Cancer vs. abortion: How a Canadian model fought for health
June 13, 2018
Reading Time: 5minutes
Toronto fashion model Elizaveta Bulokhova faced a dreading decision in 2014: to live with cancer or to have an abortion.
While vacating in Amsterdam with her boyfriend, Roman Troubetskoi, Bulokhova felt pain and swelling in her jaw. As soon as they came back to Toronto, Bulokhova went to a dentist in Mount Sinai Hospital. He advised her to wait with performing an x-ray as it would be harmful for the baby that Bulokhova was expecting. Two months later she came back. However, the results were far more terrible than she expected: three biopsies revealed that Bulokhova had osteosarcoma of the mandible – bone cancer.
Bulokhova underwent a 16-hour surgery, in which 95% of her infected jaw was removed. Afterwards, she had a series of reconstructive surgeries, where the doctors used some of the fibula bone from her right leg, as well as nerve and skin tissue harvested from her leg, arm, hip and shoulder to reconstruct her jaw. (The Daily Mail) Following these, her mouth was wired shut for 10 weeks to ensure better healing.
The model recalled how difficult it was for her after the surgery:
I had to relearn how to walk. For 10 weeks my mouth was wired shut, and I was eating through a tube in my nose. I couldn’t talk and couldn’t brush my teeth. I had tubes coming out all over my body.
Her stomach shrunk because of the mush diet; she had to eat often, but in small portions. Bulokhova confessed that sometimes it took her an hour to eat a boiled egg. She gave up on her feeding tube and tried to drink water but saw it coming out of her face. She had to go to the emergency room to have the tube placed back in. Mental preparation to look in the mirror also took time. Her boyfriend, Roman Troubetskoi, covered their bathroom mirror until she was ready.
All of this was happening while Bulokhova was pregnant.
Since fighting with cancer was not over yet, the doctors told Bulokhova that she would have to terminate her pregnancy before beginning chemotherapy. Valentin, her yet unborn son, was in danger of developmental disabilities from all the anesthesia that Bulokhova underwent – that was, if he survived at all. The couple had no other option because there was little solid statistics about the survival rate of children whose mothers had cancer; nor there were any clear procedures to be done in such situations. However, because her jaw was slow to heal, the chemotherapy was put on hold. Thanks to the delays, Bulokhova got a third option: C-section.
Troubetskoi did not like the idea of abortion.
It was fucked up; we basically had to tell the doctors to kill our perfectly healthy baby, but we had no choice. Then with Valentin being nearly 28 weeks, we asked doctors where that put him. Is it safe to deliver him? They said “Absolutely, let’s do it.”
Two days before the scheduled abortion the couple asked the doctors if it was safe to deliver Valentin 10 weeks early. Research showed that there was a high chance of survival for children born at 28 weeks. (Photos here) The doctors tried to induce natural labour (more here) during the first week of December. Elizaveta would not dilate, so they proceeded to C-section. Valentin was born on 16 December 2014, 10 weeks premature.
I guess he was not happy to come out so early, but when I heard him cry I knew that he will be okay.
Then, a week later, she started her first cycle of chemo. She could visit her son, who spent time in neonatal intensive care whenever it was possible. She said this allowed them to take things easy. Valentin spent 51 days in intensive care while Bulokhova completed5 cycles of chemotherapy. After they were out of the way, she stepped in front of the camera again.
Bulokhova asked Toronto-based photographer, Manolo Ceron, to show off all of her scars.
I wanted to embrace them. I think they are pretty awesome, and my surgeon did an amazing job, they look like an art to me.
She found the photo shoot therapeutic. Bulokhova learned how to love herself and her scars, and makeup artist Julia Stone helped to reveal the beauty. Bulokhova said that she missed being in front of the camera, and wanted to remember what her life was like before her surgery. The most inspiring picture was that of Elizaveta with her son, who was reaching his hands to her. It revealed her strength as well as love towards her son. Tiny spikes of hair were covering her head, as if presenting a new beginning. Wearing nothing but make up, Elizaveta established her happiness through the photo shoot. Manolo said that the model was the theme and everything else – like the makeup and her family – was only the tools to enhance the beauty and the strength. (The Daily Mail)
Elizaveta also commented on the experience:
It felt amazing, like nothing has changed. It felt like I continued my life as if it was a year ago. It was really therapeutic for me.
Bulokhova believed that Valentin was the one who saved her life. She said that if she was not pregnant then she would be treated like another patient with cancer that needed a surgery. He made sure that everyone was on their game.
In the future the titanium plate in Bulokhova’s jaw will be removed and replaced by one of her ribs. She will also receive new dental implants for her new jaw since she had only four teeth left after the surgeries. The doctors will constantly monitor her to make sure that cancer does not return.
After all this you kind of start to understand that looks just don’t really matter
Elizaveta hopes that the photo shoot will inspire others, particularly those who have survived cancer. She advises that those people chose their own definition of beauty and embrace their imperfections. (The Daily Mail) Her modeling career future remains unknown, but this photo shoot helped her to relive her past. Though cancer took away her career, in a way it gave her something else instead – a family.
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