For seven years, 25-year-old Elizaveta Bulokhova walked runways in places like New York, Japan, South Africa and London. Then everything came to a standstill.
In May 2014, Bulokhova noticed swelling and severe pain in her right right cheek. When she went to get it checked, the doctors diagnosed her with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in her jaw.
The cancer would require the removal of her jaw through surgery, and worst of all, she had to abort Valentin, her unborn son, before she would be able to go through chemotherapy.
Bulokhova told Vice:
“[Valentin] was very active and I would talk to him often while he was in my womb. I had to tell him to stop moving because I couldn’t keep him and then all of a sudden he did. He listened; he stopped moving.”
The eventual 16-hour tumor surgery ended up reducing Bulokhova’s jaw by 95% and caused the healing process to take even longer than anticipated. There was a silver lining however: the delayed recovery meant that the chemo cycles would have to be pushed back creating a possibility for Valentin to be saved.
Just two days before the scheduled abortion, Bulokhova and her boyfriend, Roman Troubetskoi, asked doctors to deliver Valentin 10 weeks prematurely. Troubetskoi said:
“It was fucked up; we basically had to tell the doctors to kill our perfectly healthy baby, but we had no choice. Then with Valentin being nearly 28 weeks, we asked doctors where that put him. Is it safe to deliver him? They said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do this.’ “
Although Valentin spent the following 51 days in neonatal intensive care, the early delivery through cesarean section was a success.
Now a little over a year after it all began, new mother Bulokhova — who only has one round of chemo left — is back as a model in a series of striking photos by Toronto photographer Manolo Ceron.
While it took Bulokhova over a month to look into the mirror again after the surgery on her jaw, the effects of her cancer did not diminish her, but rather made her stronger.
Donning vibrant makeup, Bulokhova stepped in front of Ceron’s camera last month and showed the world that beauty comes in all forms. She told Cosmopolitan:
“One thing I asked Manolo is to show of all of my scars. I wanted to embrace them. I think they are pretty awesome, and my surgeon did amazing job, they look like an art to me.”
Although Bulokhova struggles to speak because only four of her bottom teeth remain intact, she still sees the world in a positive light. She said:
“How you feel makes you beautiful, and if you love yourself, nothing can defeat you, not even cancer,” she said. “All your imperfections become perfect to you. The scars, the hairless body, they all remind you how strong you are, how you defeated cancer. You become proud of who you are as a person, and that becomes way more important, the inner strength and your ability to overcome anything that comes your way. I feel beautiful, therefore I am beautiful.”