The former Real Housewives of Atlanta star is using Women’s History Month as an opportunity to tell fibroid sufferers that a hysterectomy isn’t the only path to relief.
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.