For those grappling with cancer, hair loss due to treatments can be quite traumatic, but one Texas teenager isn’t going to let it stop her from feeling beautiful and following her dreams.
In February of this year, Andrea Salazar was diagnosed with stage 2 nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma after finding a lump in her neck, which led doctors to find another tumor in her chest. The 17-year-old underwent chemotherapy, and subsequently, her hair fell out.
An aspiring model since she was 13, Andrea started modeling more after her diagnosis, as her hospital treatments were keeping her out of school. When her hair started falling out, she used a lot of different wigs during photoshoots, but when the wigs were off, she didn’t feel quite so happy about her looks.
“Before chemotherapy I had always been a confident person,” Andrea told Buzzfeed.
“So when my hair started to fall out I would look in the mirror and I wouldn’t feel that confident about myself.”
Andrea’s mother started sharing her daughter’s story with photographers and agencies around the world, setting up different shoots. During one of these, with photographer Gerardo Garmendia, these epic photographs were taken.
“[At first] I didn’t feel confident enough to do a version without a wig, but then I realized that I had no reason to be ashamed of the way I looked, I should be proud,” she explained.
“It’s not only about my outside beauty, it’s about the inside. That’s what really inspired the photoshoot without the wig.”
“Cancer doesn’t stop me from being a princess,” she shared on Twitter, along with several photographs from the shoot.
“She was open and not ashamed or embarrassed to share that part of herself,” Garmendia told Buzzfeed, explaining that it was Andrea who came up with the “a princess without a wig” theme.
“The way that she was coping with cancer was just very inspirational to me. I was happy to capture this stage of life for her and that she will have something beautiful to look back on even when the struggle was hard.”
To Andrea’s surprise, the photos, which she hoped would inspire other girls struggling with cancer, have been shared over 100k times on Twitter.
“I see all these little girls, and you can see it in their faces that they lose all confidence in themselves,” she explained. “I want them to know that your hair or your physical attributes doesn’t define who you are — what really matters is your inner beauty, the way you treat others, and if you’re a kind person, that shows through. It doesn’t matter whether you have hair or not, I don’t think that represents you as a person. … If you don’t have long legs, or blue eyes, or something that people think is perfect … that’s not beauty.”
Andrea hopes that nothing, not even cancer, stops someone from following their dreams.
“Cancer shouldn’t stop you from doing what you love,” she concluded. “I want people to know that they’re beautiful on the inside, and I want to be an inspiration to them.”
Mission accomplished, Andrea.