When I began to have symptoms after my direct-to-implant breast cancer surgery, doctors had no answers.
After my own research, I learned about breast-implant illness, an issue that affects many.
I got my implants removed and posted a video of my flat chest on TikTok. It went viral.
Two months after having my breast implants removed - otherwise known as explanting - I posted a topless photo on Instagram. I was nervous, of course, not knowing how people would react to a topless woman without any breasts. But within a few days, it had over 13,000 likes. Every picture tells a thousand words though, and this one is no exception.
The first time I had breast cancer, I had a direct-to-implant mastectomy. This meant I went into surgery with my natural breasts and cancer cells and came out with implants. I also came out of surgery NED - or with "no evidence of disease."
The icing on the cake? My breast implants looked perfect. I joked to friends that I would be the hottest old lady at the nursing home one day. However, there was nothing funny about what I experienced during the following three-and-½ years with my breast implants.
Shoulder pain was my first breast implant illness symptom
The first sign that something was wrong was excruciating shoulder pain that would come and go. An MRI did not reveal the cause; I was told simply to stretch and consult a physical therapist. I spent thousands of dollars on physical therapy and chiropractic care, both of which did little to provide relief.
After about two years with implants, I began experiencing more symptoms. Just when I thought I had one handled, another would pop up. I sought the help of 10 - yes, 10 - different medical professionals. They all came up empty-handed, aside from a rheumatologist, who said I had "maybe lupus" based on some questionable lab work.
As I entered my third year with breast implants, my health took a sharp decline. I was experiencing digestive issues, anxiety, depression, insomnia, symptoms of the aforementioned lupus, dizzy spells, muscle aches, purple toes, dry eyes, hair loss, and sudden food intolerances. When I sat down and made a list, I came up with a whopping 29 symptoms.
How I took my health into my own hands
Shortly after this, I woke up one morning, grabbed my phone, and started researching. After reading hundreds of women's stories, I knew that I needed to remove my implants or I'd never be well again. I firmly believed I had what's known as breast-implant illness or BII - a constellation of symptoms stemming from my body reacting to the foreign objects sewn into my chest.
That week, I called my plastic surgeon and implored her to remove my implants. She agreed to do the surgery. Though breast-implant illness isn't a medical diagnosis, it's possible that implants make some people who have them quite ill. In October of 2021, the FDA issued new, strict breast-implant guidelines and also mentioned BII as something that may be resolved with the "removal of the breast implants without replacement."
My explant surgery was a few months later, though there were multiple delays due to the pandemic. During this same surgery, my breast surgeon would work alongside my plastic surgeon to remove a 10-millimeter mass, a breast cancer recurrence, from my chest wall. The surgery was a double-whammy. Despite dealing with the news that I had breast cancer again, I was giddy for them to remove my implants.
I had to be my own advocate, but it paid off
A lot of people told me there was "no way" they would make the choice to be flat-chested as a younger woman, but I didn't care. Besides the pushback I received, I also faced medical gaslighting from a few medical professionals. They suggested that my illness was all in my head, and asked me things like, "What if you develop depression from being completely flat-chested?"
Despite the naysayers, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that removing my implants was the right choice. My health was worth much more than having nice-looking breasts - and so am I.
In the weeks after surgery, I healed, even more quickly than I thought I would have, and over time, my symptoms disappeared. Some went away immediately, while others gradually subsided. I also proceeded with breast-cancer treatment: 33 rounds of radiation, 12 months of immunotherapy, and 12 rounds of chemo.
Despite facing a year of cancer treatments, I was healthier than before because I made the bold decision to remove the implants that were making me ill. The difference between my implanted and explanted self was remarkable.
My viral moment - and the overwhelming response
Last summer, in the middle of my cancer treatments, I joined TikTok and decided to post a video of myself topless. It felt good, and I posted a few videos that were similar; they went viral. The responses I've received have been overwhelmingly positive.
People call me brave, inspirational, and a badass. Women have sent me private messages sharing their implant horror stories, while others have thanked me for reminding them to do their self-exams. One of my greatest joys is commenters saying they have gotten their mammograms or started to consider they have BII because of my videos.
On the other hand, some have accused me of posting for attention, which is laughable. I didn't get breast cancer for attention. I wouldn't wish this nightmare on my worst enemy. However, I do post topless videos and pictures to bring awareness. I am grateful for social media and the power of images, and I pray it helps others avoid the same fate.