Friday, January 4, 2019

My Breast Explant experience!

I have had quite the year so my posting has been put on hold. I wanted to share something very important to me that I had learned this year. Breast implant illness. Stay with me for a minute because I know how that may sound and when I first heard those words I did roll my eyes a little. Until I didn’t.
For the past 11 years I have had horrible pain in my right shoulder, arm, hand and neck. Because it gets so bad at the base of my skull, I assumed I’ve been having headaches. I was also a mom of 3 kids and figured this is what happens with kids and toddlers. But, I was wrong.

So let’s rewind a little bit. 13 years ago, I decided to get breast implants. I have always been completely flat. No cup at ALL flat. I was always made fun of and called a boy. I hated to see my body because I looked like a little boy in the mirror. All that teasing finally got to me. Women had breasts and here I was with none. I didn’t just have “small breasts” I couldn’t wear bras at all. I was stuck stuffing the smallest cup bras or using silicon breast inserts after my manager at a local casino told me I needed to fill my uniform out and introduced me to stuffing. There weren’t a lot of options to make it look natural and no matter how much you stuff, you can't fake cleavage if you don't have tissue to push up anyway. So I went and had breast augmentation surgery. I was conservative and only went up to a B cup. I didn't have much tissue to try and stretch any larger anyway.

2003 pre-implant

Immediately after my surgery, my right breast was super high and looked hard while the left breast looked soft, low, and natural. I had either immediately developed a capsular contraction or the plastic surgeon had placed my implant in wrong. When I asked questions they said it was a capsular contraction (which is rare IMMEDIATELY after surgery, usually capsules take weeks or months to form, sometimes even years) anyway, they were injecting me with steroids and the receptionist there told me I must, “really be a smoker”. Seriously? I have never been a smoker, a drinker, or anything. My mind does not tolerate stimulants. I can’t even drink coffee so let’s not blame me and figure out how to fix this!

I have very few photos like this, I became really good at dressing to hide my breasts but here you can tell the right breast is not like the left. It was hard and deformed and never dropped into the pocket.

Anyway, I had ended up pregnant with my 2nd son before I was completely discharged. I was still seeing the surgeon for steroid shots and only a month post surgery and they refused to see me again “pregnant”. Not even to make sure I was healing after surgery!

So I found a new surgeon who would see me, make sure I was healing properly and talk to me about what capsular contraction was and tell me what my options would be. I was pregnant, planning on breast feeding so any surgery repair would have to wait.  But at least she saw me, told me my options and let me know I was healing. At this point I wasn't in any pain, didn't know there could be any pain, and figured I'd decide what to do after I was done having kids and nursing.

Fast forward 2 years after surgery, I had just gaven birth to my 3rd child. I started to get such bad headaches and just always had so much pain in my head, neck, arm.

Around the time my headaches started. I had learned to "lift" the left breast so it would match the right one to hide the problem I was having. Plus I was nursing so my milk helped hide it too.

I had seen a neurologists who said I was just fine. I seen a dentist who did a root canal and checked my teeth. Maybe I had an infection or something that was causing my pain? After all the work I had done I was still in daily pain.
I went to an allergist next. I was told I was allergic to cats and molds. At the time I didn't have any allergy symptoms. No sinus pressure. Nothing. I didn't feel that could be causing my headaches and tension.
I was seeing a chiropractor for adjustments 3 days a week for months at a time. When insurance would run out, I would stop going. It was $20 a visit and over the years jumped to $40 a visit. $40, 3 times a week for  a month was costing me almost $500 just in co-pays and the pain was ALWAYS still there. So I didn't continue.

I just waited it out for years being told by all the Drs I had seen that I must just be “stressed”.
So I had to live with this.

So last year, 10 years in, I decide that, no this is not normal and I need to keep looking for answers. I had developed sciatica pain shortly after the neck pain started but it didn’t start to really bother me badly until about 2013. ( I found out that the pain in my neck/arm etc, could contribute to my sciatica pain as well). I met with my new Dr who sent me for an EMG to test all the nerves in my hip, back and neck areas where my pain was. The tests all came back normal. He wrote me a script to see a physical therapist and I didn’t go. I ended up sick, the kids got sick, work got busy and I let it get away from me thinking that it won't help if it's just stress anyway, but it ended up a blessing because I may have just wasted my time and money if I had went!

Fast forward to august 2018, my sister in law, sent me a link to a you tube video of a women who had gotten sick from her breast implants and it dawned on me.
1. I have had a capsular contraction for as long as I’ve had this pain.
2. The pain is only on the right side, the side that has the capsular contraction is in.
3. The pain isn’t only in my head. It’s in my breast, shoulder neck and arm too.
4. None of my Drs have found any cause for my pain. Every single one I told I had a capsular contraction. Wouldn’t someone have figured it out? So that thought held me back from making any drs appointments at that time.

 Another photo where you can see how full the upper right breast was compared to the left.

When I searched what happens with capsular contraction I knew immediately this HAS to be it.
I was so upset. I was nervous. Not only did I feel disfigured from surgery already, but my plastic surgeon did not do a good job. He did not care about me. He wouldn’t even make sure I was healing. I did not want to have another surgery. I didn’t want to take any risks now. I was scared, but I did want these things out of me for so long, that was actually the perfect excuse to finally get them out and be whole again.

I had joined a breast explant support group on facebook (Found Here) and had read so many stories of women talking about their plastic surgeons dismissing their claims of being unwell and in pain. What plastic surgeon who makes all his money off of our insecurities, would want to admit that what he is selling could harm you? What if my surgeon doesn’t believe me? What if my insurance won’t pay for it? I learned most plastic surgeons won’t even bill insurance anyway. It’s such a crazy market. I was meeting with my allergist talking about how most of my allergy symptoms have been fixed with meds but i was still getting headaches, and could implants cause the headaches. She told me, "Well yes, you have a lot of nerves in that area". She gave me the confidence to speak to a surgeon and not be afraid of being dismissed. (I am now allergic to dogs, molds, trees, pollen, weeds and grass, and no longer allergic to cats).

I went for my consult and waited 3 hours to see the surgeon and she agreed with me right away. She said it was definitely my implants causing my pain and she could take them out and put in new ones. But I didn’t want new ones. What if the capsules just kept coming back? I said no, please just take these out of me! And so surgery was scheduled just a week and a half later! They wouldn't even try and bill insurance saying they wouldn’t cover it since it was cosmetic. This made me so angry to think about, It's no longer a "cosmetic" issue when this "Safe" implant was causing me pain almost every single day. I had to come up with $4,300 to undo this mistake. To be me again and to finally get a chance to heal. She said she would do a capsulectomy and remove all the scar tissue from around my implants.

The day of surgery I was very nervous. The staff was so good to me, my surgeon was going to get these out! I woke up from surgery and she said I had a grade 5 orange like thick capsular contracture around that breast implant. It was calcified and hard, but worse yet, my muscle had grown to and attached itself and tethered to my implant. No wonder I was in so much pain. Movement HURT! That muscle spasmed so much after my surgery. It was so painful but also such a relief. I immediately felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders for real, because it was lol. I could even take deep breaths again. Who knew implants could change your breathing? My allergist would comment on how I needed to exercise my lungs because i wasn't breathing deep enough. So hopefully this changes that at my next visit!

The capsule They removed from my right implant. Look at that thick, nasty thing! The left was so thin there wasn't much tissue to show. 

Here is how my healing process went!
Immediately after surgery I felt lighter. I had muscle spasming in just the right pectorial muscle, and after a few days air had travelled into my right shoulder and I had developed post surgery shoulder pain. There is a nerve called the Phrenic nerve. It originates in the neck and goes all the way down to the diaphragm. It would take a few days of walking around for the pain to subside but it is pretty common after surgery. I had noticed that my right breast looked like I had a small breast, and my left was completely flat. I just assumed it was swollen and waited.

At my 1 week play op visit I saw the aide as the surgeon was too busy that day with consults. She looked me over, said to wear the compression belt for another week, and gave me some silicone stripes to put over my scar to help soften them up, and to come back in 2 weeks.

1 week post-op. Still swollen but my pain was better than it had been with the implants! It's like my muscles felt some relief!

My right breast was still larger then the right and felt like it had fluid in it. I had posted in the Breast explant support group and was told about something called a seroma and that I should definitely have it checked out just in case. A seroma is a pocket of clear serous fluid that sometimes developed in the body after having surgery. The fluid is composed of blood plasma that has seeped out of the ruptured small blood vessels and inflammatory fluid produced by the injured and dying cells. I did some internet research and it really did sound like that was my issue.

I even made myself a new dress soon after explant because I felt so good with them out! 

So 2 weeks later at my 3 week post op visit, I saw the same aide. She checked me out and looked at my scars and was sending me home.  Thanks to the help I had online, I asked her about the fluid in the right breast and told her that it felt like water was inside of it. I told her I had noticed it after surgery but just thought I was more swollen on that side due to the capsule. She left and brought the nurse in to see me. She confirmed that I had a seroma in my breast that needed to be drained.

The build up of this fluid, if left in, can turn into another capsule in my breast pocket or even become infected. They have to remove fluid if it builds up, by inserting a needle into the breast into the pocket and draining it! After 3 separate pokes she drained 55ccs of fluid and sent me home with more antibiotics. I was told to stay compressed for another month and I would see them in 10 days to probably drain the fluid again. I just knew I was going to be fine and that the seroma would not return.
After another 6 weeks of visits I was finally discharged and healed up enough to end my visits!

Dressed up for my husbands union Christmas party! I was feeling so good!

My family Dr met with me and after telling her my story set me up for physical therapy. My surgeon never mentioned any of this and yours may not either so if you are explanting be sure to talk to your Dr as well! You don't want to wait to fix your damaged muscles!

I went for my evaluation last week and just had my first therapy session 2 days ago. She works with women who have had breast cancer, and because my injuries can be similar to one’s they would experience she will be seeing me. It's good to see someone familiar with your injuries if you can!

She was amazing. I may never be 100% better, but at least there is someone out there who’s going to try and help me undo 13 years of muscle damage. I was never told breast implants could harm my muscles at all. After knowing I had a capsular contraction, I was never told it would could even cause any pain, then, or in the future. Just the disfigurement and a hard implant! So here I spent 11 years trying to figure out the cause of my pain. Every Dr I met with I told I had implants and a capsular contraction yet it took 11 years and my sister in law, to find the source of my pain!

My post here isn't because I blame anyone (Other then complain that my original surgeon gave me horrible care), but to help spread awareness because many Drs. don't even know any of this happens. How many women with implants are in pain and don't know that this can happen? I want to help other people connect those dots. Most breast implant illness stories I've read focus mainly on the auto immune reactions (Which I believe 100% can happen!) but I wanted my story to focus on the painful muscle side of it. Plastic surgeons don't see any of us in the long term for care, and they are the ones that know about these types of issues. We are (or I was) told implants will "last forever," and not even to worry about coming in for any more visits.

I hope my story can help some of you who may be suffering, or so those of you debating on getting implants can see that there are definitely risks that aren't really discussed. Capsular contraction is the most common risk, and means more surgeries to remove and replace implants! Many times, women go in for surgery after surgery trying to fix a capsule that just ends up reforming. So be educated before you jump into getting implants. It really can lead to some horrible side affects and pain that can not always be undone. I truly regret that I ever got them and wish I had never made that mistake!

I made my daughter & I matching Christmas dresses. It's amazing what this explant did for my confidence!

It's now been another 1.5 months since I wrote this blog and I finished physical therapy after just a month of visits. I have been 100% PAIN FREE! I cannot believe I am even saying that! After having pain daily, to my pain getting less and less, to completely gone is amazing! My physical therapist was so helpful and kind! She was truly a miracle in my life and I will forever be grateful for the guidance and care I received from her. I just feel so good! I have also been doing yoga daily to keep my muscles in good working order. I'm learning what to feed my body and how to treat it so that I can stay my best self! My explant was the absolute best thing I could have ever done and I'm so happy to be well now!

Photo taken on February 14th 2019. 4 months post explant. I feel healthier, I feel stronger. I feel brave. I have lost so much bloating and inflammation as well! 

You are your best advocate! Please use your voice and do not be afraid to demand the best care! NO one can do it for you! You deserve a Dr who will not only listen to you and your symptoms and concerns, but also work towards your health and healing!
Since my explant I have found so much confidence that I had lost! I feel good in my own skin. I may have a flat chest but I'm still a women none the less and we need to remember that our value does not come from breasts! It comes from so much more than that!

. Thanks for reading! ~The Vela Homestead

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