Breast Implant Illness?

The past few months have been something like a nightmare, but not the Freddy Krueger kind… although, spoiler alert, I do get sliced open in the end. This is the kind when you’re running from something, but you can’t see what it is and you know you’re afraid, but you don’t know exactly what it is you’re afraid of and you can’t wake up.

It started two weeks before Christmas, I was laying face down watching TV and sat up and felt a shooting pain go up my chest from under my left breast. “It’s just a pulled muscle”, I thought, but the pain persisted for a week and I just kept telling myself I did something to it at the gym. Then, my breast started becoming deformed looking and moving up my chest. It’s hard to describe how it looked, but it looked smaller and bigger all at the same time. Again, I tried to convince myself that this was all my imagination, that my breasts had always looked a little different from each other. For the record, they were pretty darn symmetrical since my surgery. I was just trying to rationalize with myself.


A week later there was no denying it, something was up. My left boob was popping out of my bra, along with intense shooting and stabbing pains. At this point I emailed my plastic surgeon and sent her pictures of what was happening–Ya know just casually sending boobie pics to my Doc! She suspected either my implant ruptured or flipped, and I was to come in first thing the day after Christmas. At this point my boob had blown up to a whole cup size larger than normal and it was super duper sensitive. Upon my plastic surgeons visual assessment when I got to her office, she said it wasn’t flipped and she highly doubted that it leaked, but we needed to do an MRI to be sure. Not to mention it was filling up with fluid, so I needed to get an ultrasound first. The next ultrasound appointment wasn’t until after New Years and so I waited it out. I wasn’t able to workout at all during this time and Lefty was so heavy that just going up the stairs made me feel as though I had sprinted a mile. The time had come for my first ultrasound and my radiologist was a real PEACH. She said all the fluid was in tissue and she couldn’t drain it (said with no bedside manner at all). I was so desperate for relief that even the wand of the ultrasound literally had me in tears. I like to think I’m a pretty tough cookie, that’s what I tell myself anyway, but I was a hurtin’ cowboy. From the ultrasound they saw that there wasn’t a leak and it wasn’t flipped, but I still needed an MRI to see if we could get some concrete answers. Fair warning: Ladies, if you have silicone implants and you need an MRI of your breasts, ask if you can take something to calm you down first. I typically tolerate MRI’s fine, but holy cow this one was a doozy and it’s INCREDIBLY LONG. The MRI results came in and showed moderately severe peri implant fluid on the left and moderate peri implant fluid on the right- that’s right, it was on the right side now and I was really, really getting to the edge with my patience. So now we have evidence that the fluid could be drained, so back to that pleasant radiologist I went! When they drain your breast they have to make a little incision and then suck the fluid out with a needle and syringe and you’re completely awake for it. The radiologist was so thrilled to see I was back and warned me that they probably wouldn’t get very much out, guess what? No only did my boob basically explode with the fluid, but home girl got a quarter of a liter out of my left breast. Not very much, right? OK LADY.

I felt some slight relief from the pressure very, very temporarily and I mean only a few hours, ‘cause this puppy filled right back up again. The fluid from lefty was sent out to test for bacterial infections and lymphoma and in the meantime I was on heavy antibiotics, that weren’t doing a darn thing, but we had to try everything. When Lefty filled up again, she decided at this point I needed to be admitted into the hospital and try IV antibiotics and also get both breasts drained. They were able to get a good amount of fluid out of the left, but had a really hard time getting fluid out of the right side, because the fluid was on the inside of my boob. After my surgeon realized the antibiotics weren’t doing anything, she released me from the hospital and we just had to wait and see if my boobs filled up with fluid again.

Later, that week surprise, surprise my boobs started filling up again so we decided it’s time to have surgery to replace my implants. But first we needed the results of the fluid they extracted. A couple of days later my plastic surgeon informed me that T-cells were found in my left breast. T-cells are your body’s response to something that’s not right, like cancer. What we were trying to rule out is something called Breast Implant Associated Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), which typically shows up in women with textured implants and who have had them for a while (it’s pretty rare), but I had all the symptoms and with the T-cells showing up, we had to be prepared. The BIA-ALCL test results were inconclusive, so during surgery she was going to send tissue to pathology to get a concrete answer. The waiting game continues.

February 1st was the day of my surgery and my goodness was this time different than last time. Not only was I prepared for the protocol, but also I was ready to rip this boob right off my chest. I have never wanted something out of my body so badly, it was like my whole body was rejecting this implant. Surgery is scary as hell, but compared to the agony I had been feeling for months, I was so ready. The surgery was supposed to take 2 hours, it took 5. What she found was a capsular contractor, which is the tightening of the scar tissue that forms around the breast implant after it is placed, which hurts by itself, but mine was wrapped around a nerve. Cute! All in all, it went fine without any real issues. So now it’s time to wait for the results and recover. I got drains again, which I’m still healing from as I write this. I hate the drains, they make me faint all the time…don’t ask me why. The pain this time I felt was more intense than the mastectomy, because my nerves have regenerated, but the discomfort didn’t last as long as it did with my mastectomy, as well as the lack of ROM in my arms wasn’t nearly as bad.

On Monday, February 11th I was given the news that the tissue biopsied from my breasts were benign! Much to my surgeons surprise, it came back with no lymphoma. After the surgery she had said it didn’t look like there was cancer, but she also had never seen BIA-ALCL before either, so she couldn’t say for sure. Needless to say, I was beyond relieved that it came back clear.

Currently, I am still recovering and getting better everyday, but I do have this little shadow following me, because they never figured out why both breasts filled up with fluid nor why the T-cells formed. All I can do is hope and pray they cleaned out whatever demon was lurking in my boob–a sentence I never thought I would say.

I will keep you all updated on the boob status as time goes on and hopefully this won’t come back to rear its ugly head again. If you have any questions at all please message me, I don’t want anyone to feel alone in their health struggles.

Caroline Plank