I recently posted an article about having breast implants and my decision to have them removed (click here to read). In the article, I briefly discussed Breast Implant Illness and indicated that my recent understanding of BII was one of the major reasons for finally deciding to follow through with the explant surgery. I did not go too far into detail in regards to my own personal health journey or BII as a whole.
As I spoke to my mother this week about my impending surgery, I realized that those around me, even those close to me, are not aware of how long I have been struggling with health issues. I think my husband is the only one that is truly aware of how long I have been suffering. I discussed this with my husband this morning and decided it was worth writing about.
My health issues started about 10 years ago and have become increasingly significant. The first health issue that I can remember dealing with post implants was my Costochondritis. It was about a year after I had gotten my implants that I was diagnosed with the disorder. For those that are not familiar with Costochondritis, it is an injury where the cartilage is pulled and removed from the rib cage which results in inflammation and intense pain. I believe that I suffered this injury while working out with my husband at the YMCA shortly before our wedding. I remember doing lat pulls on a machine and alternating reps with him. During one rep I assumed he had changed the weights back for me and pulled down on the lat bar, quickly realizing that the weight was too heavy. I changed the weight and continued with my workout. I did not think much of it. The next night we went out with Damon’s grandmother so that I could interview her for a paper I was writing for grad school. During the dinner I started having immense chest pains, to the degree that I could barely concentrate. I was worried, but I kept it to myself as I didn’t want to over-react. After dinner I told Damon about the pain and it quickly intensified over the next hour or so. The pain was radiating in my chest and shooting down my left arm all the way through my hand. It became unbearable. Although I felt like having a heart attack at 25 was very unlikely, I was extremely concerned about the way the pain was presenting itself. We decided that it was in my best interest to go to the emergency room. During this visit I had a battery of tests including an EKG and a chest x-ray. They did not find anything and sent me home telling me I had a panic attack. I found this to be very frustrating and invalidating. I had never been in this much pain before and I had nothing to feel anxious about – why would I be having an anxiety attack?
I followed up with my doctor shortly after that as the pain lasted for about three days and was pretty debilitating. He sent me out for a larger battery of tests to scan my heart and lungs and to make sure that everything was alright. The test came back negative. In the end he decided that I was likely suffering from Costochondritis and that was my diagnosis. My doctor indicated that this disorder was often seen in Caucasian women with a slim build. Although I felt frustrated with diagnosis, I won’t lie, I was excited that he called me slim! LOL.
He put me on a regimen of prescription NSAIDs and told me not to lift anything heavier than a pound for 3 to 6 months so that the cartilage could reattach. He assured me that the condition would heal itself within this time. I followed his guidance to the T, but unfortunately the diagnosis proved to be chronic. I suffered flare-ups constantly. It could range anywhere from 1 to 3 times a month. Sometimes the flare-up was small and just caused a dull ache in my chest, but other times it left me in bed for days. I felt discouraged as it was something he assured me would heal. I did more research and found myself in several chat groups with women who suffered from the same condition. Their stories made me realize that this was indeed a chronic situation. The pain from the Costochondritis worsened during my pregnancies as my body was shifting and changing. Stress also triggered the flare-ups, and during the years following the diagnosis I had a lot of stress in my life which included completing graduate school, getting married, having two children, moving, and getting licensed. Not to mention just regular stressors in my day-to-day. Damon was convinced that my implants were the cause. I went to both my general doctor and my plastic surgeon telling them that I wanted the implants removed because I thought it might be the cause of my pain. Both of them talked me out of it and said that there was no correlation.
Within two years of the Costochondritis diagnosis I was pregnant with my first child and then my second child very shortly after that. I attributed all unusual symptoms (major fatigue, nausea, brain fog, joint pain, etc.) to the pregnancy or recent childbirth, so I cannot say if I suffered any symptoms during this time as I did not experience anything that could not have been attributed to the pregnancies, other than the Costochondritis flare ups.
Shortly after my last pregnancy, I started having severe bouts of vertigo. I had several spells which landed me at the doctor’s office and one so bad that I couldn’t even lift my head to watch my kids and had to enlist the help of my older sister who lived down the street. My motion sickness continued to get worse and now is at a state where I can get car sick driving myself, which cracks my family up, but is such a frustration for me.
I also found myself going through extreme bouts of fatigue. I would end up in bed for several days at a time. Again, I attributed this to having two young children and an erratic sleep schedule. But, I did find it a bit unnerving. As the kids got older and were sleeping through the night, the bouts of fatigue started bothering me more. I was eating extremely healthy, exercising regularly, and getting a good night sleep, but I would still land myself in bed 3 to 5 days at a time. I felt like someone drained my entire body of all blood. I felt weak and exhausted, unable to get out of bed for long periods of time without needing another nap.
I remember calling my dad worried that I had diabetes or something to that degree as I felt like all life was sucked out of my body. I assumed I had anemia, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, or something to that degree.
During this time Damon kept encouraging me to get my breast implants removed, and although I entertained the thought, I was scared to undergo surgery with my kids so young. I was also worried about the aesthetic aspect. I feared that, as the doctors had told me, the implants had nothing to do with my Costochondritis or my current symptoms and that I would end up looking deformed for nothing.
I ended up back at the doctors and had a battery of tests run yet again. This time, I made sure they ran all tests for autoimmune diseases as well being that I have one sister with Lupus and another with Antiphospholipid Disorder. Nothing. However, while taking my blood pressure he did notice that it was dropping significantly when I stood up. So off to the cardiologists I went. I spent a month hooked up to a monitor that took recordings of my heart functions. I had a sonogram of my heart, a stress test, and a couple of other tests that I can’t remember the names of that all came out normal. My cardiologist did find a minor mitral valve regurgitation in my heart, but indicated that this minor reflux would not present itself the way my symptoms were affecting me. In fact she said that it wasn’t anything to worry about at all and very likely had been there my entire life. She also told me I was slightly dehydrated, despite drinking easily a gallon of water a day. She encouraged me to add a little salt to my water to help my body absorb it and to drink coconut water regularly. So, again I was left with no real explanation but a lot of symptoms.
During this time, my mother-in-law was suffering from a recent diagnosis of Lymphoma. My husband was struggling with her diagnosis and working his hardest to help her find resources and doctors to fight the cancer. He got angry with me often for being ill and seemed to resent me when I spent the day in bed. I felt horrible both physically and emotionally. I didn’t know what to do. I had all these symptoms- these real symptoms – and no explanation. I felt crazy. I worried that my doctor would think that I had to Munchausen’s or was looking to be ill for attention.
I remember when I was younger going to the doctor due to random bruising all over my body and him asking my mother if I did that to myself. I also struggled with extremely painful ovarian cysts since the age of 13 and was dismissed by so many doctors who told me I was overreacting when I describe how painful they were. When my son stopped breathing at three months one of the doctors in the ER told me it was just “new mommy jitters” and it never happened. The feeling of people not believing you or invalidating your experience is isolating, shaming and completely defeating. I learned not to complain anymore. I learned not to talk to people about what I was going through and I worked my damndest to focus on taking control of my health through nutrition and fitness.
I have so many strong memories of times where my symptoms hit me so hard I didn’t know what to do. Sitting with a client of mine in the Counseling Center and barely being able to focus on what they were saying because the room was spinning so badly or needing to take breaks in between clients by lying on my floor due to the overwhelming fatigue I was feeling. People said I was just pushing myself too hard and maybe I was. I won’t deny that. In the past decade I ran two marathons started a business and of course worked on raising two kids while getting licensed as a mental health counselor. But, a healthy individual should be able to do that without the symptoms I was struggling with.
A year or so ago the symptoms got even worse. I started experiencing severe mood swings, depression, weight gain, brain fog, difficulty maintaining my body temperature, and my hair was falling out in clumps. After talking to a friend of mine I thought perhaps I had a thyroid issue. Damon and I talked about things that had changed in the past year and what might have precipitated the symptoms. I realized I had a copper IUD inserted a few years before and wondered if that was the culprit. Again, I hit the internet and found a bunch of women discussing how they felt that their IUD impacted their thyroid and that once they got their IUD removed their thyroid started functioning normally again.
So back to the doctor I went. My doctor said he had no knowledge of an IUD affecting the thyroid, but ran the tests nonetheless. The test this time did show that my thyroid was underperforming. We decided that since I was concerned about the IUD that I should go ahead and have it removed and would be retested after the procedure. About 4 weeks after I removed the IUD my thyroid levels went back to normal. Yay. Problem solved. Or so I thought.
This past year I have found that the same symptoms are back. My hair is falling out, I am gaining weight despite having an amazingly healthy diet and active lifestyle, I am struggling with depression, I am experiencing bouts of fatigue, I am having joint pains, difficulty concentrating, and brain fog. Needless to say, I went back to searching the internet for clues. I found a link to Breast Implant Illness after inputting my symptoms into a Google search. This link led me to a page about breast implant illness and a support group. I spent hours reading story upon story of women who have been struggling with the same symptoms as I have for years. Their stories mirrored mine, some worse some better, but ultimately there was a trend in what I was seeing.
I decided once and for all it was time to get these toxic bags out of my body. So after several weeks of researching doctors in the area, following conversation threads in the support group, and doing a lot of research on the internet, I found a local doctor who many women recommended and went in for a consult.
The doctor that I met with is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon and came with many strong recommendations and reviews. During my consultation he validated all the symptoms I had been experiencing and shared that he has been seeing a lot of women with similar symptoms come in for the explanation surgery. He noted that most of the women who explanted found that their symptoms decreased significantly or totally disappeared after their healing period. He also explained that despite a lack of medical research on the area of Breast Implant Illness that he had witnessed a staggering amount of women from all over who seem to fit this criteria and noted that he truly believed that there was a correlation. He explained that everyone’s body reacts differently to having a foreign substance in their body. Some bodies will try to fight off the intruder and therefore over time their immune systems become compromised as a result of being in overdrive for an extended period of time. He explained this in more detail than I am going into, but I can’t remember all of the medical terminology he used. He also said that silicone has silver in it and our bodies may be reacting to the silver corroding over time within our bodies. And although my implants are saline, the shell is made out of silicone. This however does not happen to everyone with implants. Some women will have breast augmentation and never suffer one negative symptom or if they do, they may attribute it to other causes as I did for so long. I think this is the reason that there is not much research on the topic. That and the business of Breast Augmentation is a lucrative one.
Although I do feel like there needs to be more significant research on this topic, I am writing this article simply to express my story. My truth. Regardless of what you believe, these are my experiences. I am hopeful that the removal of the implant will better my health, but there is no guarantee. At the very least, I will remove any doubt that they are currently influencing my health and will be able to continue my journey from a solid baseline. In hindsight though, I am glad that I did not have my surgery eight years ago or even eight months ago for that matter. If I had done so, I wouldn’t have known that I needed either an en bloc or total capsulectomy for the surgery in order to make sure all the silicone is out of my body. I may have had the implants removed and continued to be ill without being able to get to the root problem. This is my time. I have my surgery scheduled for next week, November 2nd, so all positive thoughts and prayers are welcomed.
As always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me. Or if you have thoughts or comments and want to start a dialogue (as long as it comes from a place of love), I invite you do so.