Caldwell woman diagnosed with cancer from her breast implants, insurance won't pay to remove them

Posted at 10:15 PM, May 23, 2017

A Caldwell woman is now in remission after a year of chemotherapy, radiation and testing. Her diagnosis: a rare form of lymphoma caused by the breast implants she got nearly 15 years ago.

"I want to get the word out to women, if you're thinking about getting implants, think twice," Kimra Rogers said. "Truly if they would have said, 'Hey, there's a possibility here you could get cancer,' I would have taken that into consideration."

Kimra Rogers is one of 359 confirmed cases worldwide of Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The disease is most often linked with textured implants.

"You're talking about a one in 30,000 lifetime chance," certified plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Wigod said. "No one knows exactly why this is happening."

Dr. Wigod says women should feel reassured that textured breast implants have not been taken off the market, as experts still feel that they are a safe device.

"There is most likely a genetic component," Dr. Wigod said. "For instance, there's a much higher relative rate of this problem occurring in Australia, however in Asia it's been non-existent."

Most women with the rare diagnosis see cancer cells surrounding the implant, but Kimra's case was more complicated. Her's spread from lymph nodes in her armpit up to her clavicle.

Kimra started noticing changes in her body a year and a half before she was diagnosed. Her typically oily skin turned dry and began cracking, requiring intense moisturizing several times a day. Then her normally thick, long hair started falling out by the handful. 

In the shower one day, Kimra found a lump in her armpit the size of an egg and immediately rushed to the doctor's office. Blood work turned up normal, X-rays showed nothing, then finally an ultrasound showed otherwise.

"They were able to see not only was that one large lump in there, I had about six large lumps that were back in there that I couldn't quite feel," Kimra said.

As with any rare disease, it took quite a while to pinpoint a diagnosis. Local pathologists were stumped by her case and sent her biopsy to Stanford where doctors did a CD30 test, finally diagnosing the cancer.

But unlike most other women with the diagnosis, the implants responsible for Kimra's cancer are still in her chest.

"What I know now, is the first line of defense is extract," Kimra explained. "But what I did [when I was first diagnosed], was chemo."

With the implants still in her body, Kimra has a chance of the cancer returning, but her insurance company won't cover the cost for the extraction surgery.

"We don't know when it will return, there's no statistics on it because it's so new," Kimra said. "It could return in a month or it could return in ten years."

After exhausting all appeals through her insurance company, Kimra hired a lawyer to challenge their decision.

"When an insurance person is looking at it saying, 'Oh, you have Large Cell Lymphoma, so why do we need to do your breast implants?'" Kimra said. "Because it's lymphoma, they aren't making the connection even though my doctors have all written letters stating that it's to prevent the cancer from coming back."

The disconnect is due to longstanding insurance policies defining complications from breast implants as "cosmetic", and therefore a "contract exclusion". 

Kimra deals with a lot of personal guilt for getting the implants in the first place, and now she struggles daily with chronic fatigue.

"If I do something one day, like go to lunch with some girlfriends then get groceries, I know that the next day or two days I'm in bed," Kimra explained.

She says the hardest part of the last year has been seeing how her diagnosis is affecting her husband who's stood by her side the whole time.

"He loves me so much," Kimra said with tears in her eyes. "Watching him worry about me, and him being patient with me being in bed all day, and him working a ten hour day and coming home and I'm too tired to cook dinner. "

But Kimra's not giving up the fight. At 50 years old she's determined to get the surgery she needs to return to work and her healthy life, as a wife and a mother of three boys.

With no point of reference as to how likely - or how quickly - cancer could return, she hopes to have the procedure done as soon as possible, even if that means taking out a $12,000 loan to cover the cost.

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