By age 50, as many as 80% of Black women have had fibroids—they are more than twice as likely to undergo a hysterectomy and have almost a seven-fold increased risk of undergoing myomectomies despite studies that show increased morbidity with both myomectomy and hysterectomy.
Cynthia Bailey can still remember the physical and mental drain from having fibroids — even though it’s been a decade since they were treated.
The former Real Housewives of Atlanta star says that having the benign tumors growing in her womb left her in a “dark place” mentally and impacted so many aspects of her life that she felt like a “disaster.”
“It’s very hard to be in a good space mentally when you’re bleeding all the time and when you don’t have any energy, and you’re anemic and you don’t have the sex drive you used to have,” Bailey, 55, tells PEOPLE.
“Mentally, I found that I was just in a dark place without really knowing I was in a dark place. When I look at photos of myself during that time, it was like the light was gone because I was bleeding to death in a lot of ways.”
The former model is reflecting on that time of her life during Women’s History Month for a special reason. She has teamed up with USA Fibroids Centers to educate women about a non-invasive, non-surgical way to treat the condition that plagued her for 14 years.
Bailey was still on RHOA and still married to her ex, Peter Thomas, when she rejected the idea of a hysterectomy to treat her fibroids, opting for uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) instead. The benign tumors (which affect up to 80 percent of Black women and 70 percent of white women by age 50) had disrupted her life to the point of exhaustion. They had grown so large her fans thought she was pregnant.
“My periods were always super heavy,” says Bailey, who remembers having to change her tampon every one or two hours, often suffering accidental leaks even though she wore sanitary pads as well. “I basically never had white sheets on my bed. I was always bleeding out.”
“Work wise it was very difficult to even work the first two or three days of my cycle, because my bleeding was just so heavy. I was anemic, so I had no energy, very low sex drive.” When she did have sex, Bailey says it was painful.
“It not only affected me. It was affecting my family, my husband, my sex life,” she says. “I was moody. I was exhausted. I was anemic. I was bleeding all the time. I was a disaster.”
Bailey first found out she had a fibroid “the size of a grape” when she was pregnant with her daughter Noelle Robinson, who is now 22. Back then it wasn’t symptomatic, and it wasn’t affecting her baby. But, over time, as the problem became worse doctors recommended going on the pill to shorten her menstrual cycle.
Having a hysterectomy — completely removing the womb and thus her fibroids — did come up as a possibility. “But that was…something that I really didn’t want to have,” she says, adding, “I wanted to be open to having more children if I wanted to. Even if I didn’t want to, I just wanted the option.”
By doing her own research, Bailey discovered UFE, a minimally invasive treatment that is performed by an interventional radiologist, often in an outpatient setting.
Dr. Yan Katsnelson, the founder of USA Fibroid Centers, which has clinics across the country, tells PEOPLE: “[The] procedure is done through [a] catheter. They enter in the wrist or in the groin and the catheter goes around, [into] the blood vessels towards the origin of the arteries that feed the fibroids.”
Using minute beads, they “clog the vessels that go to the fibroids, and the fibroids just die and disappear.” “Think [of it] like [you] stop watering the plant or the field of grass. The grass dies,” he says. “It’s exactly the same thing. Without sufficient blood supply the tumors stop functioning and just get absorbed the body.”
When Bailey had the procedure, which takes about 40 minutes, she did it while the RHOA cameras rolled.
“The experience was great,” says Bailey. “I went in, they gave me some light anesthesia. I don’t remember the procedure.” She did suffer cramping but, after resting at home for two days, she was back at work filming RHOA.
Within two or three months, Bailey says her menstrual flow became lighter, and her period went from lasting eight to nine days to just three to four. She describes it as being “like a miracle.”
Even though she had the procedure so many years ago, Bailey is still passionate about letting fibroid sufferers know that having a hysterectomy is not the only option.
“I use my celebrity to keep the information out there for women to understand that they do have options and they do not have to suffer in silence,” she says. “And they do not have to have their uterus removed to deal with their fibroid situation. That should be a last resort if it even needs to happen at all.”
For more information regarding Hologic’s Project Health Equality and to see how they continue to innovate and address health equities for Black women, visit https://www.hologic.com/ProjectHealthEquality.