I’ve followed the news stories about the faulty PIP breast implants with something of a personal interest.
After I was diagnosed with breast cancer 5½ years ago, I had first a lumpectomy (WLE); then when the cancer was found to be diffuse and more widespread, a mastectomy six weeks later.
The surgeon was very concerned that I opted for a mastectomy, rather than a further series of lumpectomies. After I had told him my decision, he came out and took my husband and me back into his consulting room again, to make sure that was really what I wanted. When we asked him why he was so concerned, he said he was aware of men who divorced their wives after mastectomies. Eventually he was reassured that I did know what I was doing, and it was a decision we both agreed on.
Before the mastectomy, I was offered breast reconstruction on the NHS. There were three options: silicone implants which would involve a series of operations; and two different sorts of reconstruction using flaps of tissue from elsewhere in the body, both of which would involve long operations.
The lumpectomy was the first time I had been in hospital since the birth of my children. It taught me that I didn’t cope well with surgery. Anaesthetic made me sick, and I was bruised for some time afterwards. That made a decision against the major ‘flap’ operations easy. I researched the implant option, and discovered they could rupture and leak gel into the body; that they had a limited life, so I would probably have to have them ‘renewed’; and the implants might also conceal a recurrence of the cancer. So I decided against that too. Nevertheless, every time I’ve been back to the hospital for my regular check-ups, I’ve been asked about reconstruction again. Some of the surgeons really don’t understand why I don’t mind having only one breast. Actually, I was much more concerned about the possibility of chemotherapy (which, thankfully, I didn’t need) and the loss of hair, which I thought would be much more difficult to disguise.
I didn’t like the experience of surgery, but it was necessary for my health. I find it really difficult to understand how anyone would undergo surgery voluntarily for cosmetic purposes, especially when (as with breast implants) the operation may have to be repeated.
Perhaps it’s my age! Now I’m in my sixties, I don’t feel I have to try to compete any more with the young and glamorous. But then I never did. I’ve never felt defined by what I looked like, and I find it really hard to understand those who do, especially those who spend out large sums of money and undergo surgery in order to make themselves look ‘better’.
So when I hear the demands for the NHS to replace the faulty PIP implants, I have mixed feelings. I can sympathise with those who had them inserted after surgery for cancer; I can understand it may be necessary for women who were younger than me when their cancer was diagnosed. But I really struggle to have sympathy with those who had them for cosmetic purposes, especially when the NHS is so short of money, and there are many more worthy demands on its funds.