Osteosarcoma is known as bone cancer, which is a quite rare disease, especially when it occurs in the jaw. It’s really easy to catch it and it begins with a brutally painful swelling that continuously sticks around, becoming really difficult to live with.
That’s exactly how it began for Canadia Elizaveta Bulokhova, who began to feel pain on the right side of her jaw during a trip to Amsterdam with her boyfriend, Roman Troubetskoi. Her jaw became tender and swollen in May 2014, and a few months later the pain became unbearable, and Latvian-born Elizaveta knew that it was more than just a toothache. After undergoing a few biopsies and CT scans, it revealed that the then 24-year-old had developed a rare form of osteosarcoma.
She was given the heartbreaking news that her jaw would have to be removed in order for her to survive. It was burdensome to hear, especially since Bulokhova was a rising star in the model industry, walking down runways all over the globe and enjoying her career that allowed her to live and travel throughout the world. Having this surgery would definitely make it more difficult to find the same jobs again.
However, the worst news of all was hearing that after the surgery she would have to undergo an abortion for her unborn son due to the five agonizing rounds of chemotherapy she had to endure. It was her first child and she was already in the second trimester as well.
“He was very active and I would talk to him often while he was in my womb,” she told Vice. “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.”
Doctors at the University Health Network in Toronto removed 95% of her cancerous jaw in October that year. It was an arduous and laborious process, undergoing 16 hours of operation which involved taking out the tumor, then her jaw, and then reconstructing the jaw using fibula, veins, nerves and skin grafts from her right and left shoulder.
Afterwards, she had to undergo a number of follow-up operations to use a titanium plate and bone from Elizaveta’s right leg to reconstruct the jawbone, as well as the nerves and skin tissue from her leg, arm, hip and shoulder to recreate her mouth and lips to be able to move and feel.
Thankfully, complications arising from the surgery instigated a delay in her chemotherapy until 10 weeks before her son’s due date. Just two days before the abortion, Bulokhova made a request to the doctors to deliver her son early rather than terminate him.
“It was f**ked up,” she recalled. “We basically had to tell the doctors to kill our perfectly healthy baby, but we had no choice. … Then, with Valentin [her son] being nearly 28 weeks, we asked doctors where that put him. ‘Is it safe to deliver him?’ They said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do this.'”
Luckily, it was. Troubetskoi was by his girlfriend’s side during the entire operation, and while Valentin and his mother had to stay in the hospital for a long period of time to recover, they both returned home healthy.
Surprisingly, just two months after her final cycle of chemo, Bulokhova posed for her first professional photos after the surgeries. She worked with Toronto-based photographer Manolo Ceron, who acted extremely persistent in highlighting Bulokhova’s strength and resilience.
Bulokhova’s scars from the surgery and grafts are clearly visible, and so are the sprouts of hair growing back after her chemo. She also posed with baby Valentin, who looks healthy and happy. The photos are so graceful and gorgeous.
She said the photoshoot with Ceron improved her attitude towards her situation: “To do what I love the most, it made me so happy.”
While the surgery likely calls for the end of a professional career in modeling for Bulokhova, she remains unconcerned. For her, she managed to survive through the entire ordeal, as well as her baby, and she’s perfectly happy to focus on living a peaceful life with her family for the time being.