“Michelle, you’re back.” I heard the gentle words of my post-op nurse, Michele, waking me up after my 4-hour procedure, in Cleveland, Ohio. I recall that, in our early morning pre-surgery preparations, she and I had teased each other about the best spelling of our given names. Is a one-L or two-L spelling the best? We laughed and agreed to disagree.
I remember walking into the operating room and being assisted by another amazing nurse, Karla, as she directed me onto the table, positioning my arms in an extended position—outward from my body. The anesthesiologist began placing an IV in my left arm and instructed me to think of a beautiful and peaceful place where I would want to spend the next several hours, while under anesthesia. I told her, immediately, that my peaceful destination would be Butterfly Beach, in Montecito, California. Four hours later, in what seemed like four minutes, I was being nursed back to consciousness and away from my favorite beach, by nurse Michele.
I have been in Cleveland for bilateral periprosthetic capsulectomy with a repair of pectoralis major muscle, and bilateral mastopexy. In everyday terms, this was an explant of my saline breast implants with a repair to my pectoral muscle, followed by a reconstructive lift. The road to this moment had taken me years to travel.
The decision to have implants had come during my television news career. I was on a number one show and the pressure to stay on top (both from an internal perspective and external perspective) seemed ever-present and ever-growing. Implants, I told myself, were a part of the price to pay to stay in the game. It didn’t seem enough that viewers would turn to me because of my credibility and know-how. All I heard were the suggestions by my stylist that my news jackets could use a little “filling out” up top.
Couple that with what had been a life-long struggle with self-worth, as an adoptee, and my direction appeared clear: I would make the choice for implants and—in my eyes—make the right move for my television news career. Perhaps, I’d even begin feeling better about the person I saw in the mirror.
I researched and found a plastic surgeon in the news market where I was living. He was a fan of my morning show—greeted each new day with me—and told me that many news personalities were coming to him for this procedure. I instructed the doctor that I wanted to take my B cup to a C cup, and no more. He agreed, and surgery was scheduled for two weeks later.
When I woke up in that first post-op recovery room, I remember being so sick that I required a shot of morphine. My head was spinning and my chest seemed huge beneath the ace bandage that was wrapped tightly around my new breasts. I said to the nurse in charge, “My chest looks so big…is that due to the swelling?” She said that I was, indeed, swollen. Then, she confided that the doctor had made me larger than my desired C cup. “We told him to stop…” (indicating that the implants were inserted and then filled once in place), “but the doctor said you could handle it.”
As my head spun from this news, the surgeon came in to check on me. He confirmed that he’d made me bigger than I had asked for. I would definitely be a D cup. I felt violated, humiliated, and exploited. My small frame would have to carry the weight of these large implants. I could feel my back and my heart breaking, simultaneously.
I wore those implants for as long as I could, enduring back pain and symptoms that I’d never had before: knuckles and toes that locked up during the day and night, and excruciating pain in my knees. I was diagnosed with lupus, by a rheumatologist, in Houston, and put on an immunosuppressive drug to “keep the wild horses in the corral.”
Those horses wouldn’t stay corralled, though, and my health continued to worsen. I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and sought out the guidance of a local Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Testing showed that I was allergic to gluten and dairy. I eliminated those items, took myself off of the immunosuppressive drug, and watched my symptoms begin to be relieved. As my body was finding relief, it became evident that the removal of my implants was something I desired—greatly.
I researched and found a new plastic surgeon in Scottsdale, Arizona. After my first experience, I preferred a female surgeon and this particular one came highly recommended. During my consultation, the surgeon told me that removing my implants would leave me with “virtually no breast tissue,” and she strongly advised me to go the route of smaller implants, which would alleviate my back pain while still leaving me with breasts I would be happy with.
Out of fear and a deep sense of desperation, I decided to go forward with removing the large implants and replacing them with smaller ones. That was ten years ago. Since that time, I’ve dealt with numerous autoimmune issues, skin rashes, blurry vision, heavy metal toxicity, brain fog, and difficulty with taking in a full breath. On some days, I felt anxiety originating in my chest—a tightness—that felt close to suffocating.
Research, a naturopath’s guidance in my town of Santa Barbara, Facebook groups on breast implant complications, and friends who have walked a very similar journey, all led me to the knowledge that BII (breast implant illness) is real and is impacting the health and well-being of women around the world.
It is, here, in Cleveland where I sought out the knowledge, guidance, and expertise of an internationally renowned microvascular plastic and reconstructive surgeon who is leading the way in the area of explant. On January 13th, I gathered my bravery and walked into her operating room to begin the journey back to a healthier and more vital me.
The surgery went very well. My doctor was able to remove the silicone capsules that were left in my chest by the surgeon in Arizona, remove the smaller implants, repair my pectoral muscle, and perform a reconstructive lift. Yes, I had “plenty of breast tissue for a lift,” as my Cleveland surgeon explained.
Waking up from surgery, I felt more energy than I have had in a very long time. I’m able to breathe easier and deeper and I have a renewed sense of hope. One of the nurses said that my new and natural breasts are, “so pretty!” I’ll get to see those new breasts later today when my bandages come off and my drains come out.
There are still a few weeks ahead for me along this road to recovery, but I’m so excited to move forward. I can feel my body saying, thank you. I can also sense my inner wisdom urging me to share this journey with other women who may currently have implants, or who might be considering implants. I will never judge another woman’s decision to do with her body what she feels is right and good. I only say that information and education is absolutely essential when making a decision that could, potentially, impact her health and well-being.
There are risks to implants—that’s clear—and all women should be informed of those risks. For me, I wasn’t informed and I didn’t know the questions to ask. I felt, at the time, disempowered and disillusioned. I carried a whole lot of guilt. But, there is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. This journey of implant and explant has happened for me, and not to me. I’m wiser. I’m grateful for what my body has been able to endure. I have a new respect for just how miraculous our bodies are!
When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who I love—a woman I respect—a woman I embrace—a woman of worth. It’s true, there was a time when I didn’t see that. The beautiful lesson of this journey is that I now know I am much more than a chest measurement. There is so much more to me, beneath my breasts.
I was once wooed into augmenting my body. I’ve forgiven myself for ever taking my good health for granted. I’m much more concerned now with supporting and educating other women along the journey of loving themselves and seeing someone of immense worth and value—beneath their breasts and beyond this culturally ingrained game that leaves so many of us feeling as if we’ll never be enough unless we go under the knife. It’s a kinder beauty I’m after. It’s what I want my daughter to see her mother living, daily.
Beneath my breasts, I see a woman rising, a brave voice growing, and a heart ever-expanding. I’m so excited to see my health continue to improve beyond this third-day post-surgery and onward through the coming weeks and months ahead. I’m an open book. Please reach out if you need support.
In this together,