REAL LIFE

Mum’s warning – my breast implants gave me cancer

Very scary.
sisters
Me and my wonderful sister Leanne

All Stacey wanted was a confidence boost, but it could have killed her.

Here, Stacey Franks, 50, tells the story in her own words.

Waking up in the middle of the night, I felt a sharp pain in my left breast. ‘Ouch,’ I murmured.

Going to check it out in the mirror, I saw it had swollen to three times its normal size. This is bad, I thought.

Ten years earlier, at age 40, I’d saved up for breast implants after having my two children. Miserable with how I looked, and going through a divorce, I decided I needed a confidence boost.

After the surgery, I felt amazing. ‘You make me want to do it too!’ my friends gushed.

All this time, I’d never had a problem. Until now.

The next morning, in March this year, I headed straight to the doctor’s. ‘I think my implant might have ruptured,’ I said in a panic.

The doctor sent me for an ultrasound and, a week later, I sat down with a surgeon.

‘Have you been warned about implant-associated lymphoma… cancer?’ he asked. ‘Cancer?’ I repeated in shock. ‘No, never.’

When researching the risks of having implants, not once did I read about the possibility of the disease. I was immediately scheduled in for surgery to have the implants removed.

‘Your body is rejecting them,’ the surgeon explained. ‘It’s best you get rid of them now.’

Not wanting to have them under my skin for another second, I agreed.

implants
Textured implants like the ones I had (Credit: Getty)

Two days later, most of the silicon was removed, leaving behind a tiny bit so the muscle wasn’t damaged. Then some fluid from around the implant was sent away to be tested.

Back home, I was petrified that a decision I’d made a decade ago could ruin my life.

Soon, a doctor confirmed my worst fears. They had found some cancerous cells. It’s a rare type called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a cancer of the immune system. I’d need radiotherapy to make sure it didn’t spread.

Driving home after the appointment, I was furious. How could the breast surgeon not have warned me? I thought, feeling betrayed and disgusted.

If I’d known there was a chance the implants could give me cancer, I would never have had them.

When I arrived home, I sat my kids down. They were 14 and 11, and I didn’t want to scare them.

‘I’m having some treatment for cancer,’ I said gently. ‘I don’t feel sick at all and I’m going to be okay.’

That night, I hopped on the computer and did some investigating.

According to research, women with my brand of implants, Allergan’s textured Biocell, have a much higher chance of developing the type of cancer I had.

In Australia, 61 cancer cases had been linked to that same brand. It was a sickening bombshell.

My 50th birthday was looming and I had plans to visit New York City with my sister, Leanne.

Now, I called her and broke the news.

‘Those awful implants gave me cancer,’ I cried. ‘Oh Stace,’ she soothed. ‘You’re going to be okay.’

Because of the radiation, I couldn’t travel and had to cancel the trip. I started calling all my girlfriends who had breast implants, too.

I didn’t want anyone else to get the same shock I had. ‘You need to check yourselves,’ I warned. ‘There’s a chance they could give you cancer.’

Six weeks later, I had the rest of the implants removed. Then I attended regular radiotherapy sessions.

sisters
Me and my wonderful sister Leanne

Working as a nurse, I had to take three months off.

Through it all, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was in the dark for a decade. I was living with this poison in my body and I had no idea, I thought.

Luckily, I caught the cancer early before it spread. But my ‘confidence boost’ could’ve cost me my life.

Thankfully, after five months, I’m now officially cancer free.

I have mammograms, PET scans and ultrasounds every few months, to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.

The implant manufacturer, Allergan, agreed to pay $5000 for the removal surgery. But the implants had cost me $12,000, plus over $10,000 for the removal, so it barely scratched the surface.They also offered me free replacement implants, which I refused.

‘Why would I want to put those back in my body?’ I asked them.

Now, I want other women to know the danger before they rush into breast implant surgery. I worry for the young girls who travel overseas for cheaper operations, too. There should be a national register for women who have implants so cancer cases can be reported. And anyone with high-risk implants should be routinely checked.

In the 10 years I had my implants, I was never encouraged to have checks. Women deserve medical care long after their surgery. Do your research, know the risks and ask questions. It could save a life.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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