Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours that grow in the muscle layers of the uterus. It’s estimated that between 20 to 50% of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed. Women approaching menopause are at a greater risk for developing fibroids because of their long exposure to high levels of oestrogen.
Symptoms of fibroids include heavy bleeding during periods; fatigue; problems conceiving; difficult pregnancies; anaemia; frequent urination; painful sex and back pain.
During September, Founder of The White Dress Project, Tanika Gray Valbrun, will be visiting South Africa to educate men, women, healthcare professionals and human resource managers about uterine fibroids and Adenomyosis.
Valbrun will be joined by South African Interventional Radiologist, Dr Gary Sudwarts, whose Fibroid Treatment Clinic is busy changing the lives of women with this potentially life-threatening condition. Dr Sudwarts does this by performing Uterine Fibroid Embolisation (UFE), a highly effective and far less invasive alternative to the usually recommended, and mostly unnecessary, hysterectomy.
Valbrun’s mother lost two successive sets of twins, with Tanika the only surviving child, and has herself, first-hand experience of living with fibroids. She founded The White Dress Project in memory of the brothers and sisters she couldn’t grow up with, a testament to her mother, and to create a vehicle through which she can advocate for change and grow global awareness around what is often, an ‘embarrassing’ topic for many.
“Wearing a white dress is unthinkable for a woman with fibroids, as often they have no advanced warning of when their menstruation cycle will begin, and it can arrive in a flood and at the most inopportune moments” said Valbrun.
“We chose white as a symbol of hope, perseverance and empowerment. As an option through UFE, we can wear white, something many take for granted. It’s also a colour often associated with a clean slate, and a new beginning,” continued Valbrun.
Dr Sudwarts, who also has a personal connection to the condition, has chosen to focus his skills as an Interventional Radiologist on helping as many women as possible.
“My own mother had a hysterectomy for fibroids when I was 14 years old, I remember her lying in bed for weeks recovering from the surgery. The defeminising loss of her uterus had a profound effect on her. When I became a radiologist, I realised that I had a skill that could save many women the ordeal of major surgery for their fibroids,” said Dr Sudwarts.
Valbrun and Dr Sudwarts have formed the partnership between their organisations to create a greater awareness around the option of UFE as a viable and workable first line therapy.
In the years to come, they also hope to raise funds for those women in South Africa, not on private medical aid (the procedure is covered by most) so they too, can live a better life.
Dr Sudwarts, Valbrun and a panel of experts, including Gynaecologists Dr Selina Ramatsoso and Dr Abigail Lukhaimane, will announce their formal partnership and field questions about the procedure and their plans at two events; one in Johannesburg on 11th September and then in Cape Town, on Wednesday 13th September 2017.
These events will be informative sessions for patients with fibroids, their partners, as well as gynaecologists, healthcare professionals and human resource managers who need to be more open to the notion of ‘period pain’.