A White Rock woman who had emergency surgery nearly a year ago to remove her breast implants is hoping her story will save others the “terrifying” experience that led up to her procedure.
“It’s an epidemic right now, it’s so bad,” Shannon Sayers said of breast-implant illness.
“I was told by my surgeon that (implants) were FDA-approved and 100 per cent safe. It took me seven years to get sick with them.”
Breast cancer, she noted, was “a piece of cake,” by comparison.
Sayers shared her story with Peace Arch News last week, on the same day that Health Canada announced plans to suspend breast-implant manufacturer Allergan’s licences for Biocell implants, a move intended “to protect Canadian patients from the rare but serious risk” of breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
Sayers said she doesn’t know if she has the lymphoma that has been associated with the textured implants she received in 2011, and encourages any woman who develops a fluid pocket around their implants to get tested for it.
She also wants women who may be considering implants for cosmetic or reconstruction purposes to think again.
“Accept your bodies the way they are,” Sayers said. “Why would you risk you life over this?”
Sayers, 49, had her first set of implants – the saline variety – at age 24, a decision she says she made for cosmetic reasons, to counter the effects of breastfeeding. At that time, and for nearly two decades after, she never considered that the procedure could cause her grief down the road.
When her breast cancer was discovered nine years ago, one of the tumours was wrapped “like an octopus” around one of those implants, she said. In performing a double-mastectomy 11 days post-diagnosis, her surgeon removed three tumours in all, along with “three or four” lymph nodes.
Looking back, Sayers is confident her first implants led to her cancer. She said she was never told at 24 that implants have a five- to seven-year lifespan, and said more recent testing at BC Cancer confirmed her disease – which her mother and grandmother also had – was not rooted in genetics, she said.
“Mine was called environmental,” she said. “I would never have thought I would’ve got cancer from implants.”
Sayers said her breast-implant illness symptoms set in almost immediately after her second set of implants, although it would be years before she made the connection between them and the bouts of pneumonia and other ailments. She also experienced immune-related issues including rashes, neuropathy, joint pain and more.
Early last year, after her car was rear-ended in January – and unbeknownst to her, an implant capsule was ruptured by the resulting pressure from her seatbelt – the severity of her symptoms worsened. Sayers described the months that followed as a “nightmare,” with burning that felt like bee stings in her chest and numbness down one entire side of her body, ringing in her ears and feeling like her internal organs were on fire.
“They all looked at me like I was crazy,” Sayers said of the majority of medical personnel she saw when seeking help.
“You feel like you’re going crazy.”
Desperate to find an experienced surgeon to remove her implants, including the capsules, Sayers remembers she was on the brink of losing all hope – “I was going to die,” she said, “my body was so bad” – when something told her to Google ‘Beverly Hills.’
After connecting with a surgeon there who specialized in explants, Sayers flew to California and had the US $18,000 surgery on April 25.
“When I woke up, all I remember, I had tears coming down my face: ‘I’m going to be OK,’” she said.
Sayers learned soon after that a MRSA-type infection, propionibacterium, had been behind many of her symptoms, “burning (her) from the inside.” She plans to send one of her implants for more conclusive testing of a black, mould-like film that covers it.
Sayers said three months after her explant, her symptoms had significantly subsided, and today, she feels “about 90 per cent” recovered – “Last year at this time, I was about 12 lbs lighter, my hair was falling out, I had skin falling off my freaking body,” she said.
A burning sensation still lingers under her ribs, and anxiety remains a daily ordeal, but Sayers is determined to continue a regimen of natural products that she’s found keeps her symptoms at bay.
“One day at a time for me,” she said. “Today’s a pretty good day.”
Wanting to share her experience, spread information and support other women, Sayers launched a blog, getarmystrong.com, in January. She invites any woman with questions to contact her at 604-802-2214.