It’s pretty crazy to think about how quickly one’s life can change with just one piece of bad news. At age 24, Latvian-born model Elizaveta Bulokhova was living a dream life. She walked down runways all over the world and was even eagerly awaiting the arrival of a baby with her boyfriend, Roman Troubetskoi. It really seemed like she had it all, but then some bad news threatened to take everything away from her.
Bulokhova originally studied to become a law clerk while attending Humber College in Toronto, but left to pursue a modeling career in London. Over the next seven years, she enjoyed a successful career that let her travel to every corner of the world.
Only, some devastating news was about to change all of that…
Bulokhova and Troubetskoi were on vacation together in Amsterdam in May of 2014. They were enjoying some much-needed time off from their crazy schedules, when Bulokhova began to experience some severe pain and swelling on the right side of her jaw. The pain didn’t go away, and even got much worse over the next few months. By July, Bulokhova was in an unbearable amount of pain. She went to the doctor, where they performed biopsies and CT scans that revealed a terrifying diagnosis: Bulokhova had a rare form of bone cancer.
The bone cancer, called osteosarcoma, is incredibly rare in any part of the body, but even more so in the jaw. Many sufferers end up mistaking the cancer for a typical infection, and put off going to the doctor. Doctors gave Bulokhova some more grave news…
Doctors told Bulokhova that in order to simply survive, they would need to remove almost all of her jaw in a risky surgery, and then she would need to go through five cycles of agonizing chemotherapy afterward. She knew that this would likely end her modeling career.
In what came as another huge shock, they also told her that it would be necessary for her to terminate her pregnancy with her son, Valentin.
Bulokhova told Vice that she would talk to Valentin after receiving the devastating news. “He was very active and I would talk to him often while he was in my womb,” she said. “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 day of the surgery came and Bulokhova ended up having 95 percent of her jaw removed. Doctors first removed the tumor, and then her jaw. They also performed a reconstruction of her jaw, which used skin grafts from other parts of her body. The entire ordeal was 16 hours long. After a successful round of surgeries, Bulokhova learned that in the off-chance that Valentin were to survive all of that, he would be at a high risk for developmental disabilities due to his exposure to the anesthesia.
But then, something incredible happened - due to some complications after the surgery, Bulokhova's chemo had to be postponed. Two days before her scheduled abortion, Bulokhova and Troubetskoi asked the doctors if there was any chance they could deliver Valentin 10 weeks early, and they said yes! “I started talking to the baby again and said ‘We’re back on!’” said Bulokhova.
Toronto-based photographer Manolo Ceron started this photo series of Bulokhova that highlights her survival. The photos are absolutely stunning, showing her with nothing but colorful makeup and her scars in full view.
“We wanted to use art as a tool to tell her story,” said Ceron. [Bulokhova] is the theme … There are a lot of cancer survivors out there who might take something from this.”
Valentin was delivered successfully by cesarean section 10 weeks early, like they had planned. He had to spend the next 51 days in neonatal intensive care, but nowadays he’s doing well and growing all the time! His birth certainly was a miracle.
Bulokhova wasn’t able to love herself for a while after her surgery. In fact, she couldn’t even look at herself in the mirror for about a month afterward. Troubetskoi covered the bathroom mirror in their home until she was ready to see her reflection again.
“I saw my face in a window reflection, and after that it took me two weeks to mentally prepare myself to look in the mirror,” she said.
Bulokhova believes that Valentin saved her life. “He really looked out for me,” she said. “He gave me a schedule to follow that helped me work on myself without stopping. It didn’t give me a break, but in a good way. It kept me going. I didn’t have time to pity myself.”
Throughout the whole ordeal, Troubetskoi stayed right by Bulokhova’s side. He educated himself about her sickness and took time off from work to be with her in the hospital. Day or night, he was there with her.
Nowadays, Bulokhova still has scars from the surgeries all over her body, but she isn’t phased by them anymore. She says that doing the photo series with Manolo Ceron helped her to feel more confident about herself.
“Since doctors used my body to reconstruct my face, I have to be thankful to my body for being strong and saving my life,” she said. “My scars mean ‘survival.’ I love my scars. I think they are beautiful.”