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Orlaith McAllister on how Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirely Ballas' surgery has made her reflect on her own cosmetic procedures

 

Orlaith McAllister
Orlaith McAllister
Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas
Orlaith McAllister in the Big Brother house in 2005
Orlaith McAllister on the catwalk
Orlaith McAllister in 2005
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas is due to appear on the show just days after having her breast implants removed following a cancer scare and discovering that here is a history of breast cancer in her family.

The 59-year-old said she decided to go under the knife this week in order to reduce her own risk of developing the disease, as implants can block the early signs of it being detected.

Shirley's decision has made former fashion model and Big Brother contestant Orlaith McAllister, who has had five surgeries on her breasts over the years, think hard about her own implants, particularly after her own terrifying cancer scare two years ago.

The 40-year-old, who lives in north Belfast with her children Eva (12) and Anthony (10) and who will tie the knot with her beau, lawyer Neil Logan next year, says she is grateful to Shirley for bringing a hugely important issue to the attention of the public.

"I have had five surgeries on my breasts," she says.

"I got my first implants, which I call my famous ones, my Big Brother breasts, when I was just turning 25 years old.

"They were there for around two years. I had those ones removed because I did a campaign for a company in London.

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"It was for Make Yourself Amazing, a cosmetic company, who paid me and I got my boobs done with them.

"My daughter was just six months when I had the new ones put in and they were the Poly Implant Prosthese (PIP) ones. I didn't really know that this was what they were until there was a scare about them.

"I had my son while I had them and I breastfed both of my children with implants in. And a year later it was all over the news about the PIP implants and the higher risk of cancer associated with them.

"When that happened the company looked after me. I flew to London and had them removed and had new ones put in.

"So that was number three surgery. Within eight months my right implant ruptured. I have quite small implants in. They are not overpowering, they just suit my body shape. But when it ruptured it just blew up like a balloon. It was very frightening at the time.

"Again, I flew to London and had both removed and decided to have none put back in. I just wasn't mentally strong at that stage to cope with anything else, a foreign body in my body - because in reality that is what an implant is.

"I had my two young children and I just thought that I wanted to get through and see how I could cope without these implants.

"I had about four years without the implants and then on the fourth year I decided to go and have them done again. This time I went to Enhance Medical in Belfast and they are great."

Orlaith says two years ago, she discovered not one but two lumps on her breasts, which sent her into a panic.

"I had the new implants done three years ago," she says. "About a year later I felt a lump on both my breasts. My world just stopped. I was more concerned for my children than for myself.

"I like to stay positive in life and not to over-think things. It was terrifying but my doctors were great. They sent me to the breast clinic at the City Hospital.

"Sitting in the hospital suddenly made everything feel very real. I brought my mum and two kids to the appointment.

"It really hit me in the waiting room and though I tried to stay positive, at the back of my mind I was thinking I have two young children. I didn't know what I was going to be told.

"I remember sitting there and saying to my mum that I would have them removed, have everything removed... what ever is needed in order to have a life with my kids. The thoughts that came into my head at that moment were so frightening. I almost had myself dead and buried. Of course, a lot of that is sheer panic but it's impossible not to go to the worst case scenarios."

Looking at the faces of her daughter and son before she went into the consultant's office left Orlaith consumed with nerves.

"I actually felt sick going into his room because I knew who was outside waiting on me. But I also knew that I would find out if I had anything there that needed to be treated," she says.

"I had an ultrasound and, with my boobs being fake, it is harder to detect something. I looked at the screen and the lumps were just sitting there. The consultant went in with a needle on my left breast. He said that when the needle goes in, he wanted to be able to take the lump away. He said that if it went, then I was fine. It was nerve-wracking, although the staff were absolutely amazing and so reassuring and comforting.

"When the needle went in it just disappeared - it vanished on the screen - I cried with relief. I can only imagine what it's like for a woman to go through that procedure and then be told that it is cancer - to watch the screen and the lump doesn't disappear. The consultant couldn't touch the lump on my right breast because it was too close to the implant, but he said that he knew they were identical. And it has since disappeared. I am very lucky."

The cancer scare has made Orlaith more pro-active when it comes to checking her breasts.

"There is no breast cancer history in my family, but an experience like that really does make you aware that you have to check your breasts," she says.

"It's natural that Shirley, who has a history of breast cancer in her family, would want her implants removed if they can't see behind them. I can understand that she feels that is something she needs to do. It's important to look after yourself."

The Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme provides free breast screening every three years for all women aged between 50 and 70, but Orlaith believes that mammograms should be available to younger women.

And while she doesn't regret her implants, she would never encourage her daughter to get them.

Reflecting on why she first opted for breast augmentation, she says: "I always just wanted to have a chest.

"It can be looked upon simply as a vanity thing, but for me it was also about who I was as a person; it made me feel better about myself.

"But I can really relate to Shirley's situation. When I was sitting there terrified in that waiting room, I knew that if necessary I'd have had everything removed that needed to be removed to keep me alive. I wouldn't want to have anything take my time away from my children. I want to see them grow up to be adults."

Scares around implants, as well as Shirley's story, do play on her mind.

"I know what to look out for and if a rupture was to happen again I'd just have them removed and wouldn't have any more. I've got to an age where I am really happy in myself and my body. They say you have to have them changed every 10 years. If I get to 50 and have to have them removed that's it."

Orlaith says the fact that doctors struggle to see behind breast implants during mammograms is concerning.

"I didn't even think about that before," she says. "When I had my cancer scare the lumps were at the front of my implants. I didn't even consider anything at the back of them.

"When you are in the consultation when you are having your breasts done, it's not even something that you would consider. That factor would be at the forefront of my mind now.

"When I think about Shirley and about what happened to me, I think breast implants are probably not worth it - though you could say that about a lot of things these days, such as eating lots of processed food.

"I'd like to thank Shirley for bringing this important issue to the public eye. She is a brave woman. I hope she keeps up her strength and courage and lets herself heal after surgery, because I know that it is not a nice ordeal.

"I also hope that she can stay strong-minded, because she has had her implants for a long time.

"I have had them removed and lived without them for a few years and it's daunting to begin with. But I think she will be okay."

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