WARNING: This blog contains graphic surgical images that some readers may find disturbing!
I don’t know what it was that drove me to electively have my fourth breast surgery this year, but a little voice from deep within my conscience just wouldn’t let me quit – and thank God it was there! “You don’t need to have more surgery Tracy, there’s nothing wrong with the breasts that you have!” my friends and family would say to me; I’d shrug, pause for thought and then helplessly confess “I know, but I just really want to change my breast implants and it’s all that I can think about!”
I remember hearing about Allergan breast implants being removed from medical use back in December 2018 after being linked to a rare form of cancer called Breast Implant Associated-Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). At that time I was still tied up in legal proceedings over my PIP breast implants which had ruptured and leaked non-medical grade silicone into my body, potentially also causing the lifelong disability of my son whom I was pregnant with at the time and is Autistic / ADHD. A high number of ladies who were also pregnant whilst having PIP breast implants have children on the spectrum too, exceeding the likelihood of the national average which can be caused by chemical exposure during pregnancy.
Several years later, after having an emergency breast reconstruction to rebuild and replace my contaminated tissue and dangerous implants, I was horrified to hear that previous PIP victims had then been implanted with breast implants that could now cause them to develop cancer – “those poor women!” I thought to myself, what a tragedy for lightening to strike twice. Little did I know that I was silently one of those poor women.
You see, I didn’t know that my first breast implants were PIP until something went wrong and my reconstructive surgeon informed me of the bad news when I woke up in my hospital bed post-op. After so many years of pain, sickness and suffering I was just so relieved to have my PIP implants out of me, gone forever and unable to do me anymore damage.
It wasn’t the done thing to ask for the manufacturers name of an implant, the type, model or measurements for surgery. As a patient all you were told, or needed to know, was “saline or silicone? And what cup-size would you like to be?” It would be the equivalent of asking your mechanic what shape, size, texture and make of air filter he uses in your car instead of the common “full service or interim service madam?” You just wouldn’t think, nor need to ask for information that is never freely offered, necessary or even understandable to the everyday customer. If it’s for sale and CE marked as safe, you believe it’s safe and purchase it in good faith.
At the age of 18yrs I had my PIP breast implants put in and by the age of 25yrs I was left disfigured, deflated, twisted, entrenched and in agony from my breasts – clearly something had gone wrong with my implants and the world was waking up to the biggest medical negligence case ever as 400,000 women were affected worldwide. At the time the NHS was faced with footing the bill to remove the dangerous cosmetic implants but didn’t cover their replacement, ridding the patients from pain but leaving them literally deflated and disfigured. Hospitals shut down, clinics went bankrupt and those left standing in private practices were sued to the hills and back again as surgeons shirked all blame, leaving the responsibility for follow-up surgery entirely on the victims who were left high and dry unless they had deep pockets.
Many women were now mothers, had mortgages and were financially, emotionally and physically invested in the responsibility of life, unable to cover the time off and financial implications of a second private surgery they should never have needed. My breast reconstruction cost £11,000, after my original PIP breast implants cost me £4,000 and it was an expense that I hadn’t bargained to face when I was told as a teenager that my breast implants were perfectly safe and could never burst – my surgeon even stabbed them with a biro in front of me. I was told that I could breast-feed safely just like any other women and my breast implants would last me a lifetime without complications…. Um… Yeh right!
Well, I guess if implants rupturing after several years or potentially giving me cancer and disabling my unborn child would have been in the small print then I would have just gone shoe shopping instead of ever having surgery! Never in a million years would I have gambled with my life for the sake of having breasts! As patients we were not informed, no such risks were mentioned, nor believed to exist, and when it all came crashing down we as victims were left helpless and alone with nowhere to turn than back to another private clinic for yet another more-expensive breast surgery to put right the damage that had been caused. Only the danger of longterm damage from having these breast implants was also ill understood.
Utterly relieved to have my PIP implants out, I hugged my reconstructive surgeon as tight as I could as tears filled my eyes and my heart hung heavy from how close I came to dying. I couldn’t thank him enough for saving my life, ending my pain and suffering and giving me a second chance to carry on living as I always should have before such devastation struck.
I didn’t know which brand of implants I had my PIP’s replaced with, it still wasn’t the done thing to be told and the news at the time was that PIP was banned and now mine were gone so I would be safe – what an enormous relief that was for me. A one off, bad luck, unexpected disaster that wouldn’t be repeated in modern medicine. I was over the moon to have escaped with my life and to live without daily pain. I felt like a woman reborn with my new breasts and regained health, vowing to make the most of life. Turning to bodybuilding I began a lifestyle of clean, healthy, fresh eating and daily exercise to become the healthiest, happiest and strongest I’d ever been. Crowned as a vegan natural bodybuilding professional within the UK fitness federation in 2017 I celebrate my good health, dedication to fitness and success; from breast reconstruction to natural bodybuilder – what a life-changing accomplishment that was for me as I regained control of my life!
As the years trickled by, despite my super clean, healthy and energetic lifestyle, my health started to deteriorate again and I felt like I’d been hit by a bus daily! The doctors couldn’t explain what was wrong with me and my symptoms mounted month by month with no answers, no reason and no clear cause. Scans, blood tests, examinations, samples, cameras and biopsies followed… my suffering, weakness and poor health all the while was blindingly obvious but no test showed nor identified the cause. Never in a million years did I think that my replacement breast implants could be to blame for my suffering because, unlike before, they hadn’t ruptured and showed no signs of complications.
It all started with the lymph nodes in my groin becoming rock hard, like when you have a cold or the flu and your throat and the back of your ears swell up, become tender and you feel generally rubbish and weak – my World Champion bodybuilding coach thought I had a hernia for how hard and tender my groin felt, but the doctor confirmed it was in fact my lymph nodes on constant high alert as my body’s immune system tried desperately to fight off attack. Only nobody knew what was attacking me or why?
My periods were thrown all over the place, bleeding heavily through my underwear unexpectedly one moment and then going months without the next. I switched from the coil to the pill thinking it was my contraceptive playing up, lost so much blood that I became anaemic and was then diagnosed with CIN2 abnormal cervical cells which were burnt away after a routine smear test picked up the anomaly. How random I thought? I’ve since discover that there is no such thing as a co-incidence, it’s all symptoms of the battle my body faced with a low immune system because of my Allergan breast implants silently ticking away inside of me.
Next my digestive system decided to give up, sending me spiralling into a never-ending haze of constant stomach cramps, explosive diarrhoea, extreme fatigue and malnourishment. No food would stay inside of me for longer than half an hour, my insides were nothing more than water and I looked like a pale, gaunt corpse – weak, forever cold, shaky and old before my time. I cook every meal from scratch with no additives, preservatives or chemicals and meticulously avoid a whole list of foods which I’ve been tested to have found an intolerance to.
My hair decided to fall out after that, first thinning, becoming see-through to the scalp and then looking like a child had glued fluff to a golf ball. I tried everything from hair and nail vitamins to laser therapy and even a non-surgical stemcell treatment to nourish and regrow my hair, but what was going on inside of me had other plans. My once thick, strong, glossy locks were nothing more than dry limp wisps on my throbbing head. Tired, worn out, weak, tortured, cramping, constantly running for the toilet and never feeling “ok” I begged my doctor for help after being unable to sleep for several months from the relentless pain and discomfort.
The lymph nodes in my groin had been solid for years by this point, I hadn’t slept in just as long as stomach pains kept me running to the toilet 3-6 times per night, all night, every night. The testing began with no explanation of the cause, I even visited a private doctor on Harley Street hoping they’d pick up something that the NHS had missed, but nothing. All that I was told is “you’re so fit, strong and healthy but your body is at war with itself and we don’t know why. If it were terminal you’d have died by now, it’s just something you’re going to have to live with.”
I felt as though I were carrying a mountain of weight on my shoulders, forever swimming up stream, taking one step forward and two steps back, entirely helpless to stop myself from slowly dying of… I didn’t know what! I fretfully watched my health ebb away month by month, convinced that it couldn’t possibly get any worse yet it continuously did… Suffering became my norm and I realised that despite having two children, at the age of 30 I shouldn’t look and feel like an 80yr old!
Breast Implant Illness (BII)
I first heard about breast implant illness several months ago when I saw something in the press about women removing their breast implants after having unexplained health symptoms for a number of years which doctors couldn’t explain. Many claimed that after their breast implants were removed their health restored and questioned the safety of implants being used in the body. The topic of unexplained illness after breast surgery seemed a coincidence to me…
It’s one of those tricky situations where you question the ability to prove the accusations made, as sadly everything we feel can be palmed off and attributed to something else other than our breast implants potentially poisoning us. “You’re tired? You have two children what do you expect?” “You feel weak? Get outdoors and do more exercise?” “You’re tired after exercise, that’s because you’ve had a workout.” “You’re forgetful? Well, you’re no spring chicken anymore!” “You just have too much on your plate.” “You should get some rest.” “Try some sleep-techniques.” “See how you feel in a month or so.” “Maybe it’s something you ate?” The list of excuses goes on and on.
I for one have felt awfully silly each time that I questioned my many symptoms when my breast implants ruptured and collapsed, taking the advice of doctors that my body was simply having a blip and there was nothing majorly wrong with me, nor nothing that could be done to fix it, because they simply didn’t know what it was. If it was cancer then I would have died long ago, so it’s not life threatening, therefore I just have to live with it. Only my quality of life plummeted drastically from being young fit and able to being young, sick and disabled and nobody should have to live like that.
Women from across the world who present various systemic symptoms have spoken out, believing that these are directly related to, and caused by, their breast implants. They refer to these symptoms as Breast Implant Illness – BII which I too identified with.
Breast Implant Illness (BII) is a term used by women who have breast implants and who self- identify and describe a variety of symptoms including ,but not limited to: fatigue, chest pain, hair loss, headaches, chills, photosensitivity, chronic pain, rash, body odour, anxiety, brain fog, sleep disturbance, depression, neurologic issues and hormonal issues that they feel are directly connected to their saline or silicone, textured or smooth breast implants.www.surgery.org
Of these BII symptoms I personally suffer from: fatigue as if I’ve never slept, chest pain feeling like a pulling vein and shortness of breath, hair loss to the extent of my scalp being visible, infrequent headaches but when they come they floor me, constant chills no matter the time of year, ‘stomach pain’ which I’ve been diagnosed as having IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, brain fog leaving me slow and confused, sleep disturbance waking every couple of hours and rarely falling into a deep sleep, hormonal issues that cause me to break out in acne during my period and face mood swings unexpectedly and also a weakened immune system despite being a fit, strong and healthy vegan bodybuilder taking natural vitamins and supplements to directly boost my nutrition and immune system.
How many of these things can be linked to being a mother or a woman in general? Leading a busy stressful life? Getting older? It really is impossible to say, on their own these symptoms may seem insignificant but together, with thousands of other women going through the same inexplicable symptoms, a trend is visible and it’s time that the medical profession sat up, took notice and stopped trying to cover up their mistakes in preference of maximising profit margins. These are innocent human lives that we’re talking about here and studies need to take place with extensive research carried out into the immediate and longterm health effects of breast implant brands and the varying materials that they have used in women.
Help For Those With Allergan Breast Implants
If you’re looking to get help and advice about Allergan breast implants you can register your details with Leigh Day solicitors here where you can input details such as the date of your implantation, whether a smooth or textured implant was used, if and when your Allergan implants were removed and at which clinic, as well as if you have a BIA-ALCL diagnosis or not.
In December 2018, Allergan textured breast implants were removed from the market in Europe due to them being linked to a rare form of cancer called Breast Implant Associated-Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). Reported symptoms tend to be a late onset of painful swollen breasts with a fluid collection between 3-14 years after implantation. Whilst investigations into the pathology of BIA-ALCL continue most patients achieve complete remission following treatment.
At present Leigh Day is investigating claims on behalf of women who have had a diagnosis of BIA-ALCL or are being investigated for BIA-ALCL. However, if like me, you have not had a diagnosis of BIA-ALCL but are concerned about developing this condition or want to have your breast implants removed, you can join their mailing list to stay up to date on the progress of the BIA-ALCL action. Registering your interest will keep you informed if they are able to pursue legal action on your behalf in future – the more women who come forward the stronger the case will be.
What Is BIA-ALCL?
BIA-ALCL is a serious but rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that affects the immune system and may develop many months or years after having a breast implant surgery. BIA-ALCL usually presents as an accumulation of fluid, also known as a seroma, between the implant and the surrounding tissue. It’s likely that women who have their breast implants removed can make a full recovery, however, if left untreated this can spread through the body becoming life-threatening.
As of February 2019 the UK Regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has received 62 reports of ALCL in patients with breast implants, of which 52 meet the WHO diagnostic criteria for BIA-ALCL. Leigh Day are now representing 11 of those women a result of their confirmed ALCL diagnoses. All of these women are different, as are the reasons why they had their implants, and their route to diagnosis and now treatment has also varied greatly. However, a recurring theme of the utmost importance has been that of early diagnosis.Leigh Day Solicitors
It appears that the biggest stumbling blocks to identify BIA-ALCL is misdiagnosis because of limited information and a lack of professional support for breast health. If you are facing these symptoms it’s important that you keep pushing for answers until your symptoms are addressed. Keeping health records may also help – note your menstrual cycle, keep a food diary and also the extent and frequency of symptoms.
It may also be helpful to write out questions you have for your doctor to ensure you make the best use of time during appointments, as well as noting implantation dates, check-ups and how symptoms progress with time. If your doctor doesn’t resolve your symptoms then seek a second opinion and do not ignore your health, when something isn’t right you shouldn’t leave it be – early detection is key to a successful recovery.
Where I’m At Now
Unfortunately, whilst I asked my surgeon to keep my Allergan implants, I didn’t keep the capsulated tissue removed from my breasts to test for BIA-ALCL, as at the time of my surgery to replace my breast implants I had no idea that they were Allergan, nor did I think such a thing as dangerous breast implants could happen to me twice. Thankfully my health continues to improve and even throughout my recovery from surgery I am far stronger, healthier and more well-rested than I have been in years. Returning to bodybuilding and modelling once again has been life-changing for me, something I never thought I would have the energy, good-health or ability to do after being so weak and sick for so many years.
Obviously, I now still have breast implants, as I mentioned before – I didn’t know or think I could be a victim of a dangerous / life-threatening medical scandal twice. It was never a thought process for me to remove my breast implants entirely before booking in for my implant-exchange surgery, nor to go back to being flat-chested – and now droopy – after breastfeeding my two children and losing all of my natural breast tissue to my implant rupture years ago.
Had I known all of these facts months back, or even years ago, then my informed decision would be very different to where I stand today. But we can only act on what we know, what we are told and what the media reports on to be safe and acceptable – victims suffering in silence need to be heard to deter more women from being affected by this.
If you think you may have BIA-ALCL / Allergan breast implants and you’re considering having them removed, then I strongly suggest you speak with your surgeon first to ensure it is noted that all breast tissue and implants removed from your surgery are kept and preserved for medical testing. I’m unsure of if my Allergan breast implants will still carry, or be capable of indicating in a test, cells of BIA-ALCL, but I have them stored safely incase this is possible.
Since having my Allergan breast implants removed I have made a remarkable recovery and feel stronger, healthier and better than I have in years! The lymph nodes in my groin have softened for the first time in two years, my hair looks and feels healthier and I’m sleeping better at night for several hours at a time with diarrhoea now being an infrequency for me instead of all day everyday.
Now it’s time to begin the fight for justice, to seek out other victims of Allergan breast implants and encourage them to join voices, stand up and make our symptoms heard. Nobody deserves to suffer, especially not at the hands of medical professionals who are responsible for our health and safety, miss-selling and miss-using medical implants. The responsibility can not end with a GP recommending we simply keep calm and carry on suffering daily.
Unexplained illness is not acceptable – every life is precious and should be preserved as best as possible because we deserve to have a quality of life whilst we’re still alive without dying from unnecessary illnesses and diseases that could have been prevented. Human rights exist for a reason; we are all mothers and children, sisters and friends, our time on this earth matters. We deserve justice for the wrongs we have suffered and our plight shall bring attention and action to the responsibility of the medical industry to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
Remember to check back soon to see how the progress of this case unfolds!