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Implants after Breast Cancer: Risk vs Reward

18 Apr 2019 by Krystal Barter

Every woman’s journey through breast cancer is her own. There are feelings of fear, doubt, helplessness and deep vulnerability.  I am sharing my story with the Pink Hope community in an effort to support others and provide some insights into issues that can arise.

I had always had a complicated relationship with my breasts.  I was an early grower so I was one of those unlucky girls who had decent boobs at the start of high school.  I am a runner, so having boobs meant that my essential equipment included a good quality sports bra and good running shoes.

I also had very dense breast tissue, so despite being extremely fit and active my boobs never got smaller.  The density of tissue also meant that after having my kids I endured many lump scares that were scanned and diagnosed as benign cysts.  But deep down inside I always thought my breasts were an issue.  Ultrasounds, mammograms and biopsies became a reality.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  At that moment your world explodes in a tangle of fear, tears, diagnostics and doubts.  Telling my family was the worst part. I did manage to convince everyone that I would be fine, I was determined to be.

Despite being advised to have the usual course of treatment I chose to undergo a double mastectomy.  I had decided that if one breast could be a problem then it was more practical to eliminate risk and have the full procedure.  As it turns out it was a wise decision.  My breast specialist advised when the pathology reports came back that there was an additional tumour that had not been detected in the original MRI’s.  That was a huge relief and confirmed my gut instinct.

I was keen to get my life back to normal as soon as possible after the surgery and I was lucky enough to have successful implant placement in the same surgical procedure so I didn’t have to endure expanders and later surgery.

After a lengthy recovery, both physical and emotional, I felt that life could get back to normal.  In December 2016 I was turning 50 so to celebrate I wanted to run the New York Marathon which I had dreamt about for many years.

When I arrived in New York at the beginning of November 2016 I noticed that my left breast was distorted.  That was the cancer side.  Oh my God here we go again!  There was nothing I could do but wait to see my specialist as soon as I got home so I pretended that everything was fine.  This was to be my husband’s first ever marathon so I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm, despite feeling desperately lost again.

I finished the race, despite starting it exhausted and stressed, but it was far from a dream performance.

Upon returning home it was back to the specialist to receive the diagnosis that I had a bilateral implant failure.  So back into hospital for more surgery to remove my textured implants and another recovery phase.

After I felt strong enough I contacted to ask if they had any data on implant rupture that could help answer my questions on why mine had failed so quickly. Nothing from the medical or technical team in response, instead a terse email from legal.  It was around this time that I first heard about the link between textured implants and lymphoma.

I also lodged a report with the Therapeutic Goods Association as I had heard that the textured implants were associated with a secondary cancer risk.  The response was brief, implants can rupture, nothing to investigate.

Despite feeling angry, frustrated and upset it appeared nobody cared or was prepared to help me.  I just wanted to know if my failed implants could pose a risk to my health.

The recent discussions around textured implants and the TGA have raised some old feelings again.  But it has given me the opportunity to share my story in the hope that I can prevent other women from suffering the traumas that have been my experience.

My message is simple, be brave, make sure you get the best medical advice, ask questions and focus on recovery.  Life is precious.  I have booked my next overseas marathon to continue doing what I love.

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