Thousands of women donning white this month to bring attention to uterine fibroids

Tanika Gray Valbrun hugs another participant
Tanika Gray Valbrun (left) hugs a member of The White Dress Project, which funds research of uterine fibroids and educates women suffering from the benign tumors, as the group prepares for its “Empowerment Experience” in D.C. (Courtesy Tanika Gray Valbrun)

There’s always been a high level of fear linked to wearing white for Tanika Gray Valbrun. The problem: uterine fibroids.

“I was always having heavy periods, always feeling tired and fatigued,” she told WTOP. “I planned everything around my periods. I really thought that this was just a woman’s journey.”

But 10 years ago, she committed to eliminating the stress caused by fibroids and donned a white dress.

The decision came as Gray Valbrun was recovering from her first of three myomectomies, a surgical procedure that removed more than 25 fibroids. Her recovery signaled a turning point amid a lack of national health care conversations and action focused on educating women and finding a cure for fibroids.

“I walked into my closet and realized that I didn’t have any white clothing or any light color thing anywhere,” she said. “It was an epiphany for me.”

“I thought back to all of the fun things white clothing can inspire,” Gray Valbrun added.

In those moments, her nonprofit — The White Dress Project — was born.

Tanika Gray Valbrun (center) is the creator of The White Dress Project, which funds research of uterine fibroids and educates women suffering from the benign tumors. The nonprofit’s third annual “Empowerment Experience” will take place July 11-13, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Tanika Gray Valbrun)

The group lobbies for legislation, research funding and educates women suffering from the benign tumors. And this month, Fibroids Awareness Month, the group asks other women to wear white.

“We use white as a symbol of hope that funding will come, that research will be gathered and that we will find a cure,” said Gray Valbrun, a journalist who is also the CEO of group.

Fibroids, which are noncancerous uterine tumors, are common. They affect more than 70% of women in the U.S., many of them are Black women who tend to develop fibroids at an earlier age and struggle with more severe symptoms.

The condition often goes undiagnosed as women aren’t aware of the severe symptoms, which include heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain and an enlarged abdomen, according to Dr. Jessica Traylor, a gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Fibroids have an incredible impact on a woman’s quality of life,” she said. “When you think about how many days missed from school or work or other life enjoyments because of the pain and bleeding, I hope that with more research we can identify the causes of fibroids and how to prevent and treat them.”

Many women discover they have fibroids during an unrelated doctor’s visit or other medical procedures.

“We always say knowledge is power,” Traylor said. “If women are empowered to recognize these symptoms and bring them up to their medical team then they can make informed decisions about their care.”

Gray Valbrun agrees.

Her White Dress Project is hosting its third annual “Empowerment Experience” in D.C. this week.

The three-day event showcases panels on menstrual health, fireside chats on how fibroids impact fertility and a gala celebrating the group’s 10th anniversary.

Over the last decade, the nonprofit’s membership has morphed to more than 30,000 nationwide.

“It’s a community where everybody understands the story,” she said. “I knew that I needed The White Dress Project. And I knew that if I needed it, I couldn’t have been the only one.”

Anyone can register for the weekend event by visiting the nonprofit’s website.

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Gigi Barnett

Gigi Barnett is an anchor at WTOP. She has worked in the media for more than 20 years. Before joining WTOP, she was an anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and a staff reporter at The Miami Herald. She’s a Navy wife and mom of three.

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