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Jearlean Taylor on surviving childhood cancer and becoming a fashion model with two ostomies

"I can and will live a full and vibrant life."
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Born and raised in Southwest Baltimore, Jearlean Taylor grew up in a happy home with her parents and five siblings. At 2-years-old she developed a rare form of pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital describes sarcomas as a type of cancerous tumor that arises in the soft tissue, such as muscles. Doctors didn't think Jearlean would live to celebrate her third birthday, but a permanent colostomy and urostomy saved her young life.

"All of my childhood and most of my adolescent years were spent at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York fighting this disease. I am alive today, but I also wear two ostomy bags."  

Being a teenager and attending school as a double ostomate were difficult years for Jearlean. She remembers the comments, "Kids would say rude things like, 'Hey what's that smell?' and I didn’t know how to handle it. I had low self-esteem and depression. Being teased by my peers was heart breaking."

Photo by Andre Dunston; MUA by Takia Ross; Designer, Adrien Leach

Photo by Andre Dunston; MUA by Takia Ross; Designer, Adrien Leach

Since childhood, Jearlean's life has been a journey of unexpected events. In 2000, a chance meeting at the mall took her life in a different direction. 

"A gentleman came up to me with a brochure about modeling classes and asked if I would be interested in attending an open house. That day was so memorable because this person knew nothing about my medical background, he just 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! But something inside told me to go the open house. I still wondered… can I do this? How will I explain my ostomies? Will they understand? How will I model with two bags? I stepped out on faith and began the classes to learn how to become a model."

"Transparency helps me, you, and others."

"Transparency helps me, you, and others."

Although still a bit nervous in the early learning years, Jearlean worked hard, paid attention and practiced... and practiced... and practiced. The more modeling classes she attended, the more passionate she became and soon her confidence began to soar.

"My skills as a runway model grew beyond my expectations. The instructors said I was ready to participate in shows. I still hadn't told them about my ostomy bags. At this point I had to find the courage to explain everything 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."

"They loved my runway walk," and we can see why. It's the kind of walk that compels you to stare and stare until you can't stop watching videos of Jearlean Taylor's catwalk!! She thrives on the runway doing fashion shows, which is where her modeling career started.

As far as interacting with different designers Jearlean says, "I had to explain to them why I didn’t want to wear certain garments, such as a two-piece bathing suit or any outfits that revealed my stomach. I still had to be cautious of what I wore, but found a trick to keep those bags tight against my body—a girdle kept everything firmly in place."

Not only did she become a top runway model in Maryland, but a top print model as well. 

Journaling is how Jearlean chose to heal from this journey. She held on to the pain, depression and "secret surgery" for too long. Writing forced her to deal with all that happened in her life and gave her the opportunity to re-write her story. In doing so, she became more than a survivor—she became a role model for other survivors.

Inspiring and so beautifully put she writes, "We cannot predict what life will bring us, but more importantly we cannot allow challenging circumstances to dictate our future."

Jearlean's book, "Pretty Girl Blues" is available at

Feature image: Photo by Vernon Davis Photography; Makeup by Takia Ross; Designer Rachel Hickson.