If you have breast implants and are considering having them removed (or explanting, as they say), I am sharing my experience with having implants for over 10 years and how I’m dealing with breast implant illness recovery after explanting them. Here is my story and progress so far, just one week after surgery.
Fair warning: there are some images here that may be NSFW. I’ve edited to block out parts of my breasts, but still left enough so you can get an idea of what before and after looks like, as well as the healing process. There are also photos of my en bloc capsulectomy, as well as drainage tubes.
The Beginning: Getting Breast Implants
I first decided to get breast implants in 2010, after my second child was born. At the time, I didn’t plan to have more children and I wasn’t very happy with my body – so breast augmentation seemed like a good idea. I actually liked how full my breasts were during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, and I specifically asked my plastic surgeon to just “fill them back up” to the size they were when they were full of milk.
In hindsight, what I really wanted at the time was a breast lift. I didn’t want them bigger, so much as I wanted them to not be droopy. (And looking back, they weren’t really even droopy. I was just unhappy with my body in general). I actually had a good amount of breast tissue, and was a solid 32C before getting implants.
A breast lift was more expensive than just implants though – about $8,000 vs $6,000 – so implants were what I got.
In June 2011, I consulted with a surgeon in Louisville, Kentucky for breast augmentation surgery. I considered saline implants, but went with silicone breast implants because they supposedly felt more “natural” and were less likely to sag. Or something like that.
My surgery was scheduled for the end of June, and my fluffy new 325 cc Mentor Smooth Round High Profile Silicone Gel Implants were placed inside my body. I remember it being a painful recovery (I even passed out in the bathroom one day from the pain – still have a scar on my nose from where I fell) but I thought sometimes a little pain was worth feeling pretty.
I remember asking my surgeon if I would need additional surgery later on, possibly to get new implants because I had heard that implants can sometimes leak after having them a long time. He told me no, that my implants were under warranty for the rest of my life.
So I was all set with full breasts and good to go! Or so I thought.
How Things Changed After Getting Silicone Implants
If you know me at all, you know that second kid wasn’t the last one. I remarried in 2016 and had my third child later that year. I wasn’t worried about having breast implants with my pregnancy though, as I knew many women who had gotten implants and later had children.
It’s not the best order of events, as far as aesthetic results are concerned (ahem, gravity and weight gain), but it wasn’t unheard of.
I first became a little concerned when I met with my obstetrician and she noticed that I’d written breast augmentation surgery on my paperwork. “Silicone implants? Are you sure you don’t have saline breast implants? They don’t even do silicone anymore right, because they are so dangerous?”
Uh, I most definitely know what kind of breast implants I have inside my own body, thankyouverymuch.
“Oh, you want to breastfeed? You may not be able to produce milk since you’ve had surgery on your breasts.” While I promptly switched to a different and more knowledgeable OB/Gyn office, I did worry a bit about what she said.
I was also unprepared for the HUGE changes that my breasts went though with that pregnancy and the 17 months of nursing my daughter – and then another pregnancy and 2 more months of nursing. These things grew to astonishing proportions. I used to think I wanted bigger boobies, but they were a little more than what I had in mind.
This was about the time that I started having a lot more back pain, including random back spasms and neck tightness. Joint pain in general was a problem. I would wake up with numb fingers and aches all over. I used to enjoy running, but now it seemed that strenuous activities were so difficult and muscle pain came too easily.
I just felt… sick and broken and weak. All the time. And then I learned about breast implant illness.
What is Breast Implant Illness?
Let me just start by saying that breast implant illness is not new, but it isn’t something that is fully understood. Or even very widely known. But it is real.
There is a wide range of symptoms with BII, but there are some common symptoms that show up most often. Mine are in italics.
Symptoms of breast implant illness include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog, memory loss, trouble concentrating
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Joint pain
- Hair loss or dry hair
- Premature aging of skin
- Dry eyes or decline in vision
- Slow healing
- Slow recovery after exercise
- IBS or other gastrointestinal problems
- Candida overgrowth (yeast)
- Ears ringing (tinnitus)
- Heart Palpitations
- Weight problems including weight gain or weight loss
- Insomnia and poor sleep
- Itchy skin/rashes
- Thyroid problems
- Adrenal fatigue
- Breathing problems or chest discomfort
- Dry mouth
This isn’t even the full list of BII symptoms, but these are the unexplained symptoms that are seen most often with people who have breast implants. And even with such a variety of symptoms, there are other health problems that you wouldn’t even think would be caused by implants! Many patients develop autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, presumably as the body’s immune system responding to this foreign object that just doesn’t belong there.
It may be hard to believe that such systemic symptoms and autoimmune disorders could be caused by implants – something approved by the FDA to increase the size of your breasts – but so many patients have seen the symptoms of BII disappear or show significant improvement after breast implant removal surgery.
After seeing this time and again, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated their guidelines to ensure that anyone considering getting implants knows about the potential side effects and the autoimmune reaction the body can have with BII.
Deciding to Explant
After having my fourth and FINAL child, I knew I wanted to have breast augmentation surgery again. I considered keeping my implants at first and just getting a lift, because I – well – I’m a little vain. I may live in sweatpants and a ponytail most of the time, but I like looking in the mirror and feeling like a hottie.
The current state of my boobs, however, wasn’t looking too hot.
Then I learned about breast implant illness from a friend. Initially, I didn’t even want to read into it because I didn’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss. But over the past year, chronic pain throughout my entire body continued, my medical conditions continued to increase, and I couldn’t seem to feel healthy even with lifestyle changes.
After extensive research (which included reading the stories of a number of women who reduced their breast implant illness symptoms by having explant surgery), I decided to move forward. I looked up explant surgeons in my area and made an appointment for a consult with Dr. Paul McCluskey in the Atlanta area.
I met with him virtually in Dec 2021 and told him about my symptoms, explaining that I didn’t just want removal of breast implants – I wanted a total capsulectomy. That means not only are the implants removed, but the entire capsule of tissue that forms around the implant is removed as well.
My surgery date was set for the Feb 23, 2022, which seemed like forever away. I was so glad that I had a date though, as I even experienced a few days of breast pain on one side a few weeks after scheduling my surgery! I still don’t know what caused it, but it just confirmed that this plan was the right one.
Surgery Day: Removing my Breast Implants
The day of my surgery arrived, and I went to the plastic surgery center with Eden, my oldest daughter. I needed a driver since I was going to be put under general anesthesia and wouldn’t be able to drive myself home.
Dr. McCluskey came in to see me and drew lots of purple lines over my torso – marking where my breasts currently were, where my incisions would be, the new location of my areolas (hint: way higher than they were!), and on my underarm area where some fat would be removed. I had opted to remove my breast implants, have a breast lift (mastopexy), and have a little liposuction on those little armpit fat rolls that I’ve always disliked.
I kind of figured while I was sedated and he was fixing my chest, he might as well fix that part too! Just fix it all.
Getting prepped for surgery was pretty easy. The nurse anesthetist was able to place my IV without any trouble (hydrate the date before surgery, y’all), and I was off to sleep in no time.
Dr. McCluskey emailed over photos of my implants, showing that he actually performed an en bloc capsulectomy (meaning he removed the implants and the capsules all in one piece). There were no signs of capsular contracture and no silicone implant ruptures or damage to my chest wall, thank goodness.
He did have to repair my pectoral muscles after removing the implants and capsules, as they were initially cut for implant placement in 2011.
The entire procedure lasted 2-3 hours, and I woke up tired but feeling ok. I did get a little nauseous from the anesthesia and threw up once I was home, but otherwise the recovery process was pretty uneventful. I had drains placed in both breasts to allow excess fluid to exit my body and not cause excessive swelling. I was given a prescription for pain medication, nausea, and antibiotics for 5 days.
The drains were the worst part, and it kind of felt like my boobs were on fire for the first day or two. I had to wear a surgical bra 24/7 (and still have to wear it), but I really felt like I was already on the path to healing.
Breast Implant Illness Recovery: One Week Later
Today is exactly one week after my surgery, and I can honestly say I feel amazing! I thought recovering from surgery would be more difficult than this, but each day I have felt better than the day before.
In the first 3-4 days, I was definitely tired. I didn’t move around much, mostly used T-rex arms, and I napped when I felt tired – which was often. Sometimes 2-3 naps per day, plus sleeping all night.
I have had a pretty healthy diet, trying to fuel my body with as much nutrition as possible. I’ve added in probiotics and some good gut healing foods. I’ve had to avoid any heavy lifting, of course, to even include lifting a full pot of coffee. But I’m happy to report that I have had ZERO neck or back pain since my explant!
That’s right – pain that has affected me SO MUCH over the past few years hasn’t even hinted at being there this week. And unfortunately, I was in so much neck/back pain the week before surgery that I couldn’t even sleep all night without waking up and hurting.
My appetite has been better than it’s been in years. My skin has actually been really oily (which apparently can be caused by increased cortisol production from the stress of surgery) but I’ve felt almost… lighter? More full of life?
I went for my post-op appointment today to monitor how my scar tissue is healing and to remove my drains. The good news is everything looked great! My scars are healing nicely and I didn’t have any hematomas or seratomas.
The bad news… removing the drains hurt, especially on the right side. I had accidentally already pulled out the sutures on the right side with all of the times I mistakenly pulled on the drain tubes. Whoops. So my right side was already pretty sore and when she pulled out the drain, I cried a little. The left side wasn’t as bad, just a weird feeling of it coming out of my chest which turned my stomach a little.
The nurse started showing me how to use maxi pads in my bra to cushion my incisions from the seams. Then came a bit of lightheadedness. And a little nausea. Then my toes started to tingle and the black dots began creeping in.
Y’all, I passed out sitting right there on the exam table.
I knew it was coming and I warned her, so she was able to grab my head before it fell. But I completely blacked out for about 10 seconds. I woke up to Eden standing next to me and then about 3-4 women running in with ammonia to wake me up.
Of course I was fine – and let me emphasize that this is NOT normal for most people, lol. I’m just a fainter, I guess. So embarrassing. But I’m just thankful that even though I may have a sensitive stomach, I’m walking around now without a foreign body in my chest, no bags of heavy metals and toxins to bring chronic inflammation to my body, and I’m well on my way to improved physical and mental health.
For More Info on Explanting and Breast Implant Illness Recovery
I learned a great deal of information from the Facebook group Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole, and her website has a lot of amazing information as well – including a checklist of BII symptoms and a list of explant surgeons across the country (and in other countries) who are highly recommended.
There is also a research study that you can read on NCBI about breast implant illness and how explanting can affect symptoms.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand all the risks involved before getting breast implants, and I wish I knew then what I know now. If you have any questions at all or want to know more about my experience with breast implants, explanting, or recovering from breast implant illness, please reach out! You can comment here and I will respond, or send me a message on social media.