By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member
The White Dress Project (TWDP), a nonprofit organization that raises global awareness about the uterine fibroid epidemic, on Friday will kick off its EmPOWERment Experience in Washington, D.C., a weekend-long event commemorating National Fibroid Awareness Month.
The celebration is themed, “Freedom to Blossom,” encouraging women to embrace their fibroids journey and to act as their own health advocates. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from other fibroid patients and guest speakers; participate in morning meditation and yoga; and attend TWDP’s premier event, A Night in White.
“A lot of times, we feel so silenced by this condition, and we feel that we can’t share, that we don’t have anybody to talk to. It’s embarrassing,” said Tanika Gray Valbrun, founder and president of TWDP. “There’s trauma behind it, but we want people to own their narrative and have influence and authority over the health decisions that they’re going to be making.”
TWDP was founded in 2014 by Valbrun, who began her own journey with uterine fibroids, or noncancerous growths of the uterus, as a teenager.
Valbrun was always the girl who brought an extra bag of clothes with her everywhere she went and the girl who needed to take several bathroom breaks during road trips because of her heavy periods and frequent urination. She couldn’t wear white, she suffered from anemia and using tampons was out of the question.
But, for Valbrun, this was her normal.
It wasn’t until her mid twenties that Valbrun was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. Her doctor told her her uterus was seriously compromised, and her only treatment option was a hysterectomy.
Valbrun was devastated by the diagnosis. Her dreams of becoming pregnant were shattered.
She decided to at least get a second opinion, and fortunately, the doctor was able to perform a myomectomy, a surgical procedure to remove uterine fibroids that preserves a woman’s ability to reproduce.
Valbrun was given a drug to shrink her fibroids before the surgery and had an adverse reaction, so in 2013, she was brought in for emergency surgery and had 27 fibroids removed.
“That was the beginning of the White Dress Project because while I was in recovery for eight weeks, I just thought to myself I don’t understand how there’s no one asking me for money about this or no walks
] runs,” said Valbrun. “I walked into my closet, and I was like ‘I don’t even own any white,’ and it was literally at that moment I decided I was going to do something about this.”
In the U.S., fibroids affect 70 to 80 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 54. Fibroid incidence is even higher in Black women with 80 percent of them developing the growths by age 50. Black women are also more likely to experience more severe symptoms from their fibroids than their White counterparts.
TWDP works to ensure all women are educated on uterine fibroids and their treatment options, and the organization advocates for more research and funding surrounding fibroids.
Nearly every woman on the nonprofit’s board has had their own experience with fibroids, which allows them to create compassionate, comprehensive programming.
During TWDP’s EmPOWERment Experience, each day women will attend afternoon sessions to cover topics about fibroid awareness, including the latest developments in fibroid treatment, managing mental health while living with fibroids and non-surgical treatment options.
“We just want everybody to be amplified and empowered and to know that their story matters. Once you feel that then you know you’re ready to blossom and you have the freedom to share, to ask for a second option, to question a doctor, to do additional research
] to join organizations like ours,” said Valbrun. “You get the freedom to do that because you’ve owned your own story.”
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