My Journey with BII

I have debated writing this post for a few weeks. I've struggled with knowing what to say or how to say it and yet, I know if it wasn't for other brave women sharing their own experiences, I can only imagine how much longer I may have had to suffer in silence- struggling to understand what was wrong with me.

Good health is something that is easily taken for granted, for me, it’s not until my vibrant and strong body started to deteriorate that I realized how hard it is to struggle silently with an illness that’s unable to be diagnosed.

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For years I fought to accept the shape of my body. I grew to love running in college and completed several half marathons. I was strong, I had all the energy, drive and determination to accomplish anything I set my mind to. I worked 20+ hours a week, completed 10 hours of volunteer work a week and completed a Biochem degree (no easy feat) and somehow still found time to do things I loved and enjoyed. I was never a girl that enjoyed shopping and in my early 20’s I realized that was because of the frustration and disappointment I’d feel in the dressing room when nothing would fit my athletic figure. All my personal insecurities would rise to the surface and I’d walk out irritated, defeated and frustrated that I couldn’t FEEL beautiful and confident in my own skin. I couldn't personally accept my body for what it was- I only saw what I wished would make me FEEL more beautiful, balanced and complete.

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About 7 years ago I finally decided to do something about my figure. I went and consulted with a surgeon about getting breast implants. My main goal was simple- I wanted to be able to go shopping and feel like I could wear any shirt or dress I wanted. I wanted them to look 100% natural and to feel confident in my own skin. I remember being nervous and all the doubts that grew (shame) for even wanting to change my body but also afterwards I realized that I was able to actually FEEL good in the clothes I tried on and suddenly I actually enjoyed going shopping!

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Fast forward about 18 months and I clearly remember being in my friend's kitchen as she shared about having recently had her implants removed. She mentioned how they were making her sick and I remember thinking, "hmmm, that sucks, man, I really hope these mood swings, fatigue, etc. I've been experiencing aren't tied to my surgery..." Until that moment, I had contributed my lack of energy, focus, mood, fatigue and such to working long hours building my business and the stress that comes with daily life. Looking back, in my gut I knew I had just found my answer but wasn't ready to receive or accept it yet.

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I left that conversation and had a million more in my mind. Justifying why it wasn't my implants, the surgeon had assured me they were safe, you could drive a car over these things and they wouldn’t rupture or break and they don’t have any side effects. There was nothing to worry about, so I basically wrote it off and forgot about it.

Fast forward 5+ years later…

Over the course of the year in 2017 I noticed how my bad my memory had become, how I'd be taking someones pictures and then totally blank on their name. This had been going on for several months (maybe years), but I’d always contributed it to being overheated at a wedding or my blood sugar being low.. you know that typical wedding day fatigue. In fact, the more common it became the more I justified the cause. But I began to notice how when trying to communicate it was like I couldn't find the words to express what my brain wanted to say- it was SO frustrating and a battle trying to hide it, hoping no one would notice.

I then noticed that Fall how I would randomly drop things- like my fine motor skills were impaired. This caused enough concern I'd gone to see a neurologist, do an MRI and blood tests but everything tested normal. I felt like a crazy woman- for I knew how I felt struggling but on paper I was normal and healthy.

Over the years I'd worried that it was my thyroid as I was experiencing many symptoms that are synonymous to hypothyroidism, then I worried it was diabetes as both those diseases run in my family. Each time though tests proved negative yet my symptoms remained.

Night sweats, insomnia, brain fog, word formation, focus, drive, mood swings, depression, skin rashes, near debilitating fatigue, never feeling as if I could sleep or rest enough. I began to become anxious and easily overwhelmed, just the thought of running errands felt exhausting. My joints ached, I was sensitive to hot/cold changes, my feet and hands were always cold, my ears constantly rang, my hair started falling out and became exceptionally brittle and over time I would experience moments where my vision would go blurry or I was unable to focus on what I was trying to see. The skin rashes, alcohol sensitivities became worse and more frequent, I’d have random chest pains and overall feel like death but when my gut health began to decline and it felt with each month that passed a new food sensitivity would develop I KNEW something had to GIVE.

The more foods I restricted the more foods I became sensitive to. It started to feel as though I would never fully gain my health back no matter how hard I tried.

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January of 2018 when I saw another friend post on social about her explant surgery. I immediately remembered the conversation I’d had years before and in my gut knew- this time I was ready to accept the truth. I started reading stories of countless other women online- I wasn’t alone. A woman named Nicole, after walking her own journey with BII started sharing her journey on FB and created a group and it’s grown to over 70,000 women today with stories SO similar it’s freakish. At this point I felt like death. I looked in the mirror and felt I was aging SO rapidly! I also felt my strong and healthy body slipping away from me and it sucked.

Thanks to a FB flashback.    L to R:  2014, 2016, 2019

Thanks to a FB flashback.
L to R: 2014, 2016, 2019

I went with an entire legal pad filled with symptoms and side effects I was experiencing or had experienced over the past couple of years and the doctor scoffed at me. He encouraged me to see a gastrologist and then simply replace my implants as they weren't what was causing me to be ill.

The most frustrating part of this journey has been being nearly 100% confident in what was causing my sickness but having NO possible way to PROVE that's the connection other than to go forward with surgery and then see what happens.

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Through this journey, I became very aware of my dislike for change. Change is uncertain and disturbs my comfort zone. Even when armed with answers it was still a decision I resisted making. I look back and see how much MISERY, Suffering and pain I was willing to TOLERATE so I wouldn't have to risk discomfort and possible pain.

This Spring I decided enough was enough. I was tired of missing out on life and feeling as if I had to force myself to show up or be dragged from my bed, I was a skeleton of the person I once knew and it was time for SOMETHING NEW.

March 12th would be THE day.

Pre-Surgery Night

\\ I broke down in tears. I was afraid of the change ahead, fear crept in. What if nothing changed, what if this was a bad decision, will I be able to accept me in the mirror? Then the morning of March 12th I again broke into tears with Dr. Rudderman. Feeling silly for crying but feeling so many emotions and he was patient, kind and reassuring. They wheeled me back, I counted down and woke up a few pounds lighter and took a deep breath and like that- I awoke- drowsy from surgery but with the good news that everything went well and it was time to go home and recover!

Going into surgery, overwhelmed with emotions and feeling awful. Thankfully the last few minutes I’d have to experience THESE feelings and symptoms. Ahhh.. it’s all over my face!

Going into surgery, overwhelmed with emotions and feeling awful. Thankfully the last few minutes I’d have to experience THESE feelings and symptoms. Ahhh.. it’s all over my face!

Below is an image of the implants and the capsule. Thankfully mine weren’t ruptured and the capsules weren’t exceptionally discolored. The capsule is what your body builds around any foreign object as a barrier of protection. In the very first weeks after my initial surgery my body was building this layer of protection and then every day after that it was working to rid my body of the toxins that were being released from the implants. My body, like so many other women’s bodies was sensitive to these toxins and over a period of time it began fighting harder and harder to rid itself of toxins, causing the inflammation which lead to many of the symptoms and side effects I lived with daily.

If you have a queasy stomach- proceed with caution.

Implant_capsule_dr_rudderman-1-2.jpg

First week Post-Op

Almost immediately I saw a difference in my face. If I hadn’t taken the pictures below I wouldn’t believe it myself!

Left:  Pre-Surgery in the hospital bed  Right:  Post- Surgery in the car

Left: Pre-Surgery in the hospital bed
Right: Post- Surgery in the car

My pain was nearly non-existent post-surgery (I was amazed by this) and my energy SOARED!
Day 2/3- I was suppose to be sleeping and resting and for the first time in YEARS I literally didn't feel like sleeping! My fatigue seemed to vanish and my mind felt crystal sharp and clear. Ahhh what a relief, I was in awe of how incredible our bodies are- given the chance to HEAL. My body had clearly been fighting- screaming even at me for these years and once I listened it was able to begin to really heal.

Pre- Surgery:  Left  1 Day Post:  Right Same light, same time of day, same camera.

Pre- Surgery: Left
1 Day Post: Right
Same light, same time of day, same camera.


THE FIRST FEW DAYS FOLLOWING SURGERY

If my story resonates with you or someone you know- feel free to pass it along.

// I’m SO thankful for an incredibly supportive spouse who has stood by me, supported me and encouraged me to do what I believed would make me better.

‘// To my friends who have texted, called, stopped by or checked in on me. I’m forever grateful for your support and love!

// If you’ve been suffering from an auto-immune disease or the symptoms of that disease or any of the other 50+ symptoms of BII, know you’re not alone. Take a minute and join this FB community, it’s filled with resources and women with similar stories from around the world!

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It’s been 3 weeks and I haven’t looked back! I’ve been able to be active, be awake for more than 10 hours without a nap, wake feeling rested, eat and indulge without being in pain or having a sleepless night, be present in conversations and not fight to formulate my thoughts and words, an ability to remember simple things and tasks without writing them down… I’m not back to 100% but each day is a little more progress and I for that I’m forever grateful.

Tessa Swarthout