Finding out that she tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation was only the beginning of a long healing journey for Ashley Sova. Opting for reconstructive surgery after a prophylactic double mastectomy, Ashley’s breast implant illness symptoms began almost immediately after she implanted. She went from doctor to doctor in search of an explanation for her symptoms, but all of the tests came back inconclusive.
Tell us about your explant journey.
I found out I was BRCA1 mutation-positive the day before my mom passed away from kidney cancer. She had breast cancer as a 38-year-old and it was suggested that I undergo genetic testing during her second cancer journey. I was pregnant with my third child at the time, and I opted for a prophylactic double mastectomy as soon as possible. This meant that surgery would happen with a 5-month old and two toddlers at home.
Breast implants were placed a few months later in place of tissue expanders, and I had issues with the implants right away. I'd told my Cleveland Clinic surgeon I was so excited to finally have small breasts (I'd already had a reduction 10 years prior). He told me I wouldn't have a choice in size, and that they make that decision once I'm in surgery, but that he would make sure they were the right size for my body. I should not have trusted him. Not only were they much too large for my body, but I also started having issues within a couple of months. I thought I was going crazy! I went from doctor to doctor looking for answers: vision tests, hearing tests, blood draws, scans and I finally stumbled on information on breast implant illness.
What type of implants did you have?
Allergen round silicone 560cc
What surgeon did you explant with?
Midwest Breast & Aesthetic Surgery (Dr. Pankaj Tiwari & Dr. Ergun Kocak) - they are the absolute BEST!
When did you begin to experience symptoms?
Almost immediately - a couple of months after implants
What symptoms did you have?
Loss of vision
Ringing in ears
Inability to perform normal everyday tasks - it became hard to lift my baby and take care of my kids
How did breast implants impact your life?
They made my life absolute misery. They were WAY too large for my body even though I requested small implants. 560cc on each side for a 5'1 petite person is insane. I became a horrible wife and mother because I was in constant pain. I found it hard to muster up the energy to work on my small business. I hated getting out of bed in the morning, and I stopped working out, which has always been important to me.
What was surgery like for you?
Because I'd had a prophylactic double mastectomy due to the BRCA1 gene, I opted for DIEP flap reconstruction at the same time as my explant. It was extremely difficult - worse than my double mastectomy. I lost a lot of blood and had to have several blood transfusions. I was in the hospital for a week. But many months out I am so happy I went through with the surgery and had a highly skilled team. I love my aesthetic outcome and I feel like a new person.
How are you doing now, after explant?
It's like night and day. I finally feel like myself again - vibrant, happy, energetic, and most importantly, I'm able to keep up with my kids! The ringing in my ears was gone when I woke up from surgery. My eyesight isn't blurry anymore. My body feels strong and healthy.
What would you like women who are considering explant to know?
Women have been gaslighted and made to feel like their own personal health experiences don't matter. We're taught from a young age to look a certain way in order to feel a certain way. It's time to take back that power and make health decisions that empower not just our bodies, but our mental and psychological health as well.