Happy Life

#happylife: Implants could cause more cancer for breast cancer survivors

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. - The reality that her cancer could come back has been the hardest thing about being a survivor for Valerie Stichweh.

"I have a young daughter. My husband and I do and every time she makes another step in her life, it's a huge, big deal cause I'm here to see it," the Spokane Valley mom said. 

Whatever she has to do to stay healthy, she'll do for her family. 

Stichweh's post-cancer battle has included chemotherapy, radiation, a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery -- which is common among survivors, with 60 percent opting for surgery. 

For Stichweh, the decision to get breast implants was an incredibly personal one -- a chance to feel some normalcy once again after having her world turned upside down following her diagnosis at age 39.

It was also painful. For months, she had to live with painful tissue expanders. A tool that doctors attach to some survivor's rib cages to create room for the implants. After the tissue expanders, came multiple surgeries.

This summer, Stichweh finally started to feel like she had healed. 

Imagine her shock finding out on a Facebook post that the very implants she received to help her try to feel normal again, could potentially be killing her.

In July, the Food and Drug Administration recommended a company called Allergan voluntarily recall certain textured breast implants and tissue expanders.

The recall was issued because the implants were linked to causing a certain kind of immune cancer; breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. The company agreed, but it took another month for Stichwah to ever hear from Allergan.

That really frustrated her. 

"If there was any question of damage to a woman, I mean if you have your car recalled or food recalled, you know right away," Stichwah said. 

By the time she received a letter in the mail, Stichwah had already made steps to get the implants removed, but she was shocked by the resistance she was getting. The FDA recommended women only need to remove them if they have symptoms of the cancer.

"I would ask them, 'If it were in their body, would you want them out? If there was something in your body causing cancer, would you want them out?'" Stichwah said.

So far, there have been 573 cases of this cancer. Of those, 481 had Allergan breast implants at the time of diagnosis.

"They are saying that it's rare but for me – I've already been in the rare category for my age," said Stichwah. 

Stichwah has a surgery date set for November, but it looks like she will be paying for most of it out of pocket. Currently, Allergan will only pay for the implant switch. For things like the surgery itself and anesthesia, she will foot the bill.

She will do whatever it takes to keep seeing the smiling faces of her husband and daughter. 

"That's the most important thing and my fight every day. If I can be here to be with my family and have more time, that's what matters to me," Stichwah said. 

To learn more about the Allergan recall, click here. 



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