Delo Fercho was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.
“And what was really crazy about that is because everybody in my family who had breast cancer had died,” said Fercho.
Fercho, who had a double mastectomy as part of her treatment, decided to get breast implants.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation is the most popular surgery in the United State with more than 300,000 procedures done in 2018.
“Because, just like from what I've heard, that's how you feel like a woman again,” Fercho said about her decision.
Fercho had the surgeries, recovered without any problems and threw herself headfirst into new hobbies.
“I have a motorcycle and so I'd ride that to CrossFit. It felt really good to get off that, you know, like I'm all sporty and stuff, even with my implants,” said Fercho."
She got a tattoo, a pink cancer ribbon with the phrase ‘thriving’ written on her forearm.
“It made me feel like I had control of my life, because I got diagnosed at 50 years old, so I figured it's time,” said Fercho.
Her favorite new hobby, by far, was rowing with Pink Phoenix a Portland dragon boat team made up of cancer survivors.
“I felt that I had come home to something like, like this was, this was going to be my life,” said Fercho.
Then earlier this year she started feeling pain in her legs and neck, she had brain fog and couldn’t swallow.
“Every time I tried to swallow it felt like my throat was going to close up and I felt like I was going to die,” said Fercho.
Her doctors and specialists couldn’t find the cause, her pain became worse and she was sidelined from all her new activities.
“I'm walking by and seeing my paddle and I can't use it, like, what has my life become? I woke up one night and I told Randy if this is going to be my life, I don't want it," said Fercho. "I actually said that to him. If this is going to be my life, then I don't want it anymore. That's how bad it was.”
Fercho started researching her symptoms and learned about breast implant illness or BII.
Thousands of women have complained to the FDA about chronic pain and autoimmune issues they say are caused by their implants.
According to the FDA’s website, Systemtic Symptoms or Breast Implant Illness is described as:
Symptoms such as fatigue, memory loss, rash, "brain fog," and joint pain may be associated with breast implants. Some patients may use the term "breast implant illness" (BII) to describe these symptoms. Researchers are investigating these symptoms to better understand their origins. These symptoms and what causes them are poorly understood. In some cases, the removal of breast implants without replacement is reported to reverse symptoms of breast implant illness.
Fercho found a Facebook group with more than 90,000 women experiencing similar autoimmune issues with their breast implants.
“I read that once they got, they call it explanting, once they got [their implants removed] that their symptoms improved, if not immediately, [then] within a few months afterward their symptoms were gone,” said Fercho.
Explanting is another way to describe implant removal surgery.
“There are a number of really nonspecific symptoms that can go along with breast implant illness, memory issues, kind of brain fog, neurologic issues, nerve-related pain, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue,” said Doctor Julianne Hansen, Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and OHSU.
Dr. Hansen said more research is needed on BII but some women feel their only option is to get their implants removed.
“When women have tried everything and they’re desperate, of course, I think plastic surgeons should be open to the possibility that their implants may be implicated. So, for me personally as a plastic surgeon, I will always work with those patients, counsel them appropriately, and be willing to take their implants and the capsules out if that’s what we decide to do,” said Dr. Hansen.
Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows nearly 28,000 women had their implants removed last year, a 38% increase compared to ten years ago.
That’s what Fercho decided to do this past summer, our interview was two weeks after her explant surgery.
“As a matter of fact, I feel better having them gone. Cause then I feel like I'm me and I don't have to be ashamed of being me.”
A month later, Fercho was back at dragon boat practice.
“I’m feeling so much better. I’m exercising. I’m back on the boat. Being out and back on the team has breathed life into me again,” said Fercho.