At 2 ½ years old, I developed a rare form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. My doctors thought I wouldn’t live to celebrate my 3rd birthday, but a permanent colostomy and urostomy at the age of three changed everything. I am alive, but I also wear two ostomy bags.
All of my childhood and most of my adolescent years were spent at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York fighting this disease. Becoming a teenager and maturing into a young adult were very difficult years. Kids at school would say, “Hey what is that smell” and I didn’t know how to handle it which caused my low self-esteem. Being teased by my peers was heart breaking.
My life has been a journey of unexpected turns.
One ordinary day I was at the mall, a gentleman came to me with a brochure about taking modeling classes. He asked if I would be interested in attending an open house. That day was so memorable to me because this was a person who knew nothing about my medical background, but saw my beauty.
As I was reading the brochure I said to myself… ”there’s no way I can do this with two ostomy bags.” Something inside told me to go the open house. I still wondered… can I do this? Will they understand? How will I explain my ostomy bags? How will I model with ostomy bags? Well, I stepped out on faith and began classes to learn how to become a model. Yes, I was scared in the beginning.
I worked hard, paid attention and practiced.
The more I attended the modeling classes, the more passionate I became about this career. My confidence began to soar, and my skills as a runway model grew beyond my expectations. My instructors were now ready for me to participate in runway shows. Again, how will I explain my ostomy bags?
At this point I had to get up the courage to explain everything about my ostomy bags to my modeling director. To my surprise, he understood and told me my talents were beyond the bags. He told me to look past my circumstances and see my inner beauty and self-confidence.
I was on my way towards a modeling career.
I still had to be cautious of what I was wearing, but I found my trick to keep those bags tight to my body. A girdle, which kept everything firmly in place. Since I was doing fashion shows and interacting with designers, I knew I had to explain why I didn’t want to wear certain garments, such as two-piece bathing suits or any outfits that revealed my stomach.
Well, here was another test. Would they understand? They loved my runway walk. Not only did I become a top runway model in my state, but a top editorial print model as well.
I’ve got the “Pretty Girl Blues.”
Journal writing was how I choose to heal from this journey. A way of dealing with my life from the inside-out. The external appearance of beauty, but an inward existence of low self-esteem, shame and insecurity. After all I’ve gone through, who would’ve thought I’d become a fashion model, motivational speaker, founder of the Osto Beauties, owner of modeling agency, and author of Pretty Girl Blues.
We cannot predict what life will bring us. But more importantly, we cannot allow challenging circumstances to dictate our future. I can and will live a full and vibrant life.
Feature image photographed by Andre Dunston, Epic Media Photography; MUA by Takia Ross; Designer, Adrien Leach