The left side was perfect, with a good position and no motion. The right side was migrating toward my armpit, but I could push it back, wear a tight bra to keep it in place, sleep on my right side, and use the mattress to anchor it. I found myself unconsciously holding my breast in place so I was frequently seen walking, sitting, and standing with my right hand holding my boob. (Just the image I wanted to portray in public and at the high school I teach at.)

My Symptoms

In the meantime, I began having constant headaches, intense fatigue, dizzy spells, dry eye, vision changes, rib pain in my back, trouble bending over (it felt like my ribs were getting tangled), joint and muscle pain, memory and concentration problems, breathing problems, increased heart rate, sleep disturbance, dry mouth and dry eyes, thyroid changes, and increased anxiety- to name a few symptoms.

I spent the summer of 2020 going to and from one specialist to another. They ran tests, tests, and more tests. I was hooked up to monitors, MRIs, tilting tables, ultrasounds, blood draws... the list goes on. Interestingly, they could not get a good look at my heart because the implant was blocking it. No one could tell me what was wrong with me. For every symptom there was an excuse either made by me or someone else.

My body had been through so much, the weather changes, allergies, I’m doing too much, I'm not exercising enough, I should be eating better, and my favorite, everyone is tired these days.

Breast Implant Illness

I saw a video on Facebook about Breast Implant Illness (BII), and it resonated with me, but I didn’t want to be an alarmist so I did nothing. In January of 2021, my symptoms were so intense that they interfered with nearly every aspect of my life. I was taking 2-3 hour naps each day and had no interest in doing the things I once loved because I knew it would exhaust me. Sitting was difficult because my ribs always hurt, so I was always lying down if I was home. I was spending thousands of dollars on acupuncture, massage, cryotherapy, and chiropractic adjustments, and none of it was helping. I was waking up frequently throughout the night due to pain, and I was gaining weight- 25 pounds to be exact.

Breast Cancer Explant Surgery

Finally, in March, I made an appointment with my surgeon to discuss explant. He wasn’t loving it, but didn’t fight me on it either. I asked him if he thought BII was real. (In my research, I found many PS do not believe in it). He said he didn’t know and was following the research. At least he didn’t say no. He also told me that he estimated 90% of his patients who choose explant feel better after and 75% are happy with the physical results. I scheduled explant, my 10th surgery in five years, for May 4th.

I was terrified. I was scared of looking deformed, afraid my husband would find my new chest unattractive, and fearful that I would go through yet another surgery and not feel better. My surgery was delayed for an emergency, so I sat in pre-op alone for 4 hours with my thoughts. I did more crying in those hours than I had done in the last 5 years.

I woke up with no headache and no rib pain. My first thought was that it must be the anesthesia. I arrived home at 10pm and went right to bed. The next morning I was feeling good, but again I thought it must be the remaining surgery meds.

Now, I am almost 4 weeks out and although not completely pain free, I feel so much better. I'm experiencing no headaches, no naps, and an increase in energy. I'm still wearing glasses, but my vision is clearer. I can bend over, I’ve lost 10 pounds without trying, and best of all, I’m still damn sexy.

Looking Back on Breast Cancer

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my prize was perfect silicone breasts. For having to endure all the treatments and surgeries, I would forever have perky, firm fabulous breasts. I was disappointed that my body had failed me and blamed myself and my preexisting conditions on all that ailed me. Now I know the silicone was the culprit. The silicone made me sick and the silicone stole 5 years from me. Reconstruction options were all I was given at the time. Not one person suggested going flat as an option. Doctors are taught that all women want breasts. There is a doctor in China that tells patients who want a prophylactic mastectomy to flat that they will never be able to orgasm again without breasts. What kind of nonsense is that?

What have I learned? Sometimes we have to make mistakes to get to where we need to be. Do your research, and talk to woman who have been through it. Ask the hard, personal questions. Doctors don’t know everything. Trust your instincts.

BII is very real. If you have any of the above symptoms, research and talk to people who have been through it. My body did not like silicone. For me, it was a hormone disruptor, and I fully believe the implants contributed to many, if not all, of my symptoms.

Today, I feel happy and awake, and I am getting on with my life. I want that for you too.

Thank you for sharing your story, Meghan. We love you! Resources & Support:

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