Breast Implants - Illness associated - Explant

Amanda Savage Brown, PhD LCSW, is our most recent collaborator, and we are looking forward to the release of her book. The information she shares here about breast implant illness and facing explanting, is eye-opening, so do read. For further information, Amanda's contact details are below... 

The stories of women who explant to flat not only put a lump in my throat, they quite literally render me speechless. To understand why these stories impact me so profoundly, let me share a bit of personal context and professional perspective.

I got breast implants to “restore” my breasts after pregnancy and breastfeeding. They looked great but were problematic for me nearly the entire time. They were freezing cold, barely moved, and didn’t like to be touched. They interfered with screening mammograms–already compromised by my dense breast tissue. Though I didn’t want to age with breast implants in my body, I feared the surgery to remove them. That apprehension amplified when I cared for my sister throughout her double mastectomy and breast reconstruction with implants. I wanted nothing to do with another breast surgery–least of all those drains.

Not surprisingly, it took a rupture to propel me toward explant. After noticing a shape change in one of my breasts after a mammogram, I consulted with three surgeons about breast implant removal. They all assumed I was there because of breast implant illness (BII). I was chastised for believing what I read on social media, warned that I would be miserable if I didn’t replace my breast implants, and told there was no guarantee explant would make me better.

And here’s the thing: I didn’t know anything about BII!

But as a mental health practitioner, I sure as hell felt concerned about women who were seeking care for it. So, to learn more about it, I joined a large Facebook group with tens of thousands of women connecting around explant and BII. I learned that BII is a diagnosis of exclusion. It has no definitive biomarker to indicate its presence. Its symptoms impact people differently and are easily misattributed to aging and hormonal changes. As a result, women with BII often spend a considerable amount of time, effort, and money trying to understand their mysterious health declines. Most often, their symptoms reverse with explant and removal of the implants’ surrounding scar capsules.

While reading about the experiences of women in that group, I came across THE lump-in-my-throat post. It was from a breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy and reconstructed breast mounds with implants, like my sister. Because I companioned my sister through her journey, I had an idea of the physical pain this woman endured from her surgery, the expanders, and the implants. And now she was removing her implants?!

As a mental health practitioner facing breast implant loss, I empathically and compassionately connected with the mental and emotional distress this woman may be feeling over her breast implant through explant journey. But unlike me, her journey to breast implants was laced with cancer-related fear and loss. And unlike my explant journey, hers would usher in an entirely new silhouette and a foreign sense of self.

My mind was blown as I awoke to the full physical and psychosocial impacts among breast cancer survivors who experience BII. I don’t quite know what I thought: that breast cancer survivors would be protected or spared from additional breast-related suffering? I wanted that to be the case, but it’s not. In fact, 3 out of 4 breast cancer patients who reconstruct with implants experience problems within the first three years after placement. And that only includes local problems with the implant; systemic impacts are unknown and often misattributed to cancer treatment. As a result, many breast cancer patients don’t consider that ongoing fatigue, brain fog, and unwellness may simply be their body’s reaction to breast implants.

Like them, I had many health problems I never attributed to my body’s battle against the bags. Chief among them was a disability in both of my arms. It began after a strenuous yoga class and it never improved. Instead, the tremendous pain worsened despite months of intense occupational therapy. I became increasingly unable to drive, type, hold a glass, move a blanket, turn a knob, etc. Ultimately, I was misdiagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. I remember sobbing against my husband’s chest, convinced that I would live the remainder of my life in pain and with severe limitations. No one suspected this could be related to my breast implants.

But within three weeks of explant, the unrelenting pain began to ease. After three months, I felt my age, regained stamina, and was back to my fully-abled self. Four years later, I remain free from that disabling pain. In addition to reclaiming my body, I also liberated my mind and freed my heart from the social idea that better breasts make women better. To do so, I used the same inner skills I teach women in my private practice.

Now I specialize in helping women find their way before, during, and after breast implant removal, including women with breast cancer who reconstruct with breast implants and ultimately must explant to flat. They marvel that devices, known to be temporary and problem-prone, were offered to them during so tender a time in their breast cancer journey. They share their heartache over seeking breast implants to deprive cancer of stealing their breast mounds, only to lose them anyway. We learn helpful ways to respond to that disappointment. And together, we liberate them from society’s most basic rule that women have breasts.

I now know that lump-in-my-throat all those years ago alerted me to something really important. It still shows up and I use it as an inner beacon to guide my efforts to help breast cancer survivors, like my sister, prevail over the mental, emotional, and social challenges that inevitably arise on explant to flat journeys. As part of that effort, I wrote a first-of-its-kind self-help book for women whose life journey includes breast implants. It’s anticipated summer of 2022.

To be kept “abreast” of it, sign-up for my newsletter or follow me @dr.amandasavagebrown.

You can also visit my blog at amandasavagebrown.com

or join my private Facebook group Breast Implant Through Explant (BRITE) Inner Companions. I hope to see you there.

 

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