Category Archives: Reconstruction Personal Stories

Raylene Hollrah

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 wonderrayleneful 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!

Pam Noonan-Saraceni

Pam Noonan-Saraceni

I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy in 1978. I was just 25 years old at the time.

I waited 5 years before I decided to have reconstructive surgery. I led an active lifestyle. I played tennis, jogged, and taught aerobics. I had grown tired of the inconvenience of the prosthesis shifting and falling out of my bra when I perspired.

I consider myself a well-educated woman, and I thought that I had done my homework on breast implants prior to choosing the plastic surgeon to perform my reconstructive surgery. However, I was never advised of any health risks associated with the silicone gel breast implants. In fact, I was told that they would “last a lifetime” and “complication were rare”.

Within 3 months of the initial reconstruction, I was back on the operating table. My body had formed a capsule around the implant and the implant had shifted up under my collarbone. The searing pain at that time was causing my shoulder to become immobile.

My symptoms of physical illness began slowly. At first I contributed the fatigue, aches, and pains to just getting older. (I was only 36 years old!) This was the summer of 1990…6 years after I had been implanted.

In July 1992 I had a severe case of the flu, and 6 weeks later I was still so fatigued that my life was being drastically effected. I continue to live with GI problems, sleep disorders, night sweats, chronic fatigue, myalgias, and joint pain.

I have gone to various doctors and specialists and have been given a list of various possible diagnoses. Atypical Connective Tissue Disease is number one.

Before I had the implant removed in June of 1994 (10 years after the initial reconstruction), I was again wearing a partial prosthesis over the implant. Capsular contracture had again become a problem and I was misshapen and lopsided. The explantation was the 5th surgery at my breast site.

To date, my out of pocket medical expenses total close to $40,000. My husband and I are self-insured. The insurance policy that we took out in 1990 carried an exclusion. I was not covered for any illness or disability related to the reconstructive surgery. Apparently the insurance companies understood that there are health risks associated with breast implants and they are not willing to bear the financial costs.

I have come to realize that there is not a miracle cure for me. I have developed a life routine that works for me and allows me to share a productive life with my family. I continue to share my story with anyone willing to listen, hoping that I can spare just one woman from experiencing what I went through with breast implants.

Carolyn Wolf

In 1972, after subcutaneous mastectomies, I had reconstruction with the newest, best silicone implants, that were safe and would last my lifetime.

There were no problems in the beginning. By the seventh year, burning, blister-like growths started on my neck and boil-like growths on my forehead. Sixteen years after, three days were spent in ICU because of severe burning chest pains.

By the 21st year, my family had noticed a change in personality. And I had noticed cognitive changes. By the 25th year, though a non-smoker, I was coughing up hard, greasy, gold-colored plugs. X-rays showed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A military plastic surgeon checked me every year. I never connected my problems with the implants until my left breast capsule collapsed 28 years after implantation. MRI showed both implants extensively ruptured. Shortly thereafter, a glob of silicone moved from my breast into my armpit, leaving an elongated swelling in its path. There was excruciating pain.

In April 2000, vision was lost in my left eye for 45 minutes. Pain continued in that eye until a long, stringy glob came out of it several weeks later. Two similar strings were exuded from my left ear in the 30th year.

Explantation performed in 2000 showed the left implant measuring only four centimeters. The scar capsules surrounding the implants contained chronic inflammation and foam cells containing silicone. Few women had implants as long as I.

I have been diagnosed with silicosis, rheumatoid arthritis, connective tissue disease, Raynaud’s, and silicone-induced MS-like syndrome with neuropathy of the extremities.

My brain MRI shows more than 20 lesions. My silicone level is .11, more than double what is normal. My platinum level is 20 times normal. Silicone continued to be exuded from my nipples until simple mastectomies to remove painful calcified tissue was performed six months ago.

The National Cancer Institute has conducted the only study of women implanted for more than eight years. That found women are much more likely to die of brain and lung cancers and suicide. If implants are so safe, make sure that manufacturers prove that they are safe.

The studies you hear about do not prove that. The women studied were not implanted for more than ten years. What happened to me will eventually happen to thousands of women with silicone implants.

We must not inflict this on another generation.

Carol Remshard


In 1974, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy. I had six weeks of radiation, and six months later, I had another six weeks of radiation because of a recurrence.

In 1988, I decided to get a breast implant to replace the breast I had lost. My plastic surgeon used saline expanders to gradually stretch the skin, then put in a silicone implant.

The implant was fine for about a dozen years, but then the breast started to get hard. Over a period of about 5 years, the area around my breast bone became very irritated and inflamed. I thought it was from the radiation therapy I had received to treat the cancer, and that I had developed arthritis.

I made an appointment with a doctor to see if the implant could be replaced, but my skin was too thin to perform the procedure. The doctor also discovered that the implant had capsulated and was leaking. He suggested TRAM Flap reconstruction surgery instead of another implant.

Fortunately, the doctor was able to remove all of the silicone during the surgery. I hadn’t filed for any compensation from the class action law suit, but fortunately my health insurance covered the entire hospital bill. I was so relieved!

I can’t begin to tell you what a difference there is between the implant and the new reconstruction. The doctor told me that as time progresses the breast will look more normal, and he was right. My new breast” looks better and better every day. It is still strange to see a breast and not some hard lump under my skin. There are only very small signs of the radiated skin, and eventually, the doctor will tattoo a nipple onto the breast. Even though it wasn’t the easiest procedure for me to go through at age 62, I tried to keep a positive outlook and kept telling myself that I would get better in the end, and that the discomfort would not last.

I encourage women to look into the TRAM flap procedure and ask a lot of questions. And I hope they will find a reconstructive surgeon as wonderful as I did. I am so grateful to him and the nurses for taking such good care of me.

Karen Mackenzie

South Africa

I had a double mastectomy when I was 30 years old – this was after I had to endure 9 operations to remove various lumps caused by abnormal cells in my breasts. A few months later, I had silicone gel breast implants inserted.

I had terrible problems after the implants – my body kept rejecting them. After taking numerous antibiotics and having several hospital stays, everything settled down very nicely. Three months later I had nipple reconstruction done as well as scar revision because of the problems I had experienced before the implant surgery. After this, everything settled down and all was well.

About 7 years ago, at the age of 44, I noticed that the prosthesis started changing shape but never did anything about it. I noticed when I put my bra on that I would have to lean forward and ease the bumps under my arms into the bra cups because otherwise it would be very uncomfortable. This continued until approximately a month ago when I noticed red spots running across the mastectomy scars on my chest. I went to the doctor and was put on a very strong antibiotic for 5 days. The red marks changed colour but never went away altogether – I was then sent for an ultra sound scan and mammogram and the outcome was that both the prosthesis had burst.

I saw a plastic surgeon and he advised me that both prosthesis be removed immediately. He hoped that he would find the burst prosthesis still intact within the scar tissue but unfortunately this was not the case. The plastic surgeon had a really tough time removing as much of the silicone as possible and had to do an acetone wash as well. I did not have the burst prosthesis replaced as it was not recommended by my plastic surgeon. A decision whether or not to have reconstruction surgery will be discussed after three months.

I had several symptoms before the prosthesis were removed. My joints were sore – my knees gave me a lot of problems especially when climbing stairs, getting in and out of the car, terrible pains in my upper arms as well as a burning chest pain. Anti inflammatory medication was prescribed and that provided some relief. The pains in my arms were dreadful – it felt like I had been lifting heavy weights and had actually torn something. For a long time, I didn’t realize that the symptoms I was experiencing were caused by the burst prosthesis.

After the explant operation, however, the pain disappeared. Unfortunately, I then developed a terrible chest infection. More antibiotics were prescribed but I am still coughing and having pains in my chest. On an x-ray taken before my operation my right lung had what looked liked cotton wool on it – I don’t know what is in my lungs but would like advice as to whether this should be investigated further. I still get terrible headaches and take a paracetamol, which does help but a few hours later the headache returns – it seems to be on the top of my head all the time. My eyesight has also deteriorated and now I cannot see without my glasses at all.

I had my burst prosthesis removed on the 21 May 2009, and I am definitely feeling a lot better but not 100% myself. I have to return to the plastic surgeon to check the wounds and collection of blood that keeps filling up the cavities in my chest. This is drained each time, which feels uncomfortable.