At the beginning of 2008 I was a thirty-one-year-old bartender going through my third (that’s right, third) divorce. I was struggling in my career as a Realtor during one of the biggest market crashes in recent history, and since that was going somewhat miserably, I fell back on what I had been doing for over ten years and knew how to do well: slingin’ beers and entertaining regulars at the local brewery. With my dazzling personality and my lightning fast quick wit, I was a natural.
Faced with the reality of life’s bleak outlook, I decided I should celebrate my new singlehood with a pair of perky, round tatas that I absolutely could not afford. I had nursed a couple babies, gone through multiple weight fluctuations, and my titties were a mess. Nobody wanted to see a bartender with un-fun fun bags. And since bartending was going to be my livelihood for the unforeseeable future, a boob job seemed like the perfect investment for a broke, soon-to-be single mom. (I’m sure I could delve even deeper into the psychological reasons for wanting a boob job- my broken childhood, “daddy issues”, societal expectations, etc. But for now let’s keep it simple.)
In high school, I had been blessed with beautiful B-cup breasts. I remember comparing bra sizes with girlfriends one night at a sleepover, and my flat-chested friend Heidi swore she too was a B-cup. I demanded to see proof. Sighing and rolling her eyes, she unsnapped her bra and slid it out from under her t-shirt, tossing it to me defiantly. I unrolled the little tag to reveal the words “Absolutely A”. We exploded in laughter. Even as teenagers, we knew that a certain level of our worth was based on the cup size of those training bras. (Why are they called training bras? What exactly were they training for? Or, more accurately, what were they training us for?)
I knew I was lucky (#blessed) to have blossomed into my B-sized bosom. Most Filipinas are quite flat-chested, and I am after all, half Filipino. I guess I owed my above-average cuppage to my mom’s side of the genetic equation. Still, by the time I was in my thirties, my jibbly bits had seen their fair share of boobie battles. When I nursed, I ballooned to a DD. When I quit nursing and lost weight, they shriveled to Barely Bs. They hung like sad fruit roll-ups from my chest.
I began to loathe them. I didn’t want them to be touched. I referred to them as “Puddle Boobs”. And there were only so many secrets Victoria’s Secret could keep for me. I was being held up by wire, padding, and gel inserts. I hated the feel of underwire, how it would dig into my flesh and leave marks. I wore a water bra- a contraption filled with mini sacs of liquid to emulate the look of implants. Remember that scene in “Beaches”? I tried everything for my over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders. After years of dealing with my mammary maladies, I finally made an appointment with a plastic surgeon.
The procedure I ended up having cost $6500, which I paid for by maxing out a couple credit cards that I would later file under my post-divorce bankruptcy. My boobs were doomed from the get-go. I also ended up three separate times going under the knife. AND the surgeon explained that the life expectancy of the implants was ten years, after which I’d have to replace them. In my over eagerness I didn’t care; I would cross that bridge in ten years. In the NOW, I just wanted them titties, so I charged my credit cards and scheduled the surgery.
First, I had a lift to tighten the sagging skin on the underside of my breasts and lift my nipples from their downward droop. After six weeks of recovery, I then had the implants placed- generous 400 ccs of Mentor Silicone- under my pectoral muscles. Shortly after implantation, my left breast started leaking blood and I had to go back to the surgeon to have a hematoma drained. But once I finally recovered from all that, I was a new woman with my Bionic Breasts! Oh, the places I (and my boobies) would go!
I started running a couple months after getting my implants. Prior, I had felt that my sad, saggy bits would be too much for a sports bra to support; also, I had no desire to run. Once I started though, I was hooked and I’ve been a runner ever since. Years before my boob job, I had dated a guy who told me that my breasts in a sports bra looked like a loaf of bread. Picture that- one continuous mound of soft flesh, no distinct separation. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, much as I love me a loaf of Great Harvest Honey Wheat. I wonder now the correlation between my new cleavage, even in unflattering sports bras, and my love of fitness and running. Once, during a Ragnar Relay race, a friend paced me on my last seven-mile run. He glanced over toward my bouncing bosom and proclaimed: “I never noticed how big your…calves are.” Mmmhmm. I bet.
The boobs worked their magic, making me feel better, sexier, and more confident. I enjoyed wearing a bunch of new styles of clothes I couldn’t before: tube tops, halter tops, backless, even braless! I even snagged a new husband! (In his defense, he says he didn’t fall for me for my boobs. Nor was it my credit score. But in any case, the D-cups certainly helped him overlook what a mess my credit-worthiness was when we met in the summer of 2009 to see if he could qualify me for a teeny tiny mortgage. He couldn’t.) But truth be told, I still didn’t love my breasts. There were scars from the lift. And while the placement of the implants created a robust bust on the topside, the bottoms of my breasts still sagged, especially when I leaned over. For all intents and purposes, they were and would always be Franken-boobies.
When I had my last son in June of 2012, I tried nursing him but because of the lift, my milk ducts had been severed and I was unable to. I felt horrible and guilty that I couldn’t use my breasts for their intended purpose of feeding my child. I was engorged and it felt like my chest was on fire. It was the first time I felt big regret about my boob job. On top of all that, my baby was jaundiced and had to be strapped into a bilirubin bed for hours at a time. It was a bit traumatic the first couple weeks with the newest addition.
In the summer of 2017, a friend and fellow runner shared in a private Facebook group her decision to have her breast implants removed. She cited a website and a condition called Breast Implant Illness. This piqued my curiosity and I started doing my own research, as I had begun to experience a few unexplained symptoms over the previous year. In September, I consulted with a plastic surgeon and brought up BII. I could tell immediately that he thought I was stupid and/or crazy. My implants, he told me, could theoretically last my lifetime. I was shocked to hear this since I had known since I got them that their “shelf life” was ten years.
I left his office feeling doubtful and dumb. Maybe my mysterious ailments could be attributed to something else. Maybe I was just dealing with age-related issues. I tucked away the papers his nurse had given me and told myself it was all in my head. The months ticked by, and I began to notice symptoms more and more, and remembered issues I had had before and wondered why, as an otherwise healthy woman, they weren’t subsiding. Specifically, I had:
- Ringing ears
- Brain fog (basically feeling hungover ALL. THE. TIME. And I wasn’t actually hungover)
- Extreme fatigue
- Breast pain (and a small lump that had sent me to the doctor for a mammogram)
- Chest pains/shortness of breath
- Weird skin issues
- Low libido (like, embarrassingly low)
Over the course of 2016-2018, I had a hearing test, blood work, and even a few pregnancy tests to try to determine what the hell was wrong with me. I thought I might have early onset menopause; maybe a thyroid or Vitamin D deficiency. Every test came back normal (and pregnancy tests negative, thank God). I exercised and ate right, yet I could never lose weight and I was exhausted every day. In my runner’s mind, I was strong and should be able to do whatever I wanted to do; but more and more it became a huge struggle.
In June of this year I started training for a Half Ironman. On two separate occasions, I went for a short swim and came out of the water shaking, nauseous, and dizzy as hell. I was scared to drive the winding canyon home from the lake. How in the world would I be able to swim three times that distance, bike fifty-six miles, and run a half marathon if I felt that sick from a short swim? After the second miserable swim I told my husband it was time to get the toxic titties out.
I consulted with a different plastic surgeon, one who didn’t discount the possibility of my implants making me sick. I looked at my calendar, trying to determine a time that wasn’t full of major life events. We had a family vacation to Maui scheduled for September and a grandson due in October, so I decided the sooner the better and scheduled my explant for Friday the 13th of July.
This was not a decision made lightly or blindly; it was well-researched, expensive and inconvenient. It’s requiring me to miss out on quite a few races I had signed up for (including my triathlon), time off work and exercising, and valuable summer fun time with my family. But I don’t regret it one bit. My eyes were brighter and significantly less puffy just hours after my procedure. The day after surgery I took a picture of my face and was shocked to see the obvious contrast. The weird cheek acne and dryness around my chin and neck literally was gone. I told my husband I felt like a Disney Princess (although that could have been the Lortab talking).
I am currently just over two weeks post-op and excited for more improvements. I had draining tubes in for 10 *miserable* days but once they and my stitches were out, I felt much better. I’m not cleared to run or exercise just yet but when I am, I’m eagerly looking forward to feeling lighter and breathing better. I’m going for my Half Ironman next year.
I’ve had MANY women (and some men) ask me about my experience. I would tell anyone with implants, both saline and silicone, to research breast implant illness. It seems like more and more women are going through some sort of battle with theirs; some severely sick. I’m glad I didn’t get to that point, but I believe it only would have been a matter of time. I recently watched the Netflix documentary “The Bleeding Edge,” and I can definitely understand some of the issues addressed in it.
I don’t think I could have been talked out of my decision to get implants ten and a half years ago (as much as I wish I could; it would have saved me A LOT of money). But I would certainly caution other women against it. It kind of horrifies me to think I was carrying heavy, toxic, unnatural bags so close to many vital organs for so long. Now I’m on the lighter side and will happily embrace my itty bitties.