A South Surrey woman who, 10 years ago, survived breast cancer and who, just this month, was relieved to learn that the implants she received shortly after have not left her with a new cancer to fight, is to share her story of resilience at a limited-capacity event tonight (Oct. 25) in Langley.
Lynda Simpson said she is one of five women lined up to speak at the Sandman hotel as part of a “whispers-to-warriors” themed talk to mark graduation from a public-speaking program.
“The challenges that we have had and how we’ve overcome them,” Simpson explained of the theme.
And while Simpson had no shortage of life experiences to draw from for her time at the microphone, she said she chose to focus on her breast-cancer journey, given the timeliness of the issue: earlier this year, Health Canada suspended the licences for manufacturer Allergan’s Biocell textured breast implants due to a “rare but serious” risk of breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
The “macro-textured” devices are the same ones used in Simpson’s reconstructive surgery in 2010, after she underwent a double-mastectomy that was triggered by the discovery of a tumour in her left breast.
She had the implants removed on Sept. 4, but said while her own story took a positive turn with the news that she does not have BIA-ALCL – confirmed through a test for the antigen CD30 – she suspects there are many more stories to come; that the impact of the implants is wider than is being officially acknowledged.
“They’re just saying if you become symptomatic, maybe go see a doctor,” she said.
“Well, hello – by the time you become symptomatic, you likely have the lymphoma. But they’re telling us it’s rare.
“Part of the reason I’m speaking with (Peace Arch News)… we’re just at the beginning of this cancer being recognized after these implants have been in our body for so many years.”
Simpson noted her first surgeon told her the risk of developing it was one in 30,000. Her last surgeon “said it was more like one in two,” because the implants she had were “the worst of the worst.”
“I think it’s kind of premature to say that it’s a rare cancer, because it’s just really starting to be recognized.”
PAN first met with Simpson shortly after she received her breast-cancer diagnosis. A White Rock resident at that time, the probation officer approached the newspaper after discovering an apparent mistake that resulted in a six-month delay in her diagnosis.
Her road over the years since has been a rocky one, as she navigated recovery, returning to work and a series of eight more operations. Those, beginning in 2012, included one to remove her ovaries and Fallopian tubes, and another, after her hysterectomy, to deal with a hematoma in her abdomen the size of an ostrich egg.
Much of the past three years has been about trying to figure out what was behind symptoms that resulted in Simpson having to take disability leave from her corrections career.
“By 2016 in the summer, I couldn’t keep my eyes open at work,” she told PAN. “My cognitive dysfunction was such, my memory was so impaired, I couldn’t retain information I was reading, and I ended up off work.
“Here I am three years later, still not working, because I never got better.”
It was after figuring out breast-implant illness was at the root of her issues that Simpson discovered she had been reconstructed with the Allergen implants.
Then came the fight to convince the health ministry to pay for their removal – a fight that ended with Simpson fundraising to pay to have the procedure done privately.
She said she found out two weeks after the explant – done on the anniversary of her own mother’s death from breast cancer – that a test for the CD30, a marker for lymphoma cells, was not ordered.
“They were supposed to test for the breast-implant associated lymphoma,” she told PAN shortly after discovering the missed step.
“The million-dollar question is whether they still have my tissue to do it.”
Fortunately for Simpson, the necessary tissue samples from her removed implant capsules – the natural scar tissue that forms around the implants and is “where the lymphoma lies” – were still at the lab and the CD30 testing was eventually done, with results that brought great relief.
Five weeks post-op, Simpson wasn’t sure how she’d pack her story into the 15-minute slot she has tonight, but said her reason for doing it is not just to tell people she’s had cancer. She hopes it also gets women who are considering breast implants to think twice; to consider all of the potential costs.
“Particularly in a culture where so much value is placed on perfection and our looks, and what it means to be female,” she said. “The choice of going flat is a hard one. I had these breast implants put in, but at what cost?”
The Sandman event “really is about women coming together and sharing their stories, whatever that story may be, to help,” she said.
“It’s basically about service, because in telling our stories, we can turn around and help others. There’s a lot of powerful, powerful stories out there, and so many people don’t share them, out of shame or whatever.
“So this is about all coming together and empowering each other.
“If it can save one life, then it’s worth speaking out.”