I got breast implants to feel like a woman -- now my life is a nightmare
When Jean Noctor made the difficult decision to go under the knife and get herself the body she'd always longed for, she thought it was one of the best choices she'd ever made. Now it's turned into her worst nightmare.
For the past few weeks the news has been dominated by the story that a now-defunct French firm supplied cut-price breast implants filled with a dangerous concoction of industrial-strength silicone.
Terrifying statistics have emerged that the implants may carry a higher rupture rate than other brands, while some reports have linked them to a rare form of cancer.
But behind the headlines are thousands of women going through their own personal health nightmare. Jean is one of them.
The married mum-of-three from Wicklow town has been told that it's "99pc certain" that her breast implants, done five years ago through The Harley Medical Group, are the faulty Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) implants making the news.
For the first time, as one of the 1,500 Irish women affected by the scare, she's chosen to speak out.
"I feel like I'm in limbo," she says.
"I don't know how big a problem it is. I can't get even get anyone to confirm it is a problem.
"After spending thousands of euro on a procedure, I feel I've now been abandoned to deal with the consequences."
Last weekend, the Irish Medicines Board issued a statement saying it had been 'misinformed' by the Harley Medical Group about how it had dealt with the issue of faulty breast implants.
The IMB said it had been assured that the company had written to its patients directly when in fact such a letter was never sent and instead correspondence was conducted via a statement on the Harley Medical Group's website.
It was only by watching television that Jean found out she could be at risk. She says: "I was sitting watching Sky news a few weeks ago and the story came up.
"At first I didn't even think, because it was more about France at that time but then it started to be clear that there was a chance I had the implants they were talking about.
"I called Harley Medical and they told me its 99pc certain that I have PIP implants but since Christmas it's been very hard to get anything out of them.
"It's been a battle to talk to anyone and they've not been willing to do a scan so I can at least know if something is wrong
"Instead they've told me to go to my own doctor, but there's no telling when I'll get a scan. I could be waiting a month and in the mean time this is hanging over me."
At her last correspondence with Harley Medical Group, Jean was told it would be a number of weeks before the organisation would have her files and be able to confirm what implants she has.
The Harley Medical Group was one of three private practices in Ireland, along with Shandon St Hospital, Cork, and the Clane Hospital, Co Kildare, that used PIP implants.
Jean's concern is that, while the Irish Medical Board is insisting there's no call for concern, other countries are advising women to remove their implants as a precaution.
"There's no clear information," she says. "The IMB might be saying not to worry, but it's impossible not to. No one seems to know what the dangers are and, like myself, there are so many women who don't even know what type of implant they have.
"I was speaking to one woman online who is pregnant and has implants and she's terrified about whether she's putting her baby at risk.
"I feel there's a lot more that could be done by the clinics to reassure and help us."
Five years ago, Jean had no problem keeping in contact with staff at the Harley Medical Group when she paid €6,000 for an operation carried out at St Francis Hospital, Mullingar, to boost her bust from an A cup to a C.
"They were 10 times easier to get hold of and very helpful. I had no complaints about the service," says Jean. "When I had the operation done, they said they were so confident in their product that they said they would guarantee it for 10 years. I put my confidence in them. But now that the chips are down, I feel abandoned."
On top of the stress of trying to find out what step to take next, Jean has experienced a surge of cruel prejudice from the online community regarding her decision to have elective breast surgery.
She says: "There's a general perception that people who have had cancer and reconstructive surgery are legitimate victims, but women who had implants put in of their own choice made their decision and now should just have to deal with it."
She adds: "I went on to a forum hoping to talk to other people in the same situation but discovered some people can be really nasty. They have this idea that women who have breast implants are all wanting to be glamour models and looking for attention.
'I went from an A to a C cup because, ever since my teenage years, I never felt that much like a woman. After thinking about it for a long time, I went ahead with the operation because I wanted to feel normal.
"Having breasts is a big part of being a woman and anyone who has decided to go through surgery has gone through a huge ordeal. It's unfair to push us to one side."
Since leaving her job as a legal secretary last year to become a full-time mum, Jean's concerned she won't be able to foot the bill for corrective surgery.
She's also recently been experiencing health problems, which she's worried could be associated with her implants. She says: "In recent months there have been a few pains and itching around my breasts. I've had a lot of sickness, which at first I just put down to having been pregnant -- and it could still be that that's the case -- but I just don't know.
"Now, I just want the implants out. I have three kids and being safe and well for them is my focus. I don't think I'd even want different ones put in, I couldn't go through this experience again."