Nine years ago, at age 20, I had breast augmentation surgery. A lot of people in my life now have no idea that I have breast implants because they look small and inconspicuous – which is exactly how I wanted them to look. When I think back to my 20-year old self, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that two months before my 30th birthday, I would be having these implants removed – and not replaced.
It’s funny, because I have never identified as someone who has “body image issues”. Growing up, I did a lot of sport (mainly swimming) which kept me fit, lean and muscular. I never had issues with how my body looked – except for one thing. I did always wish I could change was the size of my breasts. I longed to be able to fill even an A cup. Oooh, a B would be nice. To have some “womanly curvature” to my body. Or at least, that’s what society had taught me to want; to fit in, and to be normal.
My mother never had large breasts, and this is something I was constantly reminded of as a young girl. In fact, mum got breast implants in her 40’s, and the only regret she ever said she had was not getting them in sooner. This statement, coupled with the genetic likelihood of minimal breast tissue developing for me, left me thinking about breast implants from a very young age. As I finished high school and began trying to find my way in the world, breast implants became more of a possibility. I was at the age where physical appearance was tremendously important, and as I looked around my group of friends (especially in bikinis, on the beach), I noticed I did not look like them. I could not fill out a AA cup bra and, coupled with my broad shoulders and upper body dominant musculature, I felt very masculine. Although I had abs and toned arms and legs, all I could think about was how flat-chested I was. My self confidence was low, and any comment to do with my breasts stung deep.
It was right before my 21st birthday that I decided I would bite the bullet and get the life-changing operation. Off we went, my mother and I – to numerous different plastic surgeons. I enjoyed trying different types of implants on, and was euphoric at the prospect of having real life breasts – then my body would be “perfect”, and I could finally move on with my life. I remember thinking, “I’m glad I am getting them in so young, as no one will ever know I have them in later in life. It will look as though I’ve always had breasts”.
After about 8 different consultations with numerous plastic surgeons, we finally decided on a surgeon located on the Gold Coast. When he examined me, he never sugar coated anything. “You’ll never have cleavage due to the structure of your chest wall,” he would comment. “Your implants will sit quite wide apart. Your shoulders are broad, and you have a pigeon chest structure.” Although he did not promise an extremely aesthetic result, he was real, and meticulous in his examination. That’s why he stood out, and that’s why mum and I decided to go with him.
The operation went off without a hitch, and, according to mum I “bounced back” very quickly. A week afterwards at my post-surgery follow up appointment, my surgeon mentioned to me that I was in his top 3 most difficult patients he’d ever operated on, due to my extremely low level of existing breast tissue and chest bone structure. I remember thinking “gee, I really was a rarity” which reinforced my decision to have breast implants placed within my body. In my eyes – I was deformed! I needed this to be whole!
After my op, I moved on with my life. I remember the best thing about having breast implants was to be able to go to the gym, in a normal sports bra, and to have some womanly lumps there. I no longer looked like a male – I was female! I had breasts!
Yeah, I struggled with my mental health and my immune system struggled through bouts of illness throughout my early 20’s, but hey, didn’t everyone?
From my early twenties onwards I started to develop fatigue. Looking back now, it started as post-viral fatigue from a huge viral infection I suffered from at age 23. This left me bedbound for weeks, and I had a lot of time off work. After slowly recovering from this, I energy never really bounced back to what it once was. I kept working, and after switching careers and starting my own PT business, I was soon working long hours and burning the candle at both ends. I ended up burning out and suffered both physical and mental exhaustion.
As I moved through the years, working, studying and trying to live my life, I started to accumulate more and more vague symptoms:
Ongoing fatigue which was not relieved by sleep
Muscle tightness on my left upper body around chest, shoulder and back
Pain and inflammation on left side
Inflamed lymph nodes
Poor muscle recovery from exercise
Brain fog and memory problems
Immune issues – first suppression of immune system and then chronic infections
Full body rashes (pictured below)
After becoming a Nutritionist, I started to realise that these symptoms were not normal, especially for the amount of effort I put into my health. I tested my gut microbiome and realised it was very imbalanced, which led me to work hard on this. My energy did improve a little but I felt as soon as I would start feeling good, all it took was a busy week to throw me off and leave me bedridden again. My growing list of symptoms started to frustrate me. As a health professional - pouring my energy, time and resources into leading a healthy life – it just made no sense. I had very low return on investment.
It was mid-2019 when I experienced lumps, pain and swelling in my left breast. I immediately had it checked, and I was advised that these could be the first signs of Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) – a rare form of immune cancer that was caused by textured breast implants. Upon digging further, I found out that my implants were grade 4 textured (the highest textured grade available) and the TGA had banned their use in Australia since 2016. This set off alarm bells. This knowledge, coupled with my swelling, pain and growing list of symptoms made me take a long, hard look at the reality of having breast implants. Was it really worth it?
My ego didn’t want to go there. It screamed at me to continue to turn a blind eye. My husband had never seen me without implants, as we met post-surgery. What if he looked at me differently once I had them out? So many emotions flooded my body. Fear, shame, regret, guilt, anxiety. I cried, hard. The tears kept coming. My poor husband tried to reassure me that all would be ok, but I often snapped back, still unable to comprehend what I had done to myself and my body. I felt so sorry, like I just wanted to give my body a big fat hug – for putting it through this. How could I expect to place 2 foreign objects - which are now known to be manufactured with over 40 toxic chemicals and compounds – into my body and for everything to be “fine”?
I sat with it for a while, and having done lots of spiritual and emotional healing work on myself this year, I knew better than to let my ego take over. I knew what I had to do – I knew these toxic implants had to come out if I wanted to move forward with a healthy life, and at some point, start a family of our own.
As soon as I had made the decision to have them out – I went into research mode. I scoured the internet for suitable surgeons, I joined multiple Facebook groups with women going through similar scenarios. I looked up journal articles pertaining to breast implants. I watched part of the first Consensus Conference on BIA-ALCL held in Rome. I was armed with information, and in my opinion, I had to be. BIA-ALCL is considered “extremely rare”, however I had a real concern. What if I was the 1 in 2000 diagnosed? I also had concerns about how much these implants were giving my body systemic symptoms, like fatigue and immune issues. And aside from that – the pain, tenderness and swelling in my left breast was constant. It felt like a ticking time bomb.
Breast Implant Illness (the name given for this group of vague symptoms thought to be caused by breast implants) is currently considered controversial in the medical field, due to lack of large clinical trials (aka “evidence”). However, in my opinion, there is loads of evidence already. It may not be in the form of clinical trials (yet), but there are thousands upon thousands of anecdotal case reports of women feeling 100% better after getting their implants removed. Fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, food sensitivities – gone within weeks of explant. How can anyone ignore that?
My surgery is in 2 weeks, and I know it is the right decision. I will have a full en bloc capsulectomy, performed by a very skilled surgeon at the Gold Coast Lotus Institute. My capsules will be sent away for pathology testing to ensure I do not in fact have BIA-ALCL. I do not expect it to be easy, but I also have a feeling that I will finally feel like my body is my own after they’re out. It will be one week before Christmas, and I cannot wait to receive the best Christmas present – my health.
Resources for women wanting more information:
Breast Implant Illness Awareness Aus & NZ (over 5K members)
Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole (over 101K members worldwide)
ALCL In Women With Breast Implants BIA-ALCL (nearly 5K members)