I had my first set of breast implants put in in 2012. After about 3 months I started getting painful ovarian cysts. I received ultrasounds with the option of surgery or to wait and let them rupture. I opted out of surgery, and so began my first experience with prescription opioids. My monthly cycles became increasingly painful, and I developed an onslaught of cystic acne on my chin and jawline, partnered with depression. At that time I didn’t recognize it as depression, nor did I make the connection that all of my symptoms had to one another. Not until I had my first ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy that develops inside the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus, did I get any sort of answers.
Ectopic pregnancies have to be surgically removed. When I woke up from surgery the OBGYN told my husband and me that my fallopian tubes and uterus were covered in endometriosis. Endometriosis is scarring, lesions, and diseased tissue on the reproductive organs, making it a debilitating and inhospitable place for a successful pregnancy. She removed the pregnancy and my right fallopian tube. I was shocked. I had never heard the term, let alone know anything about the disease and the heartbreaking path I was unknowingly embarking on.
Over the next few years, I experienced extreme chronic pain, gut issues, and pain, cystic acne, the loss of three pregnancies, including another emergency surgery for a second ectopic pregnancy. We opted to do IVF to have the baby we so desperately wanted. I thank the advances of science and modern medicine nearly every day for our beautiful, healthy daughter. She was born in 2015. During pregnancy, I felt pretty darn good, experiencing freedom from chronic pain I had only imagined. But when my daughter was about a year old, the pain returned with a vengeance and I was yet again back on prescription drugs, living in a fog, trying to manage motherhood and the relentless feeling that I couldn’t cope with. I started seeing someone for postpartum depression. At this time in my life, the most obvious answer to my mental health struggles seemed to be clear. The chronic pain, the hormone therapy required for IVF, the miracle of birth, and the postpartum depression I was told I was experiencing. I knew I had been dealt a bad hand with my estrogen fueled endometriosis, and it seemed to explain my symptoms, so I was always just accepting things as I believed them to be.
In early 2017 I woke up to my left breast far larger than the right. After an ultrasound and aspiration, I was told I had a late-stage seroma, or fluid build up around my implant. The fluid was tested and came back negative for any breast implant-associated cancers. That was the first time I had ever heard that term, but a negative result was great news. I didn’t have cancer, so everything was fine. I had two options, remove my breast implants, or have them replaced. I didn’t get my implants for the right reasons in the first place, and I was still very much governed by those unhealthy thoughts. I opted to have them replaced. They healed up nicely and I never thought about them again.
In the summer of 2018, I was finding the simplest things like standing up straight to be nearly impossible. I was taking more tramadol in a day that I feel comfortable saying out loud and only receiving minor improvements from the pain in return. My husband and I, with my OBGYN, decided the only answer was to have a hysterectomy. This was my hail mary. We would have to say goodbye to the dream of another pregnancy, in the hopes that I may have a shot at getting a semblance of my life back. I knew in my heart that I couldn’t be a good mother and wife continuing on the way I was. I owed it to myself to do everything in my power to get my sparkle, my humor, and my freedom back. The hysterectomy went well. They removed my uterus and cervix, and I found myself improving. I was off pain killers after a few months and felt like I was getting my life back!
However, in February 2019, I had unexplained random bruising all over my legs. I thought maybe I was low iron, had my blood tested, but everything was normal. In March I suddenly got so exhausted I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. I stopped going to the gym, stopped working for my company, and generally did the bare minimum I could while trying to hide how I was feeling from my daughter. I was absolutely miserable. I went to the Doctor convinced I was depressed. He put me on antidepressants. On about the 4th day I started feeling AMAZING. I was out of bed, getting stuff done, did two months of backlogged work, went to the gym, was taking my daughter everywhere, and feeling better than I had in years. But, nothing is free. I couldn’t sleep. I started taking sleep aids. Both over the counter and prescription. I figured it was the price to pay for feeling good. Insomnia can be a side effect of antidepressants.
On June 19th I started experiencing terrifying symptoms. Dizziness, fainting, loss of vision, loss of hearing, tingling (arms, hands, waist, neck, back, legs, feet, head, face), eye pain, face pain, numb feet, metallic taste in mouth constantly, night sweats, nausea (including vomiting), loss of bowel control 3x, chest pain, exhaustion (spending hours in bed/full days), muscle weakness, extreme hip pain, constipation, diarrhea, headache, slurred speech, confusion, poor memory, clumsiness and freezing cold hands and feet.
It was the scariest time in my life. I went to the emergency room a handful of times with chest, hip and back pain. I had multiple tests, xrays and blood work. They were all normal. I saw different doctors, phycologists, chiropractors, physiotherapists and massage therapists. I felt like I was dying. I got an urgent visit with a Neurologist. He told me I had Functional Neurological disorder and sent me home with a print out and no course of action. In layman’s terms, Functional Neurological disorder means all the symptoms I was experiencing were very real, but they couldn’t link it to a neurological disease. I had never felt so alone and lost in my life.
I decided I wasn’t quite ready to give up. If conventional medicine had failed me, maybe it was time to take another route. In September I went to see a naturopathic doctor. She tested my blood and told me my thyroid T3 and T4 levels were really low. I felt so happy to have an answer! Hypothyroidism was something I could get my head around. It made sense and thankfully, was treatable. This was the first time in a long time I felt validated, and immediately felt less isolated, and for lack of a better term, crazy. I started on thyroid medication right away. It took about 10 days and I was feeling better again. I was no longer experiencing the terrifying symptoms and felt I was on a path to regain control of my life. Things were going okay. I had my thyroid pills, my antidepressants and my sleeping pills. It wasn’t ideal, but I was functioning and enjoying my life again.
At the beginning of January 2020 I was talking to a very dear friend of mine and she told me she was convinced her breast implants were making her sick and she is having them removed. This literally hit me like a ton of bricks. After that conversation, I spent nearly every waking moment researching, listening to other women’s stories and crying. My breast implants had been making me sick for all these years. How could it be that the most common cosmetic procedure done in the world could have stolen all those years of my life? Gave me endometriosis that robbed me of my reproductive system? Hour after hour I read stories from women who had the same, or worse stories than mine. How is this even possible? I was saddened, appalled and in shock. But I finally had my answer.
With the love and relentless support of my husband and family, I had my breast implants removed on February 3rd 2020. I am still on antidepressants, thyroid pills and sleeping pills. I still struggle with self image. I lost both fallopian tubes, my uterus and my cervix. But, I am grateful to have a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, and control of my health. Somedays I am mad, some sad, and some I feel sorry for myself. But not one day do I regret removing my breast implants and making the choice, without a physician’s support, to take my life back.
A note to someone considering breast implants: Stop and think about why you feel you need them. A man hurt me and made me question my worth and lovability. I should have never given him that power over my thoughts and feelings. We are all so powerful, special, sexy and commanding in our own way. We need to find a way to change the way we think about ourselves, before we go under the knife. There are risks associated with any surgery. What would you be willing to sacrifice for “perfect” breasts?
To any woman thinking there may be a connection between their symptoms and the timeline of her breast implant surgery, I say, talk to people. Email me, respond to my YouTube video, comment on my instagram. Talk to friends, family and co-workers. Reach out to our community. Google. Join Facebook groups. And once you’ve done that, trust your gut. It is the most powerful tool we will ever possess.
Written and experienced by Shelby Kennedy @itstheshelblife