It was a chilly October day, and I was spending it sick, just like I’d been for the past six months. I woke up with stiff, achy, swollen joints in my fingers and toes. My eyes were as dry as a desert despite using top-of-the-line prescription moisturizing drops. Even though I’d gotten a full eight hours of sleep, I spent the whole day shuffling from task to task, exercising on auto-pilot, helping my kids with remote learning, prepping meals and snacks, and writing. I took my daily blood thinner, the result of a blood clot discovered during an emergency room visit just a few months prior. My family knew that I would often try to give them a direction, only to forget what I was saying mid-sentence. I was worried I had breast cancer again, but a checkup revealed that wasn’t the case.
Something had to change. Despite eating healthy, exercising every day, and getting a full night’s rest, I was an exhausted zombie. I’d done everything in my power to feel better, including spending thousands of dollars on physical therapy, chiropractic care, a registered dietitian, my general practitioner, and tons of labs and scans. What was wrong with me? There was only one thing I had yet to do—remove my breast implants. I knew many celebrities had taken this route, but was it really for me?
Related: Plastic surgeons see growing demand for 'explants'
I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years prior, after discovering a painful lump. I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy, and in the same surgery, I qualified to go direct-to-implant. This means my breast tissue was removed and an implant was put in its place in the same surgery. I went to sleep with my own breasts and woke up with beautiful, symmetrical, D-cup foobs. (Foobs are what some of us in the breast cancer community call faux boobs.)
The implants were never all that comfortable. In fact, my right shoulder was always on fire. An MRI revealed absolutely nothing. I had two stints of intercostal muscle strain, also known as excruciating and slow-healing pain on the side of ribcage. Two lengthy and expensive rounds of physical therapy offered temporary relief. I always carried a muscle-cooling roll-on with me, desperate for relief.
My implants looked absolutely wonderful, and I often joked that I’d be the hottest grandma at the nursing home one day. The pain was bad, but not bad enough. Maybe I just needed to do more yoga? But once the strange and increasingly debilitating symptoms started, I knew I needed to do some research. I spent just a few days in a breast implant illness social media group before I knew what I had to do. If I wanted real, lasting relief, I had to ditch the implants and go flat-chested.
I scheduled my surgery, a complete capsulectomy and implant removal—also known as explant surgery—and kept researching. I read thousands of stories, women testifying that they, like me, felt like they were on the cusp of dying before explanting. Their before surgery and after surgery photos were convincing enough. They weren’t selling anything and had zero motivation to promote explantation. I believed them.
Apparently I’m not alone. Dr. David Rankin, a board-certified plastic surgeon, chief of plastic surgery at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, and founder of Aqua Plastic Surgery, has removed implants for many patients, including celebrities such as Kayla Lochte. He’s currently in his eighteenth year in private practice and is becoming increasingly known for his ability to safely and effectively remove breast implants and give his patients their health and lives back.
He shared with me that three years ago, he made a big decision. He would “no longer perform breast augmentation surgery” because he saw “a real need to specialize in explant.” He continues by sharing that his patients have seen so much “positive progress” post-op that the decision to focus his work on “helping women explant properly” was easy.
Breast Implant Illness is not an established medical diagnosis. However, talk to any woman who believes her constellation of symptoms is related to her implants, and they will tell you that BII is very real. The proof is in the post-op pudding. Once the implants are removed, many patients experience profound relief. Dr. Rankin shares that “85-90% of my patients report that their health issues improve after explanting.” Yes, you read that correctly. 85-90%.
Not all women explant because they believe they have BII. Some, Dr. Rankin shares, explant because their augmented breasts are too large. I’ve discovered that women with breast implants can experience back, shoulder, and rib pain, headaches, implant ruptures and other symptoms that can cause chronic discomfort and pain. There are options. Some women also undergo breast lifts, fat transfer, or other procedures to improve their natural breasts after explanting.
What if someone decides they want their implants removed? Can just any surgeon carry out the procedure? Absolutely not. Dr. Rankin advises that the patient do research on the surgeon. Read reviews of the surgeon’s work and speak with former patients. Personally, I believe it’s critical that the surgeon believes the woman who says she’s sick or in pain (in my case, both) from implants, even though BII isn’t an official medical diagnosis. That’s why physicians like Dr. Rankin are becoming superheroes to women like me who have been so ill. Not only do we want relief, but we desire to be trusted when we reveal that we are suffering at the expense of our implants.
It’s been almost six weeks since I explanted. I’ve noticed a remarkable difference, starting with less inflammation. I shared a before-surgery and after-surgery side-by-side on social media—showing how different my face looks now that my implants are gone. Though my story is just one, there are loads of posts on Dr. Rankin’s social media from women who have undergone the same procedure and had similar (and remarkable) results.
My chronic rib and shoulder pain is gone. Perhaps the most notable before-and-after difference is that my energy has skyrocketed. I don’t wake up tired and spend my day barely making it. I can keep up with my four kids and my job now, exercise with vigor, and not need cup after cup of coffee.
I’m very thankful for a doctor who believed me when I told her I needed my implants out. I am also floored by the many women who were brave enough to share their stories on social media—both on their accounts and in groups—to encourage others to consider their truth. I’m gaining my life back, becoming myself again, and doing so flat-chested and free.