I am Raylene Hollrah, a 2-time cancer survivor by the age of 40. Here is my story.
In March 2013, I was living a wonderful life. I was the mother of a beautiful three- year-old little girl named Allyson. I was a loving wife, a successful business owner, and I was heavily involved in my community. I had no idea my life as I knew it was about to drastically change.
I was at an appointment to start the fertility process again for another child, when my OB/GYN suggested doing a clinical breast exam. My doctor felt a lump during the exam and ordered a mammogram immediately, followed by ultrasound. Then a breast surgeon did a biopsy. When I saw the look in my surgeon’s eye and her demeanor changed, I knew that I had been dealt the card of breast cancer.
I was 33-years-old and no family history of cancer. On April 20, 2007 I chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, followed by a summer full of chemo. I lost all my hair, I lost my chest, but I never lost faith. My oncology group was incredible and my medical team was amazing. They were there to take care of me physically and mentally. My 3-year old daughter used to tell me, “Mommy, please take off your hair and show everybody your beautiful bald head.” My amazing husband knew just what to tell me and has been an inspiration ever since. He took one look at my chest and said, “The only thing I see missing … is cancer.”
Reconstruction was constantly on my mind — I was 34- years-old and I had lost my female identity. I went to 3 plastic surgeons trying to find answers, trying to find out if I wanted to move forward and what my options were. All 3 doctors agreed that implants would be the way to go. I chose Allergan cohesive silicone implants, I was also part of a study to follow patients that received those implants for 3 years. In 2008 I started my reconstruction journey.
I had been doing everything to keep cancer away, I didn’t realize my next decision would lead to my next diagnosis.
The next several years went smoothly. Jayson and I welcomed Ryan, our next child, into our lives. Ryan had lost his mother to cancer when he was 5 and around age 12 was informed that his step-father had cancer as well. He had been moved into foster care, but we officially became guardians in 2012.
Life stayed normal for a while, but one day I noticed that one of my implants was slightly swollen. As the days went by, it became exponentially worse. My chest tripled in size in 4 days. After a CT scan at my local hospital I was advised to go to my plastic surgeon’s office immediately. After testing and draining, he assured me that I did not have cancer but suggested that my right implant needed to be removed and replaced.
On my 40th birthday I underwent an implant exchange. My plastic surgeon told me while in surgery he have a pathologist check for breast cancer and a very rare lymphoma. I wasn’t worried since the previous test had said I was fine.
On June 21st, 2013 my plastic surgeon told me I had Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, ALCL. I was the 25th documented case in the US and 61st in the world.
The days following were a blur, an immediate trip to Houston, TX to MD Anderson Cancer Center. Because of the rarity at the time of this diagnosis they were one of the leading hospitals with knowledge of this rare cancer.
The next 5 months of my life were mainly spent in Houston. The first line of treatment was the complete removal of the implants and second bi-lateral mastectomy. It was to be followed by CHOP chemotherapy and then radiation, but when they realized that the cancer was contained in the scar tissue and capsule, they said there was no need for additional treatment.
For the past 3 years I have been traveling to Houston for cancer scans. My health has been good.
When I was diagnosed with breast implant associated ALCL, I was told the condition happened to 1 in 3,000,000 women, but it soon became clear from talking to my medical team at MD Anderson that this disease was being under diagnosed. Just three years later, they are saying the odds are 1 in 30,000.
I have started a non-for profit organization, Just Call Me Ray, to educate women about the importance of the early detection of breast cancer, the dangers of implants, and rising up when cancer happens. I have also traveled around the U.S. and spoken to different groups about the need for informed consent with breast reconstruction or augmentation. Our social media has exploded in the past year, with thousands of women that have been struggling with illness because of their implants. And my biggest concern is the growing number of women that have been diagnosed with BIA-ALCL.
I might have lost my chest, but I have not lost my voice. I will continue to share my story and educate women and the public. IMPLANTS DO CAUSE CANCER!