“My implants tried to kill me.”
These are the words from Andi Lew that immediately stand out. Around nine years ago, the TV host and best-selling author had breast augmentation. As a sexual assault survivor, she decided to do something for herself – the augmentation would help her feel safe and protected.
But then she almost died. And she didn’t even realise it.
“Having implants made me feel like I had my armour on me,” she told The AJN. “I was also conditioned and groomed by culture and the cosmetic industry like so many others. [The implants] moved me away from the prepubescent flashbacks and into embracing my intimate life in my 40s finally.”
When she was diagnosed with breast implant illness and mast cell activation syndrome, she realised that a lot of the symptoms were actually warning signs that her body was slowly shutting down.
“I had six surgeons and an MRI that all told me I was fine, but I knew something was totally wrong. I could feel the left side, moving, swelling and pressing into my rib cage,” she recalled. Feeling like she should listen to her body and her intuition, she persisted, eventually finding the right surgeon who she felt listened to her concerns.
The surgeon discovered a previously undetected rupture. In Lew’s case, the body walls of the foreign invader, which is the implant, created a surrounding capsule, which is known as a new type of cancer – squamous cell carcinoma and anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
“I knew it was there all along. It was exactly where I was pinpointing it to be,” Lew said.
Following her surgery, Lew, being a health and wellness coach knew how to fast-track her healing which meant she had a great recovery. Very quickly, she found herself on the Today show sharing her story. She was inundated with private messages on social media from women begging her to help them too. So she went to work, writing Treasured Chest – Exposing Implants and Empowering You.
“I felt compelled to write this book to empower women and get ready to shed. I felt a sense of urgency as I know that so many other women have been dying to be well literally, and cannot afford the surgery,” Lew said, explaining that it costs about $14,000 and health insurance will not cover it.
The psychological impacts of the situation are also huge, as Lew explained, saying that many women are feeling censored or ashamed because they want to get their implants removed.
“There’s an international narrative of ‘you did this to yourself,’” Lew said.
Lew also explained that there aren’t enough trained surgeons to do the specialised surgery, which adds another level of complication.
“I felt compelled to educate, not only the sufferers, but the health industry and men who are equally passionate about being informed and making change on impossible beauty standards and women’s health issues,” she said.
And that’s what Treasured Chest achieves.
Lew describes Treasured Chest as the most difficult yet necessary book she’s ever had to write.
“I am certainly saving others from this horrible illness. Additionally, I am allowing women to find a way to come back to their organic bodies again,” she said.
In Treasured Chest, readers will find statistics and facts from contributors that participated in Lew’s journey. Lew also helps readers navigate their ‘explant’ journey, which helps them find self-acceptance and optimal health. And finally, the book explores the history of how society got here and who is really in control.
Lew explains that she has already created a new movement of what she refers to as “forgotten women”, who have “had their stories swept under the rug for too long and are coming forward with courage now”.
According to Lew, there should be no need for silicone implants, which create cancer, or saline implants, which create mould, when there are other options such as fat transfers. However, she hopes that women embrace their authentic selves – scars and all.
“I have witnessed mastectomy patients embrace being flat for the sake of health. It’s truly inspiring. For the first time ever last month, we discovered that breast augmentation is no longer the number one cosmetic surgery in the world, and explant surgery is rapidly on the rise,” Lew said. “I want the world to be aware that this industry has played on the insecurities of many and kept them in a system as a forever customer. This book changes the perception on these impossible beauty standards, and helps us to turn our trauma into triumphs and pain into purpose.”
For Lew, it was important that Treasured Chest was autobiographical, yet also a guide for women around the world to understand what is behind a woman’s torso – her heart.
“Half the healing is in the hearing,” she said. “I also included other people’s stories because we are the science, and they need to be heard to heal. I am in the hope, that my story of how I turned victim into victor will inspire others.”
Treasured Chest – Exposing Implants and Empowering You is available in bookstores around Australia and online. Visit andilew.com for more.