health

'Within days of getting breast implants, the symptoms began.'

In March, I woke up in a hospital bed, groggy and scared, with bandages around my chest. I’d been here nearly 10 years ago, but this time was different. This time, my heart wasn’t racing, and it didn’t feel as though an elephant was sitting on top of me, crushing my chest. This time, there was relief.

After 10 years of auto-immune illnesses and life-changing symptoms, I was facing the possibility of returning to a normal life. Without my breast implants, I could be me again.

My experience of breast implant illness.

I was self-conscious about my body from an early age. I had a sporty figure — small, no curves, flat-chested — and I remember feeling bullied at school. I was so insecure, constantly thinking, ‘why does my stomach stick out further than my boobs?’

By the time I reached my early 20s, breast implants seemed like the obvious solution. I could buy the womanly shape I longed for, and surely the confidence would follow.

I researched heavily, and spent hours online looking at photos and reading testimonials. I spoke to friends, and even though one urged me to hold off and keep investigating, my mind was made up.

I chose a surgeon on recommendation. He guided me through the process, showed me the implant options — I went for silicone with a textured coating — and he talked me through the risks.

And so in March, 2009, at the age of 25, I went under the knife.

Listen: Plastic surgeons are now offering treatments to make your nipples pert…

After the operation, I woke in agony. My chest felt like it was being crushed, my heart was fluttering. I remember thinking, ‘what on earth have I done?’

That was only the beginning.

A few days later, I had a panic attack that left me feeling like I was going to die. Looking back, I feel it may have been my body’s way of telling me something, of maybe saying, ‘this isn’t right’.

Within six months, I began experiencing physical symptoms. My already sensitive skin, developed granuloma annulure — a bumpy rash on my elbow. Eczema appeared inside my ears. I was having heart palpitations. Joint pain. Difficulty swallowing. I developed an allergy to egg out of nowhere, as well as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), frequent urination, and more.

But among the most crippling new symptom was the brain fog. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t concentrate at work. I’d sit there, staring blankly in a weird sort of daze, and lose track of what I was doing. At home, I’d put things in silly places and struggle to get out of bed. I’m a single mum, and the constant haze and tiredness impacted what I could do with my boys. I barely felt awake enough to take them to the park in the morning. It’s hard to describe, but basically I didn’t feel like me.

I overhauled my entire diet and lifestyle hoping it would help reduce the inflammation in my body; I cut back on processed foods and animal products, and was careful about what I put on my skin. It seemed to make things better for a while, but it didn’t last.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Supplied.

I went to the doctor about each of the main symptoms over the years. Cardiologists investigated my palpitations, I had an endoscopy for my throat, there were blood tests done; all came back fine. Each problem was investigated and treated on its own.

But around four years ago, I came across something online linking the granuloma annulares to silicone implants as an immune response. I freaked out. Could my implants be causing my other symptoms? Was it all connected? What had I done? What was going to do?

By then, I’d become an advocate for living a clean-eating, healthy lifestyle and was using all these chemical-free products. Yet there I am, with something foreign I chose to put inside my body possibly causing my health issues. I felt like a walking contradiction.

I cried myself to sleep a couple of times, because it scared the hell out of me that I have two children and I’d made the biggest mistake of my life for the sake of my figure.

A weight off my chest.

While looking for answers, I discovered that there are hundreds of thousands of women who’ve had experiences just like mine.

There are Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, websites and news reports filled with stories from women of all ages who developed similar symptoms after being fitted with breast implants.

Yet the majority of the medical community doesn’t believe there’s any connection.

Doctors do acknowledge the possibility of pain, infection, and ruptures. And in some cases, even the chance of developing a certain type of cancer. Just last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration suspended the sale of eight models of implants following reports of 100 cases of Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma — a rare type of cancer that affects the immune system. In four of those cases, the woman died.

ADVERTISEMENT

But other than that, most say there’s no evidence for breast implant-related illnesses.

My own GP dismissed my concerns; she was adamant that removing my implants wouldn’t resolve any of it.

But once again, I’d made up my mind. I had to try something.

My scars are a reminder of lessons learned. Image: Dan Orr- Fenix Media.

I had a surgeon who supported my decision, and once I was in an emotional, physical and practical position to handle the operation, I booked it in. The procedure my surgeon performed is called an en-bloc total capsulectomy, which involves removing the implant and any scar tissue that’s grown around it.

The results were life-changing. In the days after, my brain fog and heart palpitations disappeared. My IBS became a lot better, as did my skin.

I felt like me again.

Of course, there are plenty of women with implants who’ve never had these issues. And in sharing my story, I don’t want anyone considering the operation to feel scared or ashamed. I’m not judging them; I was them.

It’s about being informed, aware, and not just looking for information that supports your choice, like I did.

Also, take it from someone who’s been on both sides of that decision, confidence can’t always be taught or bought; it’s up to you to learn to love what you’ve been given and to use what you’ve got.

This is Kimberlee's story as told to Mamamia. For more about her recovery, follow her on Instagram at _kimberleejade.

The above reflects the opinion and experience of the author only. For personalised advice, consult a medical professional.

00:00 / ???