Photo: Instagram / @diaryofafitmommy
The first time I felt self-conscious about my breasts was in 2011. I had just started on my fitness journey and had lost 45 pounds. My body changed significantly after dropping all that weight so quickly. My boobs were one of the first things to go. At the time, I was still learning what it really meant to be "healthy" and I was focused more on the way I looked versus building a sustainable lifestyle. It also didn't help that my husband at the time felt like implants would be a good idea—that they'd spice things up between us.
After doing some research, I found a plastic surgeon in the area, who recommended getting 400cc Mentor Silicone Gel Implants. These would bump me up to a 32DD. I felt like that was the answer to all my problems. I wouldn't realize until a couple years later that I was wrong.
Getting Breast Implants
Things changed for me both physically and mentally when I woke up from my surgery. For starters, I felt like there was a weight on my chest and it was a little hard to breathe. In fact, I was in pain and felt discomfort for over a month. But when I saw myself in the mirror for the first time, I immediately fell in love with my look. I felt confident. I finally felt good about myself. I remember thinking that I'd made an awesome decision and that this was going to fix everything that was wrong in my life.
As time went on, I quickly learned that wasn't the case. Over the next couple of years, I ended up going through a divorce and remarrying. I became a mother of two. I also became a nurse and a personal trainer, and I began developing my blog, Diary of a Fit Mommy. As I continued learning about health, wellness, and what it really means to appreciate your body, I found myself feeling like my implants no longer aligned with my beliefs and what I was preaching to my followers and personal training clients. I was a completely different person from when I first got my implants and that start to weigh heavily on me. (Related: This Woman Wants You to Know That Losing Weight Won't Magically Make You Happy)
The Never-Ending Symptoms
After giving birth to my first child, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. From a mental health standpoint, my anxiety and depression were off the charts. And physically, I was just exhausted and started to experience hair loss. In the beginning, I chalked it all up to childbirth, but my symptoms didn't go away until way after my postpartum period.
Over the years, I noticed sporadic chest pain. It would last for about 30 seconds and then go away. Periodically, I'd have brain fog and forget the most basic things and struggle to do my work. I'd also break out, which wasn't something I had dealt with when I was younger. Not only that but I gained quite a bit of weight. No matter what I did, I couldn't get it to budge. Still, I continued to attribute everything to being a new mom, struggling with depression, getting older and, well, life.
It wasn't until this year that my symptoms took a turn for the worse. Up until then, I'd been able to live my life as a mom, wife, trainer, and influencer without many hiccups. But I felt my body slowly deteriorating and I couldn't bring myself to do anything anymore.
My brain fog got to the point where I was struggling to form sentences. I stopped lifting weights six months ago because my joints felt so swollen. I couldn't even get on my wedding ring. The exhaustion was so extreme that I'd sleep all night and through the day and still feel groggy as though I were sleep-deprived. My husband, my family, and friends didn't recognize who I was anymore. I couldn't believe that this is what my life had come to. (Related: 7 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore)
At this point, I wanted answers. Something was wrong with me and I needed to know what. So I decided to write down all of my symptoms and do some research. After doing some digging, I found that an autoimmune disorder of some sort seemed to be the best explanation for what I was feeling. So I decided to go see my physician and get some preliminary tests done.
Finding an Answer
After explaining my symptoms to my general practitioner, he suggested starting with a blood test. When the results came back normal, we did a test for my thyroid, checking for autoimmune markers. Again, nothing was wrong.
Then back in August, I decided to share a post about my breast implants and plastic surgery in general. A lot of women were sending me messages, complimenting me on how great my boobs looked even after nursing. I didn't want to keep them in the dark. (Related: This Influencer Opened Up About the Decision to Get Her Implants Removed and Breastfeed)
I wanted everyone to know that I had implants, but also that plastic surgery isn't the answer to your problems with body image. I shared how my anxiety and depression had worsened since getting implants and that if I could go back in time, I would have never gotten them. I wanted to share with people what I had learned over time: Changing yourself physically isn't a quick-fix for whatever's going on on the inside.
What I didn't share was all the other symptoms I'd been experiencing. At the time, I didn't think my implants had anything to do with how I was feeling. But several hundred people commented on my post asking if I'd heard of breast implant illness (BII), a term used by women to describe a series of symptoms that stem from ruptured breast implants or an allergy to the product, among other things. Several women who'd had their implants removed began sharing their symptoms, and I was shocked at how similar they were to mine. Several people also shared a link to a Facebook support group for women who believe they had BII.
More than 50,000 women had joined that page, and there were threads upon threads of people experiencing the same symptoms as mine. On top of that, most of these women had taken blood tests and checked for autoimmune diseases and were met with dead ends. I had finally found people who could relate to what I was going through and that gave me a small sense of relief.
Learning About Breast Implant Illness
Joining that group gave me the final extra push I needed to get my implants removed. I knew that from an emotional standpoint, I didn't want them anymore. But if there was even a 1 percent chance that they could be causing my symptoms, I wanted them out.
That being said, I was still skeptical about BII as a whole. Being a nurse, I didn't like the fact that there is no definitive test for BII. Not to mention it isn't even widely recognized in the medical community. But at the same time, there were thousands upon thousands of women out there feeling exactly how I was feeling—with no answers. That was more than enough to plant a seed in my mind. (ICYMI, there is hard evidence that breast implants are directly related to a rare form of blood cancer.)
When I brought BII up with my general practitioner, he had never heard of it. He didn't really have anything to say about the potential side effects of implants. So I decided to pay my original surgeon a visit to talk about getting them removed.
When I described my symptoms and shared what I'd learned about BII, he cited a lot of research about how and why silicone implants are perfectly safe and that there isn't enough evidence out there to prove that BII even exists. So it was obvious to me that he didn't believe in it. Either way, I said I was interested in getting explants but he tried talking me out of that too, saying I'd look "disfigured" without my implants and that I should consider a fat transfer if I still wanted to take that route.
I left that appointment feeling disappointed—not only because my doctor wasn't willing to give me what I wanted, but because my symptoms and the way I was feeling didn't seem to matter. I knew I had to find someone who was at least willing to listen to me and my concerns.
I found Dr. H. Jae Chun through a website featuring surgeons who exclusively perform explants. During our first chat about the process, he told me that I'm not the only person who's come to him with the symptoms I'd shared—both emotionally and physically—and that if I felt that removing the implants was the right decision for my body, then it probably was.
I learned that the explant procedure itself is actually quite easy and would take about an hour and a half. And ICYDK, it's not just about removing the implants, but taking out what is called the "capsule" around it as well. When implants are initially placed into your breast muscle, your body naturally forms scar tissue around them, in an effort to protect your body from them. They are at the end of the day, foreign objects. If your implant ruptures, which is rare, this tissue can help prevent it from spreading to the rest of your body, which can be toxic.
After learning all this new info, I flew out to Newport Beach, CA, to finally get my implants removed. As I got prepped for surgery, I was just as nervous as when I went to get my implants nearly a decade ago. Before going in, Dr. Chun reassured me that he was going to remove both of my implants in one piece and make sure nothing is left behind. But still, while I had tried not to get my hopes up, I couldn't help but think: What if this doesn't work? What if when I wake up, I still feel the same? A part of me actually expected to be let down, like I had been so many times before.
Post-op, Dr. Chun told me that he was able to remove both capsules in one piece and that there was no leakage. He did, however, find that my capsules had gone into my armpits, and one of the capsule was stuck on a major blood vessel, restricting its flow.
When I woke up, I took my first breath and felt my lungs expand in a way they hadn't in years. I no longer felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. I remember looking at my husband and smiling. I knew that even if this didn't solve all of my problems, I had made the right decision.
A New Beginning
Since having my implants removed, I've lost 5 pounds in just nine days—2 pounds of which were from my implants alone. While I'm still sore and tired, I've already noticed several of my symptoms improve. To start, my chest pain is gone. I feel much less bloated and inflamed, and my acne is gone. My skin actually feels a little oily, which it hasn't in years. Not only that, but my husband said I haven't been this talkative in months. I think it's because I don't feel so anxious and depressed. The progress I've seen so far is amazing. So many women say their symptoms immediately disappear. I just couldn't believe it was true until I experienced it myself.
Going into surgery, I didn't know how I was going to feel about my appearance once I had my implants removed. I knew that in addition to my boobs looking saggy, I could develop stretch marks, and that I'd have noticeable incisions within my natural fold. But when I saw myself in the mirror, I didn't cry. I didn't freak out. Instead, I appreciated that I was finally my natural self, something I wish I had been all along.
While it's still early, I know that my implants were making me sick. Time will tell if they are the root of all my symptoms, but so far it sure does feel that way. If there's anything I've learned through this whole process, it's that you have to be an advocate for your own health—especially as a woman. When you feel like something is wrong with your body, more likely than not, there probably is. So pay attention to your symptoms, find doctors who care about what you're going through and who believe you. At the end of the day, only you can do and know what's truly best for you.