Hysterectomy Interview With Supermodel Beverly Johnson

Uterine Fibroids and Hysterectomy

Beverly Johnson Hysterectomy Model
Supermodel Beverly Johnson. Image: © Navid/MaverickPhoto.com

Beverly Johnson is internationally known for being the first African-American supermodel. As the first woman of color to appear on the covers of major fashion magazines, she helped make modeling a viable career for women like Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and many more.

In addition to being a model, she is a writer, entrepreneur, actress and mother. If that wasn’t enough to keep her extremely busy, Beverly is also an advocate and spokesperson for the Ask 4 Tell 4 Campaign, a program to educate women about uterine fibroids.

The words “supermodel” and “hysterectomy” are not typically used in the same sentence. What made you decide to be so open about your experience?

Beverly: I was out of commission for four years dealing with symptomatic uterine fibroids and subsequently having a myomectomy and then a hysterectomy. People wanted to know where I had been for the last few years. I began to tell my story and give speeches throughout the United States on uterine fibroids. Then I was approached to be the national spokesperson for a campaign called Ask 4 Tell 4.

How old were you when your doctor recommended surgery?

Beverly: I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids in my mid 30s and they became symptomatic in my early 40s. It was in my mid 40s that the hysterectomy was recommended.

Why did your doctor recommend that you have a hysterectomy?

Beverly: We tried the myomectomy and it wasn’t successful. I continued to have horrific symptoms from the uterine fibroids, which including heavy bleeding and anemia as a result.

There was also weight gain and pelvic pain. So the next step was to have a hysterectomy. I did get a second opinion and that doctor recommended the same thing.

Were any treatments for fibroids other than a hysterectomy ever recommended?

Beverly: Yes, I underwent a myomectomy, but it wasn’t successful.

I had a boyfriend at the time who was into holistic medicine. So we did acupuncture and other alternative therapies, but nothing ever took away the symptoms.

Did you ever feel as though you were being pushed to have a hysterectomy by your doctors?

Beverly: Having bled for an entire year, I would have done anything at that point to get rid of my symptoms. My life had stopped, and I really needed relief. My doctor had recommended a hysterectomy from early on when the fibroids became symptomatic, but we tried the myomectomy first. At that point, I would have done anything to stop the symptoms.

Was there any discussion of the different types of hysterectomy, such as procedures that leave the ovaries intact and allow menopause to occur naturally?

Beverly: Not that I recall. I do remember that when I was going into the myomectomy and hysterectomy I had to sign a release that if they needed to the doctors could remove my ovaries. One was removed with the myomectomy and the other with the hysterectomy. The hysterectomy turned out to be complicated, and the doctor actually had to go back in and repair because I was losing blood. It was complicated, a life-and-death situation. The three-day hospital stay for the hysterectomy turned into a month-long hospital stay.

Were your symptoms improved by the hysterectomy, or just exchanged for the symptoms of menopause?

Beverly: After all that time at the hospital, when I got home I was so weak. I could barely walk. I went to homeopathic doctors and had therapists and trainers to strengthen myself. It took five months. After the five months, I decided to travel to New York for the Costume Institute Gala. Almost immediately I was in terrible pain. Turns out I had a hernia as a result of the hysterectomy and had to undergo surgery again. I was dealing with so much that menopause hadn’t even entered my mind yet. Now that I look at it, I could have had symptoms of menopause.

Were you prepared by your surgeon or other medical professionals to be thrust into menopause while you recovered from surgery?

Beverly: To be honest, I don’t really recall. At some point after my hernia operation I went back to the doctor complaining about hot flashes, weight gain –- the whole gamut. It didn’t occur to me that I was in full-blown menopause.

Were you offered any treatments or medication, such as hormone replacement therapy, to help manage your menopause symptoms?

Beverly: They did give me hormones and they didn’t do any good. I kept trying different cocktails. The emotions were so strong. Again, I tried everything including Chinese herbs. I finally understood my mother’s menopause. At some point I did find the right doctor and the right mix of hormones.

More From Beverly Johnson On Page 2

Beverly Johnson on her experience with uterine fibroids, hysterectomy surgery and menopause.

How did you cope with the changes brought about by menopause?

Beverly: Psychologically it was really challenging. There was a great sense of loss. I didn’t want to feel like a victim of something, I wanted to be proactive in terms of my health. I really wanted to learn more menopause so I started to read a lot and speak to a women who had been through it.

You’ve built a very successful life -- model, actress, mother, author, businesswoman -- on being a beautiful and sexy woman. Did you ever worry that you would feel less sexy because of your hysterectomy?

Beverly: Yes, I did. Truthfully, the realization that I couldn’t have children again was hard, particularly when I was seeing other women my age able to have children in this day and age. There was also the issue of weight gain and scarring for me. At this point I had undergone three surgeries.

Now that you’ve adjusted to life after a hysterectomy, how do you feel?

Beverly: I feel great! It was a long challenge, so I really appreciate that I’m here. Also, I have a network of women friends that I can communicate with about how I feel. Also, I feel empowered with campaigns like Ask 4 Tell 4 that really are helping to educate women about uterine fibroids and treatment options.

If you could make the decision to have a hysterectomy over again, what would you do differently, if anything?

Beverly: I would most certainly try and keep my uterus. Uterine fibroids are not cancerous. They threaten the quality of your life. A hysterectomy is a dramatic remedy for uterine fibroids, which are not life threatening.

You've said in the past that your mother is not comfortable talking about her hysterectomy, but you've become a spokesperson for fibroid sufferers. Is she proud of your efforts, considering black women are more likely to have fibroids and are so reluctant to talk about the problem?

Beverly: We’re a private family and I’m the one that’s always blabbing but, sure, my mom is proud. These subjects still have a stigma though.

Can you tell us about the Ask4tell4 campaign?

Beverly: The campaign seeks to educate women about uterine fibroids –- who is at risk and the resources and host of treatment options that are available. We want women to learn the answers to the 4 questions they should ask about uterine fibroids, and help others by sharing this information with 4 or more friends, family members, and colleagues.

Have you received feedback from the women who have heard you speak about your experience with fibroids and hysterectomy surgery?

Beverly: Yes, everywhere I go. Even from men. It’s so common that uterine fibroids do touch someone’s life in some way.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Any last words of advice to women who have fibroids or are considering having surgery?

Beverly: My story is not unique. Uterine fibroids are prevalent and women don’t have to suffer alone. Even in the discomfort of symptomatic uterine fibroids, don’t neglect your research about the topic. Be an active participant in your health.

All About Hysterectomy: Before, During and After Surgery

Editor's Note: This is a personal account of this individual's experience. Your experience with hysterectomy may be different, and the decision to opt for surgery is something that should be based on your particular situation and doctor's advice.

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