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Haley Kalil has plenty of reasons to celebrate this year.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model, who spent years being in physical anguish, is finally living a pain-free life after addressing a growing health concern that seemed to have no answers.
Over 14 doctors and five years later, Kalil was diagnosed with endometriosis, urethritis and ovarian cysts, which left her in agony and tears behind closed doors. The 29-year-old said she attempted to get a diagnosis after feeling something wasn’t right but was often dismissed by doctors. Today, she is opening up about her experience in hopes it will inspire other women to take charge of their health and seek another opinion if they’re still in the dark.
The Minnesota native and founder of The Nerd Herd made her SI Swimsuit debut in 2018 as part of the magazine’s open casting call. She was named the co-winner alongside Camille Kostek.
Kalil spoke to Fox News Digital about her health battle, how she’s doing today and how SI made her feel empowered.
Fox News: Tell us about the health concern that you’ve been faced with.
Haley Kalil: Oh gosh, it’s been a journey. If you’re a woman who has gone through it, then you know what the journey is like. It goes so undiagnosed for so long. I have endometriosis in addition to what medical professionals have described as urethritis. I also had ovarian cysts. I recently had surgery to help remove the tissue from the endometriosis, as well as scar tissue I’ve developed due to urethritis.
Fox News: How long were you experiencing issues?
Kalil: Oh man, for as long as I can remember. As far back as college through young adulthood. I had the worst periods. Terrible cramps, heavy bleeding. I was in so much pain. But you go to a doctor, and then you’re told, “It’s just your period. It’s just cramps. It’s normal.” But I felt that this wasn’t normal.
I was a virgin when I got married. I talk very openly about that. Once I was married, I started experiencing other symptoms, including painful sex and more bleeding. There’s just no way this was normal. But every doctor told me it was. Some even said it’s because I waited until marriage. It was another excuse for another excuse. I had no answers.
But finally, I met with an ER doctor. I give her so much credit. She sat me down, looked at me in the eye, and said, “Whatever you’re experiencing is not normal. You need to ask about endometriosis and urethritis because I think that’s what your experiencing.” She was the first doctor that took my pain seriously.
It took a woman to take my pain seriously. I’m not hating against male physicians, but I was so frustrated by that point. I’ve gone to so many male physicians, and I felt like my pain was dismissed. And I know, it’s hard for them to understand. They don’t have a uterus. It’s hard to identify with that pain when you haven’t experienced it before. But I wished it was taken more seriously. This ER doctor recommended one of her friends to me. And that’s when I finally got my diagnosis. I felt so relieved. I had answers.
Fox News: When did you first realize that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t normal?
Kalil: I used to bawl my eyes out so badly. Eventually, I got used to the pain, which is sad to even admit. I got used to being physically in tears and in so much agony that I had to go to the ER because I couldn’t take it anymore. That just didn’t feel right to me. And I felt like the doctors were underestimating my experiences.
Fox News: Did you know what endometriosis was before you got your diagnosis?
Kalil: No, not at all. I had no idea what it was. I just thought it was another term for a painful period. But the reality is so many women have it, and yet they have no idea. They learn to accept their pain and assume it’s normal.
Fox News: When did you have surgery?
Kalil: I’ve had multiple surgeries. I like to joke that I’m garbage from the waist down *laughs*. But I poke fun because it helps you deal with the pain and the realization that you need surgery. [My last surgery] was on January 25. To be honest, my biggest fear was scarring. I’m in an industry where any mark on your body can be a mark against who you are and what you are. You also live in a world where a woman wants to wear a bikini and doesn’t want to be scared because, in society’s eyes, scars are ugly.
I remember I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend, a pediatrician who is very familiar with endometriosis. I’m here going, “Should I have this surgery? I’m scared of these scars.” She just looked at me and said, “You don’t even realize what you’re saying right now. You’re choosing vanity over the fact that you can finally be pain-free. And that’s so sad.” It was at that moment when I said to myself, “What am I doing? I can’t believe I would choose to have a scar-less body versus finally living a pain-free life.” Getting surgery was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Fox News: How are you feeling today?
Kalil: A million times better — even better than that … I can’t begin to even tell you how happy I am. They could have scarred up my entire body and I would have taken it. I don’t care. I’m so happy to finally be living a pain-free life.
And it’s funny, the people I work with on set are not judgmental at all. They were more like, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.” They just look at my scar and go, “That’s nothing.” I had laparoscopic surgery so the incisions are so small. I have one on my belly button and two near my abdomen. It was that simple.
Fox News: A lot of women with endometriosis tend to suffer in silence and attempt to adapt to the pain as you did.
Kalil: That was something I did just in life generally. You don’t ever want to be that girl who’s sitting there and complaining about her period. There’s still a stigma about that where everyone rolls their eyes and go, “Come on, we all experience it.” With Sports Illustrated, I was so open with them from the very beginning. [Editor-in-chief] MJ Day looked at me one day and said, “We all have scars. You’re a human being. It’s part of your journey. It’s part of who you are.”
I felt so comfortable with SI, like I could tell them anything. I didn’t have to smile through the pain with them. If I was hurting, I could speak out. There were other times on different sets when I didn’t feel as comfortable opening up. Instead, you have to come across as the happy girl on set even though inside you just want to go to the bathroom and cry. There were many times when, as a model, I had to smile through my pain. But I never did that with SI. They gave me a safe space to speak freely … And that’s what I’m doing now, proudly.