The White Dress Project:
The Answer Key for Fibroids
By Dominique Carson
CNN Journalist Tanika Gray wanted to give back to women by launching an organization that centers on the ongoing occurrence of fibroids. Gray believes women should be educated through research, testimonials, discovering treatment options, and consulting with medical professionals while supporting other women.
She named her organization The White Dress Project in hopes of raising eyebrows. More than likely, a woman will associate the color white with wedding dresses. Gray says the organization's name allows people to start having conversations and dialogue about fibroids.
Fibroids predominantly affect African American women; however, as long as you have a uterus, you can be diagnosed with fibroids.
The White Dress Project is changing women's lives, bringing people together about an issue still considered trivial in reproductive health. Gray also knows her journey with fibroids empowered women to share theirs without judgment.
Preferred Health Magazine conversed with the renowned CNN journalist about her organization, the challenges of having fibroids, how to educate other women about non-benign tumors, and upcoming projects for the organization in 2024.
Preferred Health Magazine: Why did you decide to launch the nonprofit organization, The White Dress Project?
Tanika Gray: I started the organization on uterine fibroids because it was my personal story. I've had three myomectomies, which are the surgical removal of fibroids. And most recently, I just had one on August 31. So the story is very, very personal to me. I have managed life with fibroids since I was about 15 years old. I was constantly bleeding heavily, experienced bloating, and never felt comfortable wearing white because my periods were so out of control.
So that's why I started the organization with that name because I wanted to change the idea of that feeling of limitation you have when you can't wear light-colored clothing, can't have light-colored car seats, you can't have, you know, like color bedsheets. So it's more than, you know, like the white dress, per se. It's just anything that prevented or didn't allow you to feel comfortable because you had these benign tumors. So, I just really wanted to focus on the mission. After I had my first myomectomy, I felt like I needed support. And I needed a community. And my mom had fibroids, so I knew what they were, and I, you know, I understood them overall. But I was still like, I don't understand how, you know, nobody is talking about this publicly. And then when I would talk about it with my friends, they would be like, well, you know, girl, everybody has fibroids, and it sort of just became this way. You see, it's not a big deal anybody has them. And, you know, we live life with them. But it was a big deal because I realized how much life was being sacrificed. How much of my fertility has been impacted by fibroids? And there are so many things that have happened. What can happen when you have fibroids? I felt they needed to be a community where women don't have to undergo this process alone.
PHM: What was your first encounter with the physician when you found out that you had fibroids?
TG: So, it was like, not I don't have time to deal with it because the anemia was holding me up. But I remember the first time a doctor said like, you know, they're not bothering you live your life, you know. So, I always felt like I had time. And that's such a misconception. In terms of alternative things, I tried supplements, but I didn't try uterine fibroid embolization. After all, I was advised not to go with the procedure because I constantly desired to be a mother. So, I wanted to go something other than that route.
PHM: You had one myomectomy, but why did you have three procedures?
TG: I had my first surgery, and six months later, I started the organization. Because that was just like, after I went through recovery from that surgery, I was just like, this is a mess, like, going into the surgery is like, the recovery is ridiculous. Like it's a solid eight weeks, and we were, you know, moved into a new house, like all the things, and I never knew I would be a person who would say I have three myomectomies. I heard people say that, especially when I started the organization. We were hearing more and more stories, but who has three of these surgeries? But it became my story. So five years later, I met, and through this work, I need really, really great doctors, and in my period, even after my first mixer, when it took 27 fibroids out, my periods were still crazy. The first surgery was horrible, and it was emergency surgery.
I have taken a medication that the doctor had given me to shrink them. It was a luperon. Anyway, I had gone to a doctor who told me to forget about it. Just have a hysterectomy this route. And then, a month later, I found another bathroom. And she was like, Yeah, you have a lot. But let's try to have surgery. So she gave me something. She said let's try to shrink some of them hormonally. And then we'll have the surgery.
So I had to have emergency surgery. And that was a surgery where they took off at 27 because basically what happened is they started to break apart inside my body. So, that degeneration was what was causing the pain. So after that surgery, I started the organization, and through the organization, I met so many doctors. I met these young doctors and, you know, my age and we just became friends. And I was like, Oh, I'm still bleeding crazy. Even after five years, they were like you could still have fibroids even after removing them because they're so microscopic.
PHM: So let's go into further detail about the other two surgeries because 27 is a lot for one procedure.
TG: I had my second surgery in 2018, and I believe I had two or three fibroids taken out. But it was because, from my first surgery, my uterus attached itself to my bladder. So everything was like adhesions and holed up together. I was sticking on my belly button, like all the things, so she couldn't even get to them. So she's always like, I didn't do much in that second surgery. But at the end of the day, I still had it; I still went under anesthesia for it. So I don't discredit it. Because I was still out of work for eight weeks, she still took the fibroids out of me. So then I was okay and started fertility treatments, all of that. Last year, October 2022, I had a miscarriage. And I was devastated. But at the end of the day, I still had it; I still went under anesthesia for it. So I don't discredit it. Because I was still out of work for eight weeks, she still took a fibroid out of me. So then I was okay and started fertility treatments, all of that. Last year, in October, I had a miscarriage. And I was devastated. But during my post-doctor appointment, the doctor in the hospital said I still had fibroids.
I was like because that will cause my miscarriage. And they're like, well, we don't know because, you know, my cavity is clear. And the cavity is where the baby grows. But there was one on the outside on the lining. So you'd have to think everything is small in there. So if anything is pushing on the lining, you know, anything your body can tell yourself, like, okay, what's going on? This is not supposed to be here. We can't have a healthy pregnancy because this random thing is here. e. And then your body, you know, does what it does. So that's why I got to this third myomectomy on August 31, 2023, Because I was grieving for that whole period. I had fibroids, and then once again, my doctors and my friends were like You, let's see what's going on. And let's see, if we take out all the fibroids for real this time, get them all, let's see if you have a better chance. And it was a tough decision for me because, like I said, everything was stuck together. So, what I found out is that my small intestine was also attached to my uterus.
So, to do the surgery, she would have to bring in a colonoscopy person, like a gastrocolon procedure. Yeah. And I was like, Oh my God, and I had heard stories of, you know when they're detaching your, your small intestines from things. That's how you can end up with a colostomy bag. And I was just like, oh my god, like, I can't believe I'm even in this position like, because, you know, the worst case scenario was that they would have to cut it off like the adhesions would be so stuck together that, basically just like you're opening something or taking the tape off or something, you know, you sometimes you might have to cut through it, to get to it. We have to do that because After they've relieved, get the bladder of the small intestine up the way behind the fibroids. And we came to find out that when she looked in 2018, She saw it. And I remember going in because she was my friend; I was like, Look here, don't do anything crazy, because you know, I want to have a baby. And she was like, to me that I told you in 2018 that it was like this. And I was like, I just had no recollection of that. So anyway, God is so good that when I went to have the surgery, as soon as they went in there, he just, like, took down the adhesions, like, just like did one little snip on the adhesions, not like cut my bladder, bowel. And they were like, it immediately came down and went back into place. I had adhesions for so long, and 13 fibroids were removed, and adenomyosis was discovered. But as of right now, I am fibroid-free.
PHM: What are the challenges of having a nonprofit organization focusing on fibroids, a women's reproductive issue?
TG: Yes, it's challenging. There are ups and downs of having a nonprofit, especially one that's not sexy. We live in a very, everything has to be sexy culture. It has to be entertainment. It has to be luxury in all the things. So how do you get people to constantly want to talk about their health and want to talk about reproductive health is that this is not just like, you know, you got to get your blood pressure checked like this is deep stuff that impacts like, whether you want to be a mother or not, or, you know, and then you start to think about the personal relationships you've had with your mother. You think about the mental health components that your reproductive health plays a role in. There's a study out right now that talks about the uterus and its connection to the brain. But there's so much controversy around what causes fibroids. But I think that diet plays a role in everything, just in your overall health, along with estrogen dominance and stress, and I think it's like all the trauma that has been in our history. So, how can we not believe that any trauma that we've been through can have a physical impact on our bodies? Then I think it's coming up with ways to talk about this creatively, although it's not an appealing topic, and then getting people to invest in your project.
PHM: How do you think The White Dress Project has played a significant influence online?
TG: We talked about it freely, and it has revolutionized lives or revolutionized storytelling and feeling confident about reproduction and not feeling alone; it feels so good to know that you have over 25,000 followers on Instagram. We want people to hear our stories and watch videos so they can do something about their health.
PHM: Any unique plans for The White Dress Project in 2024?
TG: July 2024 will be ten years for The Whit Dress Project. And I can't believe it's been so long because I have my 2013 and started the organization six months after that. July 2014 was the month that we were fully incorporated as an organization. I want to have a whole initiative similar to the BET show, Teen Summit, where the shows talks about health and relationships for young people. And, of course, we have our wellness retreat, The White Dress Project's Spring 2024 Retreat