By Kim Motta
In 2015 I had a front row seat as a good friend died from breast cancer after years of punishing treatments. I saw what looked like burn marks from an iron all over her back from the radiation. That same year, I was a caregiver for my mom as she died of uterine cancer. At the end, the cancer was multiplying so fast that her belly filled with fluids. If her belly was not drained, she had trouble breathing because of the pressure from the fluids on her diaphragm. In 2016, I saw the decline and eventual death from brain cancer of one of my daughter’s 11-year-old classmates. The boy’s father told me that no parent should ever have to see what his son endured.
With all that as my reference point, I was diagnosed with Stage 1A breast cancer in 2016. Luckily for me, the cancer was found early on an MRI. My sister and I had done genetic testing while my mom was ill. We did not have any genes that raised red flags, but based on my history and my family’s, I was able to get advanced screening. When I heard that I had breast cancer, I thought, “I know what treatment looks like and I want no part of it!”
With fear as my motivator, I chose to have a double mastectomy. Surgeons replaced my natural breasts with “sterile” silicone breast implants. The implants would not cause me harm like my natural breast had tried to do–or so I thought.
There were so many thoughts and fears racing around my head immediately after the cancer diagnosis, but neither my husband nor I remember anyone telling us that the implants were made of silicone. That would have given us pause because we had heard saline was the safer option.
I was definitely not told that my implants were not life-time devices. And I was not warned about any complications that could result from the implants. On the contrary, I was told that the implants were like “gummy bears” and that I would love how natural they would look and feel. “They would look better than my natural breasts,” I was told by my surgeon, and I trusted my doctors. And I could get them put in immediately after my double mastectomy, avoiding two separate surgeries! The news kept getting better—or so I thought.
Here is a fun fact that most people don’t know: breast implants are made of a chemical soup. Depending on the type of implant, the list of toxic ingredients they may contain include arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, just to name a few. Implants are anything but “sterile” and certainly do pose risks.
Within a few weeks after having the implants put in, I developed a rash on my right finger tips. The rash was so painful that I had to wear a glove on that hand just to do normal activities around the house. Typing on the key board was painful. I learned later that I was allergic to propylene glycol, a thickening agent that is an ingredient in most soaps, lotions, and other skincare products. I now know what was happening: my body was developing multiple chemical sensitivities in reaction to the many chemicals in the implants.
“I was not warned about any complications that could result from the implants. On the contrary, I was told that the implants were like “gummy bears” and that I would love how natural they would look and feel. “They would look better than my natural breasts,” I was told by my surgeon, and I trusted my doctors. And I could get them put in immediately after my double mastectomy, avoiding two separate surgeries! The news kept getting better—or so I thought.”
Over the three-year period after I got implants, I developed a myriad of symptoms including fatigue, insomnia, wild mood swings, extreme anxiety and depression, weight loss (my weight dropped from 124 pounds to 105 pounds), headaches, and difficulty swallowing. I developed a large thyroid nodule, and I had dry, yellow eyes, swelling under my eyes, and trouble seeing sometimes. I bruised easily, had night sweats and ringing in my ears. I felt wired but tired, and sometimes had trouble writing. I developed limited mobility and strength in my right arm. The scariest symptom was brain fog so extreme that I kept forgetting words, and I had trouble backing my car out of our single car garage–a task I never had a problem with before.
At this point I had no idea that my illness was caused by my breast implants. I thought my thyroid or adrenal glands were the problem. A couple of doctors thought I might have Hashimoto’s disease; others suggested my symptoms were all in my head. Then, during one of my many web searches, I learned about Breast Implant Illness (BII) and suddenly everything made sense. I also learned that there are specially trained doctors who do “explant” surgery, and that the procedure is now so popular that these doctors have long waiting lists.
I had my explant surgery a year ago. I felt better as soon as I woke up after the procedure. My surgeon noted this too, and when I followed-up with him about a week later, he said it was like speaking with a different person. If I had any doubts that my implants were the cause of my health problems, they were vanquished by the results of a heavy metals test I took when I still had the implants, and repeated four and a half months after my explant surgery.
“At this point I had no idea that my illness was caused by my breast implants. I thought my thyroid or adrenal glands were the problem. A couple of doctors thought I might have Hashimoto’s disease; others suggested my symptoms were all in my head. Then, during one of my many web searches, I learned about Breast Implant Illness (BII) and suddenly everything made sense.”
I took the initial test to see how I could improve my health and not get cancer again. At the time, I did not connect heavy metals and my breast implants, and the doctor did not either. The results of the first test were shocking: I was “high” or “critically high” in nine heavy metals that are ingredients in the implants. After I learned about BII, I decided to retake the test after the implants were removed. All of the metal levels decreased dramatically after my explant surgery, and, in a few cases, disappeared altogether.
All of this occurred without my breast implants ever leaking or rupturing. Implants can silently cause insidious harm even if there is no obvious leak or rupture. The shell around the implant is semipermeable and degrades over time, which can lead to leaking or gel bleed. Or in other cases, the body just begins breaking down the implant because it is a foreign object. The contents of the gel bleed or of the breaking-down process can include silicone, heavy metals, and other chemicals.
Part of what was so devastating was that I had tried to get rid of all the toxins in my environment including the chemicals in my house and in cleaning products. I only used certain deodorants, shampoos, and lotions. I was trying to remove harmful chemicals from everything I was using, and I ate organics all the time and limited carbs and sugar. But I had literally put these toxic chemicals into my body myself.
Although I have been feeling much better since explant surgery, it hasn’t been a simple or straight-forward recovery. There was damage done to my body and my brain by the metals and other toxins from the implants. Not to mention that my body was in “fight or flight” mode for three years in reaction to the invading chemicals. This means that I had high levels of cortisol flooding my body and my cells marinated in this flammable environment.
My doctor is keeping an eye on a thyroid nodule that developed during the time I had the implants. It is very large. One doctor thought I should have my thyroid taken out immediately. I got a second opinion and this doctor is rechecking my thyroid every six months via ultrasound. As you can imagine, my days are filled with lots of supplements, treatments, therapies, and other modalities to help reverse the damage that has been done.
I didn’t go through this alone and I know it affected my family greatly. My oldest daughter, a junior in high school, had to perform a speech to mark the end of her junior year. She originally wrote the story about my journey. But with a six-minute limit, she couldn’t fit all that we went through into one speech. This experience feels very long to me, of course, but I was so sorry to hear that this journey has been long for my daughter, too. It is a lot to manage taking care of my health now. I always considered myself a healthy person. I am fortunate to have resources and time to try to bring my health back to where it was before I had the implants.
I was blind-sided by Breast Implant Illness, and I want to do my part so that this does not keep happening to other women; I want to “make a message of my mess.” To do this, I wanted to be on record with the FDA, to add my name to the list of women that had filed complaints with them regarding the debilitating harm we had experienced from the implants. I had some hope when I read on the FDA website: “One or two well documented case reports may provide an early signal of unexpected problems and lead to additional evaluation. This may result in FDA regulatory actions that improve the safety of the products used in patient care each day.”
Well, I gave them details: over three and a half pages of very organized information regarding testing, including the heavy metals test and lab work; more than forty symptoms; issues by organ or body part, and more. I took a lot of time submitting this information to the FDA. I had gathered all the energy and focus that I could during recovery because I thought I could actually make a difference. Instead, what I got was a form letter thanking me for submitting my report. It went on to say, “Please note our appreciation and be assured that our scientific staff with review the information submitted.”
I was given a reference number in case I wanted to contact the FDA again and give them an update. I did later follow-up with them with updated test results, and still nothing happened. I did not feel like I was heard by the FDA. That is why I started sharing my story, adding my voice to the collection of those before me, to make sure our stories are told.
“I took a lot of time submitting this information to the FDA. I had gathered all the energy and focus that I could during recovery because I thought I could actually make a difference. Instead, what I got was a form letter thanking me for submitting my report.”
My experience with Breast Implant Illness was worse than my experience with cancer. If I had been given a sliver of information about the risks of implants, I would never have gotten them. The BII put my body and my mind through hell, not to mention what my family had to endure as I went through the rollercoaster of ailments.
Please think again and be informed if you are considering implants.
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