Before you I am presenting two art journal pages I created recently. I felt the need to create them as a reminder to myself of how bad things really were, and for me to appreciate how lucky I am to feel so good again. Explore the images carefully, they are full of symbolism and messages of hope. I do hope they go some way towards telling my story, the detail of which I will share right here.
Some time ago, a few years after both my beautiful sons were born, I was suffering with very low self-esteem, mainly because of the way my body looked. I was approaching 40, and my boobs felt like they belonged to a woman twice my age. They certainly didn’t look like this before I breast fed both of my babies until they were 8 months old. I’d never been blessed with much in the boob department, and was certainly towards the back of the queue when they dished them out. However, without giving you a detailed description, I was left feeling much less of a woman.
I decided to investigate the options for breast implant surgery, and did a fair bit of research before I made my decision to go ahead. After all, there were no real warnings about the dangers of the implants themselves, only the actual surgery. Plus, I knew I had no plans of having more children, and I’d already used them as nature had intended for my babies.
It would be remiss of me not to tell you that I did have doubts about putting foreign objects into my body, but the fact that hundreds of thousands of women worldwide had been having this enhancement going back many years seemed to push out any doubts I had.
So, I went ahead with the surgery, not to have enormous boobs, but to fill out what I had. Even my surgeon agreed I didn’t need to go big, from an A to a D cup sounded like a big enough leap to me and I was very happy with that. At this point I was told that I would never need to replace them, they had a lifetime guarantee, great.
After the surgery I was delighted that they looked natural, and they made me feel womanly again. Job done.
Fast forward 9 years.
In the years up to this point, I had suffered very little ill health. Quite a few genealogical problems that led to a hysterectomy in 2008, but nothing that made much of a difference to my everyday life.
However, from here I started to suffer with lots of health problems. I had several lumps under my arms, which led me to get the professionals to investigate. All came back as clear. I even saw breast specialists to check that my implants had not ruptured or needed replacing. They all reassured me that they were intact, were causing me no issues, and it was best to leave them alone.
I started to have all sorts of symptoms, pain every day, constant infections, and without listing them all here I shall ask you to refer to the images. However, since creating the artwork I have noticed a couple that I missed!
These symptoms led me back and forth to my GP over the years ahead, time and time again. Each time I was met with an attitude, an attitude that made me almost believe that all of this was in my mind.
Yes, they did blood tests, yes, they all came back normal.
No, not one of my symptoms subsided, they only continued to get worse and worse.
It is very difficult to put into words what my life had become. On the outside I looked fine, yet on the inside my body was waging a war on itself.
I started to believe this must be the results of the menopause, or simply the process of aging. I knew it wasn’t all in my mind, so it had to be this. I kind of became accepting of it some days. Other days I really felt like I was dying. I just could not believe that all fifty something women felt this way.
The truth is the ‘illness’, that I can now give a name, took everything from me that I once recognised as me. All the qualities I valued in myself seemed to be slowly pouring away leaving me with a shell that could just about function to get through each day.
I fought it. Oh yes, I fought it. Yet it seemed the harder I fought, the more my body fought back.
Each day it was a struggle to even get out of bed and I seemed to procrastinate over the to-do lists that I didn’t have the energy or motivation to begin, let alone complete. I looked on at others who seemed to fill their days with so much, and there appeared no effort behind it. I felt envious. What happened to the girl who used to run, keep fit, work full time, run a house and family, and still decorate the house at the drop of a hat?!
Every night I got into bed, full of the pain that was always present, I would always feel regret for the little amount I had achieved. It was another day inside a body that did not want to work, and a mind that was filled with the guilt of my lack of achievements.
My work suffered. I lost my passion for painting. The creative mind that had been, just a few years back, bursting full of ideas for new creations seemed to be slowly diminishing. My drive for anything creative, work, home, the garden had always been so strong. It all was falling away and I felt sad to be losing it.
I’m not lazy by nature, but I swear this is how I began to appear to others. I internalised this and isolated myself more from friends. I backed away from social situations, because I felt people wouldn’t like me anymore, plus it was far too much effort that I did not have the energy for. I used to laugh more, dance more, sing more. It stole away my joy.
Further visits to the GP to express my concern over lumps in my collarbone and under my arms were met with the suggestion that I start anti-depressants. He didn’t even examine my collarbone or under my arms. I refused to accept the prescription and possibly end up in a more vegetative state than I already was.
I must admit, the burning pain in my chest and in the back of my shoulder blades, especially when I lay down at night, did lead me to suspect that my implants could be causing the problems. I had thought it a few times, but pushed away these thoughts because the health experts had already told me not to be worrying over this.
Fast forward to 2019.
One day in July 2019 everything changed.
I was staying with my Mum in Wales, and she had morning TV switched on in the lounge. I never had tv on at home during the day, so I would never have seen this had I not been staying with Mum that day.
A breakfast tv show was on, and as I was walked into the lounge sipping on my coffee, suddenly I could not believe the words I was hearing. There was a bunch of ladies, of varying ages, sat on the sofa discussing their symptoms. This was my Eureka moment! They were telling my story. I was open-mouthed for a few minutes, stood there mesmerised as I heard them talk of the many things I had in common with them. I quickly reassured my Mum with a little white lie when she asked “Why are you looking like that, you’re not worried you have the same problems are you?”
The women were discussing an illness called Breast Implant Illness (BII) and more seriously Breast Implant Associated Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA ALCL). I identified with almost all the symptoms of both.
Bang. That was it. It just had to be my answer. I felt a glimmer of hope at this point.
After returning home from Wales I got on the case to do my own research, and it didn’t take long to become clear that this is what had stolen so many years from me. I spent time searching, I talked to others who had suffered the same, and I joined the most amazing support group. I knew my doctor would probably not be able to help much, because this condition was very rare, and at this point still not recognised as real. So, I needed to gather as much information as possible to put forward my case.
I quickly realised that in the USA there we hundreds of thousands of women in the same boat, and in the UK maybe only a few thousand women were aware at this point. What soon became apparent was that almost all the women who opted to have their implants removed, in the correct manner, had become well again. Many of them completely reversing their conditions, coming off long term medication, and basically getting back their lives. Their stories were so inspiring and they gave me such hope.
What I read about the toxins and heavy metals that are released from the silicone implants into our bodies, even without rupture, was scary. I discovered the damage it does to our immune system, our lymphatic system, our endocrine system (that controls hormones). It also appears that no implants are safe, silicone or saline, textured or smooth, our bodies fight them in a way that we may not find out until much of the damage is done. It is scary, very scary.
Fast forward a few months to November 2019.
I had visited my GP, who by the way I had recently changed and only met for the first time, and was quickly heading towards my explant journey. She was wonderful. She was understanding and she listened. She had never heard of either of the conditions and was intrigued to say the least, and she has researched and watched my progress closely since.
I am skipping some of the medical steps in this story along the way simply to get this finished, but I am happy to discuss this with anyone who feels they would like to.
Personally, I felt that I needed to pay privately to have this operation since I paid privately to have the implants originally. Plus, why should the NHS have to fund it? My thoughts anyway. They are already overstretched in my opinion, so I had to dig deep into our savings to fund the explant operation.
Along the way, once I was brave enough to have the discussion with my husband about all of this, he was 100% supportive of me going ahead. My boys too were only encouraging about me regaining my health and eliminating the possible cause of my decline.
My research led me to find a suitable surgeon who I knew would carry out the correct procedure. The ‘explant’ needed to be removal of the implants and the capsules that had formed around them, ideally with the capsules all attached intact (known as ‘Enbloc’). Again, I could go into more detail about the reasons why, but I won’t here. I shall just tell you how important it is to research this thoroughly to be sure you give yourself the best chance of getting back your health and eliminating all possible traces of the BIA ALCL.
On November 28th2019 I had my explant operation. The first thing I noticed was that I could breath. I had not been breathing full deep breaths for many years. My lung capacity had returned and that, in itself, was a triumph.
Over the weeks ahead slowly more of my symptoms disappeared. The burning chest and shoulder pain went after week 3 and it has not come back. As each day passed I saw so many things changing, so many improvements. It’s like the life was slowly breathing its way back into me.
The best news came when the results of my pathology tests arrived. No presence of ALCL. A huge relief for us all, time to celebrate!
I have energy again, tons of it. The fatigue has just gone. I want to get up and out of the bed in the morning to get on with stuff and not hang on to the quilt like it’s a lifeline.
Research tells me that the detoxification process can take up to 2 years. So even though the source of my suffering has been removed, the damage it did to my body will take time to heal. Some of the symptoms come and go, albeit mildly, a bit like an unwelcome guest who stays around far longer than you hoped they would.
I am 11 weeks post explant and my whole perspective has shifted from hopeless to limitless.
When I look in the mirror now the person staring back at me is me. It’s someone I remember from some time ago. The girl who used to laugh more and enjoy life. Plus, you know what, the best part of this journey is that I get to rediscover myself, my passions, my desires and my purpose.
I have beaten myself up about doing what I did to my body, to have made it fight these toxic visitors for so very long. There is a sense of gratitude that I feel towards it for getting me through the battle. It has also given me a new appreciation for it. It has been through enough and it has survived to tell this story. I promise to look after it now.
Just over a week ago I was preparing dinner in the kitchen when a favourite song started playing. I whacked up the volume, danced and sung loudly as I chopped up vegetables. Then suddenly I became aware of how long it was since I did this. Far too many years. I stopped and cried over the kitchen sink for all the years I lost.
A few months back I felt ashamed of my journey, but not any longer. It has left me with an appreciation and understanding of life that is driving me to feel concern for others, which in turn has led me to write this story. If my story reaches just one person who also gets their ‘Eureka’ moment and follows the path back to good health, then it will be enough. Or even if it stops one young woman from going ahead with a breast augmentation, then it will be a triumph. Don’t lose precious years and risk your life.
I am not sharing my story to appear as a victim, more a survivor, sharing my truth in the hope of helping others. Today, being Breast Implant Illness Awareness Day felt like a good day to share.
Take care folks, we are given one body, it is miraculous. Look after it, be gentle with it and listen to it very carefully. It usually finds a way of letting us know when it’s fighting a battle.
Loads of Love from me, the real me, excited for the future and ready to start living again. xx
Links will follow for your information, but if anyone wishes to contact me, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Huge thanks to all the wonderful ladies on these support groups!
Thanks to the lovely Denise Fitzsimmons of A Dash of Dee for her wonderful character called ‘Hope’ who appears in the images. Denise creates the most amazing imagery and her products, in the form of rubber stamps, have been used in the creation of these art journal pages. Thank you beautiful lady!