Michelle M.'s Story
“Nothing looks as good as healthy feels. It just doesn't. It was never worth it to fill out a swimsuit top since it came at the expense of my health and my sanity. I've always tried to eat clean, exercise and take the right supplements – lifelong. I've always made healthy choices UNTIL I decided to get implants. My plastic surgeon said they were safe – and I'm sure he thought they were. I thought the choice was healthy. It clearly was not. Explanting was the best decision!!”
Tell us about your explant journey.
I got implants thinking I could perfect a part of my body that no matter how clean my diet was or how much I exercised, I could not affect on my own. I came from the worlds of modeling and pageantry (former Mrs. Ohio America 2002 and America’s Perfect Woman 2011) and there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way. In fact, I did not have implants when I was Mrs. Ohio and competing for Mrs. America and I remember my director having me sew breast padding into all 45 outfits I took to the 15-day competition in Hawaii. We even joked about stitching them into my pajamas, but didn’t. By the time I competed in America’s Perfect Woman, I did have implants and let me tell you, I felt “perfect” in my swimsuit. And, I won the national title.
But there was a part of me that felt a little like Cinderella once I got my implants. I felt like it was all too good to be true that I could have what I perceived at the time to be perfect-looking breasts with no side-effects or problems. That one day, I'd wake up and something horrible would be wrong with me ... because I had implants. Little did I know that the body has wisdom and that nagging feeling would grow to a full-out scream of health problems that would force me to face the fact that my breast implants were debilitating me. Killing me.
I started having symptoms right after I got my saline implants – fatigue, UTIs, mood swings – but I was 36 with 2 kids and a busy career, so I never connected these problems to my implants. Three years later, I replaced the saline with silicone gel, thinking it was a safer alternative because I’d heard they didn’t leak. I could not have been more wrong! And again, more mystery symptoms. I thought these annoying health issues here and there were a result of stress and a hectic life. And, I had a great team of healers that would manage to beat the symptoms back as I’d develop them. That seemed to work for about 7 or 8 years, until it didn’t. I started to develop symptoms that wouldn’t go away no matter what we tried. Symptoms that were debilitating.
The debilitating symptoms – specifically a left arm tremor and left side of the body muscle weakness – forced me to make a change.
We spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get rid of the tremor. Tests, treatments, supplements. You name it. At one point I had four medical appointments a week … for weeks. While holding down a full-time job. It was at this point that I discovered I had a heavy metals toxicity. I couldn’t fathom for the life of me where I got so much nickel, aluminum, cadmium, platinum, mercury and gadolinium. But, I had the highest nickel level my functional medicine doctor had ever seen. Ever. Now I had two really strange things that could not be chalked up to aging – heavy metals and the tremor.
I wanted my life back.
The first time my functional medicine doctor brought my implants up as a possible cause for my mysterious health issues, I didn’t expect it. We had been working on the tremor and he had his nurse pass information on to me about Dr. Lu Jean Feng, the world’s foremost expert on breast explant surgery. It was out of the blue, and in my mind, we were working to fix my arm, what did that have to do with my implants. But, deep inside, part of me thought maybe he was onto something. Though I didn’t immediately reject the idea, I whole-heartedly didn’t want it to be the answer. I loved the way my implants made me look and, well, no one looks forward to surgery. But I researched it in a “what can I find in a 30-second Google search” way.
What I found at the surface level was enough for me to decide to bring it up to my husband. Who LOVED my body, by the way. So, he really researched it. Enough to learn explant surgery was a really really big deal. With what he uncovered, we both thought it seemed like an extreme response with no proof it would work to relieve my health problems and that maybe without removing my implants my symptoms would go away as mysteriously as they appeared.
Only they didn’t. Tens of thousands of dollars and numerous appointments and treatments and the symptoms didn’t go away. So, I went about my life, getting sicker and sicker with no solution.
Then, about a year and a half after initially researching BII, a news story ran nationally tying anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), an uncommon cancer of the immune system, to textured breast implants. Even though mine were smooth, I knew I had to get them out. I was not going to leave this Earth sooner than my time because I wanted to look a certain way.
About a month later, I found Dr. Ergun Kocak, a recommended explant surgeon, who performed an enbloc total capsulectomy. This decision and this surgery FINALLY put my on the path to regaining my life and myself.
What type of implants did you have?
Under the muscle Mentor saline for 3 years, then Mentor silicone gel for 10
What surgeon did you explant with?
Ergun Kocak, MD
When did you begin to experience symptoms?
Right away, but I never connected it to BII
What symptoms did you have?
Mentor saline implants in 2006:
- Mood swings
- Allergies got worse – needed cortisone shots along with daily medication
Mentor silicone gel implants in 2009 - All the symptoms above persisted and I added:
- Anxiety (extreme)
- Dermatitis rash on eyelids
- Acne with monthly cycle
- Chemical sensitivities
- Joint pain (L hand, L knee, L foot)
- Blurred vision
- “Frozen” left shoulder
- Left shoulder pain (ended up tearing rotator cuff)
- Left hip pain
- Left foot pain
- Left side of neck pain
- Stomach viruses that persist
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness, cramps and tingling
- Brain fog/inability to focus (like ADD)
- Memory issues
- Left breast pain
- Left breast constriction – pulling on something from underneath down to abdomen
- Left arm restriction in movement
- Occasional right breast pain
- Internal vibration
- Left arm tremor
- Inability to regulate body temperature
- Heavy metals toxicity (lead, Aluminum, Cadmium, Cesium, Gadolinium, Gallium, Mercury, Nickel, Platinum, Rubidium, Thallium)
- Fear of things I used to excel at (driving, being in a car, being in a meeting, being on stage)
- Creepy deep pain in shoulders and arms
How did breast implants impact your life?
Breast implants stole years of my life – that I'll never get back – fighting symptoms that I never saw as related until discovering Breast Implant Illness. As time went on, they dashed my ability to do the things I loved and the things I was good at – I was no longer able to do the things that defined me. I missed time with my kids as they were growing up because I was in pain or lacked energy. My kids are now grown and I'll never get those years of the childhoods back! I missed time with my husband. All of our lives became all about how to get me well from whatever crazy symptom had popped up. Doing my job became challenging and painful. I eventually withdrew from friends and activities because I didn't want to be noticeably sick in front of them. In getting implants, I thought I was perfecting myself. In reality I was losing all the best parts of me. Explanting has allowed me to take my life back.
What was surgery like for you?
My surgery was with Dr. Ergun Kocak of Midwest Breast and Aesthetic Surgery in Columbus, Ohio. I was so scared going in – scared I wouldn't wake up, scared my implants weren't the real cause of all my symptoms, scared it wouldn't heal me, scared of how I'd look after. But Dr. Kocak was fantastic. It went more smoothly than he anticipated – took about 2 and a half hours – and he was able to remove both implants and their capsules intact. They were not ruptured. But the left one was slightly yellow and had a nauseating chemical smell. The next day after surgery the brain fog lifted, the irrational anxiety went away and my vision cleared up! And, I could finally breathe!! I had forgotten how incredible it was to just take a deep breath. I was not in nearly the pain I had been in getting implants put in. In fact, after day 2, I only needed Extra Strength Tylenol. I got my drains out after 9 days. They were uncomfortable, but not painful. I did not have a lift and I absolutely love my natural breasts and the result. When I look in the mirror it's like I have my 20-something body back. I see a me I remember. And now, I'm much kinder to her and far more appreciative of all the awesome healing she's doing. I'm so happy to be 100% me again!
How are you doing now, after explant?
All of my symptoms are pretty much healed (only an occasional rare flare-up) except the left side muscle weakness and left arm tremor. But, both of these are reversing and far far far better than they were when I had implants. They get better every day. It took years for the silicone to poison me. It will take time for the inflammation to subside and the neurotoxins to leave my body. I trust God will restore me fully.
What would you like women who are considering explant to know?
Nothing looks as good as healthy feels. It just doesn't. It was never worth it to fill out a swimsuit top since it came at the expense of my health and my sanity. I've always tried to eat clean, exercise and take the right supplements – lifelong. I've always made healthy choices UNTIL I decided to get implants. My plastic surgeon said they were safe – and I'm sure he thought they were. I thought the choice was healthy. It clearly was not. Explanting was the best decision!!
I wish I had known all along that I was enough. The way God made me was the way He meant for me to be. It took years of health hits and an explant surgery for me to know this. But now I do. I hope my journey inspires other women to know they are enough. Just the way they are. It's amazing how many kinds of beautiful there are in the world when we expand our definition beyond what society pressures us to be.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
If you have implants and you're planning to get them out, get as healthy as you possibly can before surgery. I worked with my functional medicine team to do this – supplements, IVs, b-12 shots, adjustments, etc. It helped my body go through surgery smoothly and helped me heal. I still work with this team and I'm at 15 months post-explant. They figure out what my body needs from week to week to detox me. I know they're part of the reason I'm almost fully healed. Healing is not linear. It's loaded with ups and downs. But once you remove the 24/7 source of poison from your body, you will be amazed at how well it responds.