Hello, my name is Cathy Noble. I’m a breast implant veteran of 1984, a community health educator, and licensed massage therapist. For over two years I was an active forum member and moderator on a website for women’s health related to breast implants.
In 1984 medical devices had not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety. Nor since 1962 of the first breast implant. I remember being terrified at the thought of breast surgery but believed it was something I had to do to be acceptable in my marriage and in general. It was something I elected to do against my better judgment, knowing full well my body had an already compromised immune system. The chronic Epstein-Barr virus seemed to linger for years after an initial diagnosis of mononucleosis and related hepatitis in my teenage years. I married at the age of nineteen and was plagued by chronic sore throats and profound fatigue. It took years for the Epstein-Barr virus to make its way out of my system. Gratefully, my health experienced marked strength and recovery a few months after the birth of my third child in 1983.
By the year 2008 I had experienced two breast augmentations, implant ruptures, breast disfigurement due to improper removal of contractured implants, two breast implant removals, a breast lift, and fat grafting for reconstruction and enhancement in the breast area. During the first set of implants I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and told by the specialist the implants were the likely cause, or my body’s reaction to the presence of silicone.
During the two years as an active forum member, I had not only experienced the pain and financial loss due to this kind of surgery but read other’s stories of deep, real suffering. While the majority of women seem pleased with the breast enhancement experience, there is the minority who say it was the worst decision they ever made. Finding answers and solutions gave me a burning desire to help other women in their need for answers and information. This search is a continual process as more studies are being conducted, the most important being a more definitive long-term study of at least ten years. Other studies worth mentioning are those that have to do with the impact of body issues in cultures around the world and what impractical societal standards of beauty are doing to the inner well-being of girls and women. One relationship between women’s health and breast implants that’s been scientifically shown is a three-fold increase in the risk of suicide.
The purpose of this website is two-fold:
1) to inspire women worldwide to embrace their authentic selves and
2) to increase awareness and education about breast surgeries with a focus on cosmetic procedures.
It’s not intended to have all the answers or to pass judgment or shame about a woman’s choices regarding the appearance of her breasts. The goal is to ensure women have a broad range of resources in order to make the best possible decisions for their overall health. There is a bias on my part for encouraging to live naturally and electing to undergo less invasive surgery if surgery is decided on, but the dynamics of whether or not to have plastic surgery are not always that simple. Above all, it’s a website to help unify the global community in education where breast implants continue to be a preferred choice of cosmetic procedures. Hopefully this website will be considered a place of emotional safety, a place that strives to bring light to the fragile issue of body image and the sensitive topic of breast enhancement devices.
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I miss myself,
The days before puberty set in…
Up to that point I didn’t realize the impact body image would have on my life. I could put on a two-piece swimsuit to do what I loved most—swim like a mermaid—with no thought to what my body looked like. Swimming was my first love and passion (sometimes I would sneak into the pool in my backyard without my parents knowing). I swam under the pretense of being a water ballerina like Esther Williams, simply because I wanted to learn to swim like that.
Then I grew up, and as I grew up, certain people let me know I wasn’t growing up “normally.” Life inside my body wasn’t as fun anymore. My hips developed but not in sink with the rest of my body, as I was taught all too young.
(How strange the shift, because inside our bodies, we all pretty much look the same.)
This is the story about the development of a girl’s body image in typical America. This is my story and only one side of the story and my own interpretation of events. Telling a very personal account is not meant to vilify anyone but to point to a dangerous trend of how a woman’s worth and desirability is measured. Young girls and women are experiencing an identify crisis based solely on appearance, and it’s time to awaken our senses.
Viewer age discretion is advised.
My Story: Transcending a Disfigured Body Image
The Early Years
My childhood was fairly uneventful, healthy, and happy with the exception of my parent’s open conflicts which eventually led to divorce. There wasn’t always the best communication in our family which wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It naturally followed then that I hadn’t been properly taught about maturation. I don’t know how this subject is handled in other countries, but speaking from my experience, it’s pretty much glossed over in mine, at least in my day. I couldn’t figure out what was going on when in the fourth grade menses started. Somehow I eventually figured it out. In the fifth grade my breasts started to feel sore, I didn’t know what it was about and mentioned it to my mother; she explained and took me shopping for a “training bra.” It wasn’t a newsworthy event in my mind until I went to school the next day. It caused a buzz in the classroom among the girls. A few followed closely behind me in the hallway between classes and even pretended to run into me with their hand pressing against my back while mocking “oh sorry.” They were trying to determine if I was really wearing a bra, as explained to me later by a fellow classmate. I was shocked. Apparently being able to see a bra through my clothing was a really big deal to certain others, and apparently I was pretty naïve not knowing it was going to stir up so much attention. And it wasn’t coming from the boys.
The irony is I was one of the first among my classmates to need a bra and perhaps the last. My breasts didn’t develop beyond the fifth grade. I wore those *training bras twenty-four/seven and perhaps that deterred further growth. If I knew the answer I’d be rich and famous. My classmates could have nicknamed me “barely buds” but left me alone after the initial flurry of seeing me wear a bra.
*I wonder why the name training bra—does it really train the breasts on what they’re supposed to do? Down girls, down, no, more girls! The name itself implies there’s some kind of expectation, like women or their breasts have a choice in the matter.
The Teenage Years
In the seventh grade my family and I went on a train trip through Mexico. At one of the shops along the way I inquired about a poncho. A salesman took me into the back part of the store where I was separated from my parents. The wall was covered with shelves of ponchos. He selected one, and as he placed it over my head he pressed his hands over the top of my breasts and continued along my waist and hips. I felt shocked and confused and never shared the incident.
Shortly after, for what ever reason because I don’t remember having health issues, my mother took me to a female physician for a physical. I remember feeling cold and uncertain while sitting on the end of the examination table wearing nothing but a pair of panties waiting for the physician. When she entered the room she looked at my chest and remarks “you’re sure more flat-chested than most girls your age.” I was only thirteen. Again I felt confused and embarrassed, and started to fear that there was something really wrong with me.
My parent’s divorce was finalized that year, and my father had visitation rights every other weekend. On one such weekend I had been up the night with food poisoning and was doubled up in bed, writhing in pain, when my mother entered the room. She sat on the edge of the bed and said my father didn’t believe I was too sick to see him and only cared enough to ask, “Have her breasts grown any lately?” At that split moment I allowed something about trust to die in me.
At the end of eighth grade I began working as a cook and dishwasher on a fishing barge. The eighth and ninth grades were good years. It was wonderful not to have parents fighting in the home anymore. I was actually grateful they divorced in order to have peace. I was always concerned for my mother’s wellbeing and tried very conscientiously to make life less stressful for her.
One day I was reading the Old Testament and came across a verse in the Song of Solomon. I ran straight way to my oldest sister, because like me, she was a flat-chested young woman. It reads:
“We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts; what shall we do for
our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for? “
– Song of Solomon 8:8
My mind’s translation: A woman won’t be desirable to a man without enough breast.
“What does it mean sister? Are we doomed?” From that moment on I felt panic. If it’s in the scriptures, it must be not only true but important. However, thereafter I had mixed feelings about the Song of Solomon.
My work on the fishing barge continued well into the tenth grade until sickness struck. I became chronically ill with strep throat and mononucleosis. Large lymph nodes traversed along the upper back and up the sides of the neck. Just the feel of them stirred up anxiety. My tonsils were removed. I also developed Osgood Slaughter in both my knees which made it was very painful to walk. My mother thought I was pretending just to get attention but eventually took me to see a doctor who diagnosed it. I clocked into work right after school, got home from work at midnight, then would stay up half the night doing homework during the school year. I was a straight A student but started falling asleep in class. The lifestyle was just too much a strain on my body, and I had to quit my job. I loved my job. I prided myself in not having to ask my mother for things like clothes and was able to save money toward college tuition. It was too much strain on my liver as well because it eventually became inflamed and tested positive for hepatitis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The last year and a half of high school was attained through home study courses, so I was able to graduate on schedule.
After gaining a degree of strength, my first social outing was a regional church activity for young adults. It was there I met my future husband, and we married a year later. I was nineteen.
Marriage and Children
My immune system was still struggling to kick in and was continually plagued by sore throats and fatigue. As a result of our religious beliefs, my husband and I didn’t use birth control and were expecting our first child within a couple of months. We were blessed with a wonderful daughter. It was amazing to me that the $700 I had left from my savings toward college tuition was the exact amount of my maternity bill. We had no health insurance and were still able to have our first child without acquiring any debt. I became pregnant again shortly after and miscarried. During this time my physical body was still growing, gaining both an inch in height and shoe size. It was not only difficult for me but a strain on my husband as to why I had limited physical vitality. An answer came in 1990 when a doctor shed light on a condition known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome oftimes persistent in people with a previous case of mononucleosis. Those affected can carry symptoms for years, long after they test negative for the Epstein-Barr virus. It helped explain why my health felt like it was dragging.
Almost two years from the day our daughter was born we were blessed with a son. He was hospitalized at only five days old for fear of meningitis. My breast milk dried up since I couldn’t feed him, but after his release in ten days I persisted successfully with the breastfeeding and was able to nurse for a full year. My other babies adjusted differently to breastfeeding, and for the most part nursing was a frustrating experience, furthering an ambivalent feeling toward my breasts. After my son was born I had two more miscarriages then was blessed with another daughter. My body was actually starting to feel some strength and relief. I was extremely anxious of becoming over weight and wanted to lose ten pounds so took the prescribed weight loss drug Fen-phen. I lost the desired weight within three months but started having severe dizziness when I went from a sitting to standing position. I immediately stopped taking the drug but had also reached my weight loss goal. The sad thing was I wasn’t even overweight but perceived I was. I weighed 140 pounds at 5’9” and easily dropped to 130 pounds on the weight loss drug which was banned in 1997.
By age twenty-seven I had three children. One day my husband Mark came home from work and told me about a plastic surgeon who was highly skilled at increasing a woman’s breast size. He gave me the surgeon’s name and suggested I call and make an appointment. I was shocked. This suggestion, which I took as a request, seemed to come out of the blue and which I took as a clue that he wasn’t pleased with my body after all. Up to that point we had never discussed my breasts in our marriage so I was assured they weren’t a hot topic for him. Now the fear I had before marriage on this subject in my mind was coming to fruition. Maybe he wasn’t serious when he made the comment, but I took it very personal. My belief was that I was doomed to need this procedure, and it was required of me in order to be a desirable wife.
Driven by shame and regardless of my fears of the unknown, I made that appointment, sweated bullets while the surgeon took photos of my breasts, and planned for surgery. The surgeon’s diagnosis was hypoplasia or the lack of breast development. Health insurance wouldn’t pay for a cosmetic procedure even though I was labeled with a deformity. The baby sitter dropped me off at same day surgery. Under conscious sedation I was given multiple injections of local anesthesia along the outer sides of my chest wall. Occasionally I would winch as my tissue was being separated from the muscles to make space or a pocket for the prosthesis, at which time they would inject more anesthesia. I could feel every one of those injections. Since I was awake during the procedure, conversations of the health team could be heard. They placed the first set of implants, and I heard a male voice say they weren’t large enough. They exchanged that set, and I heard a male voice say, “Wow, those look great.”
The young woman hired to help with the children also helped with my recovery. No temporary drains had been inserted after surgery to collect blood and fluid, and my chest turned black and purple. I asked my husband if he liked my new breasts. Of course it was too early to tell the outcome, and they looked ghastly at the time. He answered nothing. The year was 1984. We didn’t discuss my new breasts or the surgery, ever. I wanted to know what he was thinking. He knew nothing of my surgical experience and never asked. I felt so alone.
About six months after breast augmentation I started experiencing different health issues. Up to that point I had physically worked out with faithful determination and had become an avid runner. I enjoyed my new sense of physical freedom. I could jog without stopping or getting fatigue. This was the best I had felt since ninth grade, so it was exhilarating and a miracle for me. Sadly, it didn’t last. I gradually developed chronic inflammation in both hips as well as wrists. A physical therapist told me I had to stop running. He had no idea what he was asking of me. I had accomplished phenomenal progress in my health and wellbeing. But I had no choice; I had to give up the jogging. Close to the end of 1985 I had a horrific anxiety attack and then a series of panic attacks. I couldn’t even walk out to the mailbox in front of the house. My husband set up an appointment for me to see a psychiatrist who turned out to be a very kind professional and did what he could to help. Antidepressants were prescribed but offered little relief. We had to get rid of our pet cat—I couldn’t handle the stress. Those were the darkest days of my life. Eventually I was able to cope with some level of functionality. I began to wonder if there was a connection between the health issues and the breast implants.
My fourth and last child was born in 1988, a daughter, and she was a jewel. I had stopped taking the antidepressant while pregnant, not wanting to risk her health. I knew she was my last child; I no longer had confidence in my strength. A tubal ligation was scheduled right after her birth.
Separation and Divorce
My husband and I were just a few years short of being empty nesters. Again, out of blue one day, while strolling outside a shopping area he just blurted out “all our daughters have the development of grown women but you have the development of a nine year old. The curse has been removed.” I was stunned. All these years of marriage and now I finally knew what he was thinking, that my breasts were a curse. By 2002 the breast implants had hardened due to severe capsular contracture or scar tissue wrapping around the implant. They were painful and unsightly. People who hugged me felt like they were hugging rocks. I consulted with a highly recommended plastic surgeon who said they needed to be removed and replaced. I didn’t want them replaced plus this was an out-of-pocket expense (however, unknown to me at the time, health insurance would have covered the removal because of the complication). The surgeon made the judgment call that I’d have no breasts and wouldn’t be happy without replacement. He also looked me in the eye and told me I had never had breasts. Maybe he felt he was being objective, but it felt like an arrogant insult. I had successfully nursed a child. Breasts also have nipples which functioned not only to nurture and sustain the life of my children but enhance the joy in the relationship with my husband.
The trauma of having to go through another breast procedure was exacerbated by the fact I was also in the throes of separation and divorce. My husband had declared I was too high maintenance, we didn’t have anything in common, that he enjoyed doing cool things like hiking, riding his bike etc, I was the opposite, and that I’d never get well. He added that he couldn’t ask for a better person but needed a better fit. Didn’t he remember I used to enjoy running up until the rheumatoid arthritis likely caused by the implants? Wasn’t it his suggestion I get implants? Didn’t he remember I could ride my bike until chronic inflammation in both wrists prevented it? Didn’t he remember we used to sing together until I was paralyzed by chronic panic attacks, coincidentally, or was it, shortly after receiving breast implants? I had once enjoyed physical activity too but could still hike and enjoyed it. I used to, I could, we used to…it was too late. Soon after he remarked, “You’ll be able to remarry. You’re pretty enough.”
The reality and financial consequences had to be faced. The breast implants had to be removed and replaced. I agreed at the time with my plastic surgeon’s evaluation and remember feeling shame after his assessment of my breasts.
My oldest daughter was there to help with recovery. Up to that point no one knew I had breast implants except my husband and doctor. A couple of days after surgery, while home alone, I experienced excruciating pain in my right calve so that I couldn’t put any weight on it. During surgery my calves didn’t have on a compression stocking which is a common practice today. It helps the legs maintain circulation. The formation of a blood clot is always one of the risks of surgery.
At the time of surgeon selection I didn’t have enough knowledge to chose a more qualified surgeon for the first phase of this procedure–explantation. He was not a microsurgeon. What I now know is that to remove implants that are densely enveloped with scar tissue, the surgeon must microscopically and painstakingly separate the scar tissue from the patient’s own tissue. It didn’t happen that way, and one can imagine the result. My natural breasts had even less tissue after the surgery. The surgeon himself seemed shocked during my post-op appointment to see how paper thin my skin was. There were folds in the new implants that could be seen poking through my skin. He wanted to redo the surgery right away, this time putting the implants under the pectoral muscle. He’s suggestion was incredulous to me.
I was distraught and through tears shared the experience of my damaged breasts with my soon to be ex-husband. His comment was, “Don’t worry, somebody will have you. He’ll have to be blind.” I became upset, and he angrily said he was just joking, couldn’t I take a joke. In retrospect I don’t believe he meant any harm. He just didn’t know how to react, and what made me think that bringing it up and wanting comfort would work in that way. Later he also commented that I should have a professional photographer take a photo of my back because it was perfect. My interpretation: “You’re so perfect, except for your boobs.” Maybe he was trying to give me a genuine compliment? It’s all about communication sometimes!
Each time a woman opts to be reimplanted, the new implants have to be larger than the ones before. The reason being is that implants stretch out the skin. The only way to remedy that situation is to have a breast lift. Had I known about that option, I would have chosen it. It didn’t take long for these second set of implants to have another complication besides the visible rippling; they started to bottom out. They had to be removed, and this time there was no way I was going to replace them. I desperately searched online for answers. That’s when I came across a forum for women who wanted their breast implants removed. It answered all my questions and gave hope for solutions. In 2008 the implants were microscopically removed by a surgeon out-of-state using the en bloc method; I also agreed to fat grafting in an effort to help remedy lost tissue from the first explant. In one operation the skilled surgeon did three procedures—breast explant, fat grating, and an anchor breast lift. My sister took time out of her busy schedule to help with recovery. Compression boots were used this time during surgery. The after effect of general anesthesia triggered an awful reaction in my body, causing twelve solid hours of vomiting during post-op recovery. Another side effect discovered down the road was the surgery had jolted me into menopause.
The scars were not pretty including a couple of keloidal scars. This wasn’t the fault of the surgeon. Damaged breast tissue from the previous surgery and implants had compromised the condition of the skin.
The breast implant phase was behind me, or so I thought. I was quite content with my quarter pounders versus chuck roast. My boyfriend at the time reassuringly said “you could burn your breasts off and I’d still love you.” It was a relief to have those devices out of my body. There was yet another complication with the last procedure, however. The transferred autologous fat didn’t “take” in the left breast, and the surgeon had me return for a touch up revision.
All surgeries combined cost over $20,000 out-of-pocket. This didn’t include the cost of traveling out of state twice for two people and paying for assistance after surgery. That’s money I could have put away for retirement not to mention what it cost in terms of my health. And here’s a buyer beware—a woman may be married at the time of surgery with means to pay for breast enlargement, but will she have the means to pay for corrective surgery down the road?
In time I got the courage to ask my father about the remark he made to my mother when I was a young teenager. I also wanted to check the validity of my mother’s story. He simply responded, “What’s wrong with that? I wanted you to develop normally.”
Baby Boomer and Beyond Years
I realize now what I miss about my early years before puberty set in was an inherent acceptance of self. There were no concerns about being good enough. I could put on a two-piece swimsuit without fear of judgment because I had never experienced it. Each of us is born with an innate ability to feel joy, have laughter, and to love and accept others without concern for appearance or possessions. As far as happiness ever after, I thought once the implants were out of my body, problems related to them would be over. It’s not been that easy. Detoxing the body is a process plus our bodies have their own response to silicone.
I was active for over two years on a forum offering support for women. It became clear that flat-chested women are one of the last groups to come out of the social closet in terms of being able to reveal their true selves. It was a blessing to be flat chested in the 1920s Era to prove one was sophisticated and trendy. It’s all about the cultural preferences of the day.
I opt now for ultrasounds instead of mammograms. I simply don’t want my breasts traumatized any further. I also drink a bioavailable form of hyaluronic acid and collagen to help reverse damage to the breast area, including scars and keloids. It’s difficult to exercise due to increased vascular pressure in the head and extremities. My opinion is that these symptoms may still be traces of silicone toxicity. I’ve also been diagnosed with pulsatile tinnitus and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I may need one more surgical procedure to remove silicone infused lymph nodes in the axillary area. But I can choose to be at peace with a spirit of gratitude for each day. I can choose to trust that all things work out for my good.
There isn’t anything wrong with a woman wanting full breasts. What’s potentially harmful are the reasons behind it. A friend of mine said her eleven-year old daughter wants breast implants, now, at age eleven. Where’s this coming from? As mentioned before, I was an active member of a breast implant awareness forum for over two years. One woman said she got implants because her mother told her she looked like an African lady who had fed loads of children. In addition, her mother later remarked, “Oh, I’m going to really make you sick now…do you know the average UK woman has a 36C bra size?” And contrary to popular belief, men anonymously mentioned on the forum by their wives or partners had amazing acceptance of women with their natural body type. In some instances they begged their wives not to go ahead with the procedure because they were genuinely concerned for their health. These men go in the hall of fame as heroes in my hero book. In some cases, men were fearful their wife would leave them for another or have an affair after breast enlargement surgery.
The plastic surgeon who performed my first breast revision said he had saved marriages by doing breast augmentations. Maybe he really believes that but how shallow. Nothing more than Hollywood life illustrates such stunning, perfect bodies as society defines. Do their marriages last any longer than the average? Has the divorce rate decreased as breast augmentation rates increase?
I take full responsibility for choices made in regards to a poor body image. As one woman described herself on a blog at pshychcentral.com, “Some days I fully accept myself. Others days I’m drowning in self-doubt. I’m working on it. And I’m okay with that.” Deep within I know what matters most and transcending what doesn’t. And I know there’s no set price for my worth, for it’s far above rubies.