My Breast Implant Illness and Explant Recovery
Fitness has been my life and passion for over 40 years. As a child I danced, then I was a high school cheer leader, and in college I discovered aerobics and weight training. My transition into aerobics and fitness competitions was no surprise for anyone who knew me; my incredible 20-year career in competition consumed all of my thoughts, dreams and energy—until I lost my way.
I’ve never had any support from my family or loved ones with my life choices. My parents wanted me to get a “real degree” so I could get a “real job” (doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher). Then when I married, my husband wanted me to get a stable office job. And lastly, my mother-in-law wanted me to stay home, cook, clean, have babies and dote on her son. I’ve always been a dreamer, a risk taker, and have had a flair for the dramatics; anything that says “non-conformist” draws my attention. For 40 years I had success marching to the beat of my own drum and it made me a strong independent woman. I was proud of my accomplishments (since nobody else was) and I was even proud of my failures because they were on my own terms.
Then symptoms of my age reared its ugly head; perimenopause was a slow spiral into hell! Of course I didn’t recognize any changes because that's the nature of the beast; but in hindsight, I can see I wasn’t my normal, self-confident self. I remember an incident where I was changing backstage at a competition when a woman noticed my shriveled, saggy breasts and said, “Awwww! My babies did the same thing to my body.” I replied, “I don’t have kids.” I was so mad at her insensitivity that I gave her that I glared at her for a second too long in hopes of making her feel as uncomfortable as I felt. My second sign was a bit more obvious; one week later, I booked surgery for implants on my 43rd birthday.
I thought I was so smart; I thought this surgery would buy me five more years of competition against beautiful athletes half my age. Unfortunately, complications from the surgery brought about the beginning-of-the-end of my competitive career and everything else I held dear. In 6-months’ time, everything would come to a screeching halt--all for a pair of boobs!
The following 7 years was a series of injuries, more surgeries, anxiety, depression, insurmountable hot flashes and weight gain that can all be traced back to my breast augmentation. It wasn't until my 50th birthday that I decided to climb out of my depths of pity, self-hatred, and took back my life, my body and my sanity!
My Experience with Breast Implant Illness
I knew my body was "out of whack" almost immediately. Six weeks post-op, I pulled my hip flexor during my first workout; I chalked it up to being out of shape from taking six weeks off, but had my doubts. Then, my elbows started aching and I started having grip problems. It wasn't just that I couldn't hold onto heavy weights, but my forearms would burn from holding onto shopping bags, my purse, my dog on a leash…. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my hands clenched like a claw and my wrists and forearms would be swollen in the morning. My family doctor had tests done on me for rheumatoid arthritis, which came out negative, so he sent me to a sports medicine specialist. By the time I got my appointment to see the specialist, my shoulders were in so much pain I couldn't move my arms. As it turned out, I had a partial shoulder dislocation and a torn rotator cuff. I received a cortisone shot and physical therapy, but by the time I came back for my next check-up, I was limping with a torn hamstring. My doctor appointments went on like this for three years.
Six months post-op, I managed to receive my IFBB Fitness Professional status with a routine that was all smoke and mirrors; all of my strength moves and demonstration of flexibility were performed with my "good" arm and "good" leg. I knew I couldn't compete with the "pros" with my skill level as such, so I decided to take a year off to work with a team of doctors and therapists to help me get back to my healthy self. During this time, my chiropractor interviewed a plastic surgeon to find out exactly what is entailed with an implant "under the muscle" breast augmentation. With his understanding of this procedure, he explained to me what was going on and why it was happening; I was devastated. In my mind, I couldn't financially justify removing my implants until my next two injuries: after taking a full year off of weight lifting and only doing spin and yoga classes for exercise, I tore my other rotator cuff during my warm-up (jump rope). The second injury was a dislocated rib that made it painful to breathe, with this, I wanted them OUT! My husband tried to talk me out of removing the implants, so I compromised by getting smaller ones OVER the muscle. Little did I know, I was also compromising my health.
After my surgery to remove the implants "under" my muscle and to place a new pair "over" the muscle, my surgeon told me I already had a lot of scar tissue. I had lumps under my belly button that I thought was fat, but they turned out to be pockets of fluid trapped by scar tissue. He tried to remove the scar tissue, but he quickly realized it was a bigger problem than he had anticipated and we would have to come up with another game plan at a later time.
All along, I had a gut feeling that I did the wrong thing by getting a second pair of implants, but I ignored my instincts, until the final straw…. Four years after my second augmentation, I got a painful, swollen, hot spot under my right breast. It didn't go away with ice packs, so my surgeon prescribed antibiotics for me. A few months later, it came back and I got freaked out; that's when my surgeon and I decided that my body was rejecting the implants and I needed to take them out.
Over a 7-year period, these were the symptoms, injuries and surgeries I had due to my implants:
Chronic elbow tendonitis
Loss of grip strength
Reoccurring pulled hip flexor
Torn rotator cuff and dislocated shoulder (right)
Torn rotator cuff and surgery (left)
Drastic weight gain (25lbs in 3 months)
My Explant Procedure and Recovery
Not only did I remove my implants, but my doctor removed all of the scar tissue that covered the entire front side of my torso. He removed 2.5lbs. of scar tissue and the skin to which it adhered itself. My surgeon said that in all the years he has performed tummy tucks, he's never removed as much skin as he had to remove on me. Since I don't have kids nor have I been terribly overweight (I was 128lbs. at my heaviest), I didn't have any excess skin to give, I had to sleep on my back with my legs propped up in a supine seated position for 3 months. For 8 weeks I was so hunched over, I couldn't walk without a walker, and it took 6 weeks before I could stand up vertical long enough to take a picture. I spent the first 9 weeks post-op lying on my back with my knees bent for most of my day; I could sit or stand for 10 minutes at a time and then I would have to lie on the floor.
Within the first 48 hours, I lost 12lbs (I swear I had to pee every 10 minutes; every time I would fall back to sleep I would have to go back to the bathroom), and six weeks post-op I was down another 10lbs. Today I am 1 year and 5 months post-op yet still recovering. My abdominal area below my belly button is still numb, but my strength is coming back rapidly now. It was about 1 year post-op that I realized all of my pains from my implants were gone and all of my pains from my explant were gone! It was at this point that I was able to start pushing myself in my workouts, and it feels AMAZING!!!
The following information is from www.breastimplantillness.com This site full of information you need to know before committing to your explant surgeon. It will give you the facts you need to know in order to make an informed decision when choosing your doctor.
Breast implants commonly affect the following systems:
Neurological (cognitive dysfunction)
Endocrine (thyroid, adrenal, sex hormones, ADH)
Immune (viral, fungal, bacterial infections, and formation autoantibodies)
Digestive & Gastrointestinal (dysbiosis, leaky gut, malabsorption, food intolerances)
Breast implants (1) stimulate a chronic foreign body inflammatory response, (2) they have a slow leakage of silicone/heavy metals/chemicals termed as “gel bleed,” (3) commonly develop biofilm/bacteria on their surfaces, and (4) as polymeric biomaterials they oxidize in the body and contribute to degradative oxidative stress. With saline there is also the added element that many of the saline valves are permeable and allow body fluid/tissue in and allow colonization of microorganisms inside the implant. These microorganisms produce metabolites which are toxic to us known as biotoxins.
Breast implants are large foreign bodies that interfere and weaken the immune system, triggering immune dysfunction and often auto-immune symptoms. The weakened immune system then allows opportunistic pathogens to take a foothold. The body is left vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other invaders that it would normally be able to defend against, causing serious infections and reactivating dormant viruses. Additionally, the implants are made out of a concoction of neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals that slowly breakdown and accumulate in the body, causing an overload of toxicity. All implant shells are made out of silicone and are semi-permeable. Upon implantation they release heavy metals, silicone, and chemicals that can migrate and be stored throughout the body. Silicone is an adjuvant and an endocrine disruptor. It is an internal irritant that has the ability to modulate immune, endocrinological, and neurotransmitter functions. The silicone that leaks out of breast implants is in the low molecular form which is very toxic to the body. Its widespread effects induce silicone toxicity and can impair many functions. The exposure to toxic chemicals causes immune disruption (autoimmunity, allergies, recurring infections), accelerated aging, neurological symptoms, and more.
Overall, the chronic stress of the foreign body reaction, silicone toxicity, heavy metal exposure, and gel bleed result in a weakened immune system, buildup of implant toxins, free radicals inducing oxidative stress, and vulnerability to opportunistic pathogens (bacteria, fungi, parasites). Immune dysfunction allows opportunistic pathogens to grow out of control (ex. candida) and for dormant viruses to reactivate (Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, etc). A cascade of systemic dysregulation eventually develops. In addition, saline implants can have faulty valves and cultivate mold and microorganisms. Detoxification can be increasingly impaired as the liver, kidneys, and other excretory organs struggle to remove toxins. The body goes into a systemic state of chronic inflammation. All of this adds up to a slowly developing chronic debilitating illness affecting many organ systems of the body.
Explant is the most important step towards recovery by removing foreign body and toxic interference. The recovery of a particular illness is going to begin with removing any interference with the body. That is when reversal can occur, not from symptomatic treatment which treats the symptoms but not the source.