The former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star spoke at this year’s Global Lyme Alliance Gala in New York City on Thursday, where daughter Bella, 20, was an honoree. (Yolanda, 52, who has long been open about her own struggle with the tickborne disease, was an honoree at the event last year.)
“Most diseases you might want to battle out in the privacy of your own home, but Lyme disease is so undervalued and so misunderstood by the world that it is an obligation to each and everyone of us to share our story until we get the acknowledgment and the respect that we deserve from the medical establishments,” said Yolanda upon taking the stage.
“The amount of money we spend on treating symptoms instead of curing the actual cause is a crime and really insane,” she continued. “Why is there no proper diagnostic? And why is there no cure?”
Yolanda, who was emotional throughout her speech, fought back tears as she opened up about her daughter’s struggle.
“This disease has brought me and many others to our knees, often wishing to die of utter hopelessness and exhaustion. Like I always say, you don’t get it until you get it,” she said. “It’s hard for people to understand the invisible disability that owns our life especially behind the beautiful face that shines so bright on the covers of magazines.”
“Every mother here today understands the hopelessness that comes when nurturing your child that battles a disease without a cure,” she said. “I am so grateful and proud of my daughter Bella for understanding the higher purpose of her journey and speaking openly about her journey in order to bring awareness for the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who suffer just like she does but whose voices cannot be heard.”
Yolanda went on to thank her “sweet angel” Bella for “bringing hope to the next generation.”
“I promise you I will find a cure,” vowed Yolanda. “And I thank you so much can for standing up for what’s right and for joining us in a fight for a Lyme free world. And, my love, just remember you are not alone.”
Bella, whose father Mohamed was also in attendance, took the stage to give her own speech. She dedicated her award to “all the teenagers out there that have really gone through what I’m going through and have suffered through the disease with no end in sight.”
“I know where you’re coming from, you’re not alone,” said the model. “My teenage years were taken from me. I was forced to start homeschooling my second year of high school, which of course I didn’t want to do because I’d rather go hang out with my friends, go to parties.”
Bella revealed that her Lyme disease forced her to give up her dreams at a horseback riding career.
“It was my dream of my life and what I did every single day until I just stopped and realized I didn’t have the brain power to ride horses anymore, so that was the end of that,” she said. “I know what it feels like to not want to get out of bed from bone pains and exhaustion and days on end of not wanting to socialize or be around people because the anxiety and brain fog just isn’t worth it.”
“After years of this you begin to get used to living with the sickness, instead of getting cured and moving on with your life,” she continued. “Life isn’t always what it looks like on the outside, and the hardest part of this journey is to be judged by the way you look instead of the way you feel.”
Bella also took a moment to express her gratitude for her “amazing mom” for forcing her to take her medications, get IVs, going to “never-ending doctor’s appointments,” and most importantly, “for always understanding when I say: ‘I’m just not okay today.'”
“There’s nobody I could have learned my strength from more than her and our experiences together,” said Bella. “Her compassion patience, practice, and determination to find a cure is beyond words and I am so lucky to have her.”
Speaking to PEOPLE at the event, Yolanda opened up about Bella’s health, explaining that the star had been feeling sick for the last three days, but “life goes on and you try to keep going.”
“Especially with the younger generations, they have to keep pushing,” said Yolanda.
As for how Bella balances her modeling career with her treatment? It’s not easy, especially during Fashion Week.
“By the end, I’m definitely done and need a week to just sleep and not do anything,” Bella told PEOPLE. “But when I’m at Fashion Week it’s literally only work, and when I’m not working I’m sleeping. I don’t go out that much, I eat dinner by myself in my hotel room and go to sleep. That’s pretty much my fashion week.”