At age 24, Elizaveta Bulokhova was living her dream.
For the past seven years, the fashion model from Toronto had been travelling the world, strutting down runways from New York to Japan, and posing for the likes of Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar. And the Latvian-born model and her partner Roman Troubetskoi were also expecting a baby boy.
But in October 2014, a grave diagnosis brought Bulokhova's flourishing young life to a standstill. Pain and swelling she had been experiencing in her jaw over the past few months was revealed to be a rare form of osteosarcoma, bone cancer that was attacking her jaw. Bulokhova underwent a 16-hour surgery in which 95 per cent of her jaw was removed, followed by a series of surgeries to reconstruct it. Doctors then told Bulokhova that she would have to terminate her pregnancy before beginning chemotherapy.
However, the chemo was put on hold because her jaw was slow to heal, The Daily Mail reported, and Bulokhova was miraculously able to deliver her son. Valentin was born via cesarean section on December 16, 10 weeks premature. And one week later, Bulokhova began her first cycle of chemotherapy.
Not long after she finished her last round of chemo, Bulokhova, now 25, stepped in front of the camera for the first time since her diagnosis. In a striking portrait series, Toronto-based photographer and friend of Bulokhova's, Manolo Ceron captured the young model's beauty and strength. She wears nothing but bold colourful makeup by artist Julia Stone, her scars exposed to tell her remarkable story.
"One thing I asked Manolo is to show of all of my scars," Bulokhova told Cosmopolitan.com. "I wanted to embrace them. I think they are pretty awesome, and my surgeon did amazing job, they look like an art to me."
Ceron also captured photos of Bulokhova with her beautiful young family.
Bulokhova told Cosmopolitan.com that she found the shoot therapeutic, and cherished being in front of the camera again. She said she hopes the photos will inspire others, particularly those who have survived cancer, to choose their own definition of beauty and embrace their imperfections.
"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."
Bulokhova will receive more reconstructive surgery when her cancer is in remission, according to Vice. And though she is uncertain about her future in modelling, she is happy to be focusing on her family.