When someone develops cancer it’s a tragic event. The fight to recovery is long and gruelling for the person and everyone who is close to them. What is even worse is when a rare cancer disease strikes, because the symptoms are not easy to read.
For example, take Osteosarcoma, which is also known as bone cancer. It is a rare type of cancer and it is even rarer when it is found in the jaw of a person. It usually causes painful swelling that just doesn’t go away. At times people mistake it for some oral infection and try to deal with the pain.
That is how it started for 24-year-old Canadian Model Elizaveta Bulokhova. She was on a trip to Amsterdam with her boyfriend in May 2014 when she noticed that the right side of her jaw was in pain and very swollen. Two months later the pain was not subsiding but getting worse, so she knew at that moment that it was not a simple toothache.
She immediately went to have it checked out, and after several biopsies and CT scans, it was determined that Bulokhova had a rare form of osteosarcoma. She was informed by doctors that the only way she could survive the cancer was to have her jaw removed.
This news was especially devastating for Bulokhova because she had been working as a model for seven years. She walked down runways and worked as a fashion model all over the world. She knew that if she did the surgery it would make it very difficult for her to continue having a successful career in the modelling industry.
The news got worse for Bulokhova, she was pregnant during the time she developed cancer and the doctors informed her that after the surgery was complete, she would have to terminate her unborn child. She was in her second trimester but the five rounds of chemotherapy she would require made it impossible to have the child. She told Vice that she would talk to her baby every night and even told him to stop moving because she knew she couldn’t keep him.
Doctors at the University Health Network successfully removed 95 percent of her jaw in October the same year of the diagnosis. The surgery took 16 hours and involved moving the tumour first before removing her jaw. To reconstruct it, they used fibula, veins, nerves and skin grafts from both her shoulders.
Bulova had several follow-up procedures which included placing a titanium plate and bone from her right leg to rebuild the jawbone. Doctors used skin tissue from her arm, leg, hip, and shoulder in order to recreate her mouth and lips.
There was some good news though, complications from the surgery delayed chemotherapy by about 10 weeks before her son was due. Two days before she was scheduled to abort the child, she asked doctors if it would be possible to deliver her son early. Doctors all agreed that it was safe to deliver her son early, so they did.
Two months after she had finished her final cycle of chemo, Bulokhova started modelling again. She worked with Toronto photographer Manolo Ceron. Ceron wanted to focus on the strength and resilience of Bulokhova.
The scars are still present on Bulokhova, but she admits that doing the shoot with Ceron helped her feel better about her situation. The surgery will likely end her career as a model, but she is not concerned at all. She is a survivor and she also managed to save her baby, so she is now focused on her son Valentin and her boyfriend Roman Troubetskoi.