“When they took that thing out it was exactly like an old, corroded portobello mushroom!” the fashion designer says

By Julie Mazziotta
November 07, 2019 11:45 AM
Steve Granitz/WireImage

Betsey Johnson was “always scared” that her breast implants would suddenly pop one day — but when one happened to deflate, it turned out to be life-saving.

The iconic fashion designer, 77, found a breast cancer lump hidden behind her implant.

“I discovered my breast cancer because my implant deflated overnight, my left one,” she told PEOPLE at the Women’s Guild Cedars-Sinai Annual Luncheon in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “I had a massage scheduled for the morning, everything is fine that morning, but I always had to ask for a towel to roll up under my boobs, because I was always scared of them, that they were going to pop, that they were balloons that were going to pop.”

Johnson says she “looked down, and it was the weirdest thing” to suddenly not see her breast there. The implant was “saline, the good stuff, so I didn’t feel anything, there was no change to your body and how it feels, but it was wild.”

With her breast implant now deflated, Johnson had it removed immediately — “when they took that thing out it was exactly like an old, corroded portobello mushroom!” she says — and during the healing process she spotted a lump.

“I was like, ‘What is this hard-as-a-rock pea going on there?’ Which I never would have discovered if the implant hadn’t deflated,” she says, adding that when she was diagnosed in 1999, mammograms were not advanced enough to find a lump around a breast implant. “Now I know they are much better with mammograms.”

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Twenty years later, Johnson went through another health crisis when she had a seizure that required open-heart surgery in April. She admits that she “really went in thinking, ‘I won’t get through this.’ ”

“The breast cancer, you know, they do the [x-ray], but the heart ‘gig’ is much more subtle and hidden,” she says. “There are really no signs.”

Johnson says that she’s now grateful to have her health.

“I am so happy that I am alive, I am feeling good,” she says. “It is simply great that at 77 to feel so good and to be alive and to still be working, and living in Malibu and the grandkids are in the backyard, and I feel great and I am still working like crazy.”

  • With reporting by REAGAN ALEXANDER
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