Strap: We can wear white

Published: Friday, September 8, 2017

Community LifestyleCommunity AffairsGender Issues

So what’s newsworthy about wearing a white dress?  Millions of women the world over, own one, so it’s hardly worth a news release and a couple of events, or is it?

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For Tanika Gray Valbrun, founder of the US-based non-profit organisation,  The White Dress Project, it’s a symbol of empowerment. Owning and more importantly, wearing one, it is something she is proud to do and tell everyone about, because for a time in her life it was impossible and for many women, it remains taboo.


In South Africa during September, Tanika is on a mission to educate men, women, healthcare professionals, Human Resource managers and anyone who will listen, about uterine fibroids and Adenomyosis. Sharing her passion for edification and empowerment, is South African interventional radiologist Dr Gary Sudwarts, whose Fibroid Treatment Clinic is busy changing the lives of women with this potentially life-threatening condition.  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 has a personal journey with fibroids – her 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.  (This is not to mention the pain, anaemia, or the fatigue and problems conceiving, associated to having fibroids). 


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.”


Why a white dress? “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” says 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.”


Valbrun and 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.


Sudwarts, Valbrun and a panel of experts, including gynaecologist Dr Selina Ramatsoso, and Dr 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’.

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