This Teenager With Cancer Had A Perfect Response To Losing Her Hair
"Cancer doesn't stop me from being a princess."
This is Andrea Sierra Salazar, a 17-year-old high school student from Texas who loves to model in her spare time.
In February her mum, Adriana Salazar, took her to the doctor after discovering a lump in her neck, but they had no idea it would turn out to be a cancerous tumour.
"There were no side effects," Andrea told BuzzFeed News. "I wouldn't have known [I had cancer] until one day I felt like I slept wrong, and my neck hurt. I patted my neck and I felt a really big ball."
The doctors had found a tumour on Andrea's collar bone and another in her chest. They diagnosed her with stage 2 nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma, she said, which suddenly changed her life.
Andrea has had to spend a lot of time out of school because of her hospital treatments, so her mum suggested that she use the spare time to make the most of modelling – a hobby she has loved since the age of 13.
The chemotherapy treatments made Andrea lose her hair, so she took advantage of being able to try out lots of different wigs during photoshoots; however, losing her hair also made her feel insecure about her looks.
"Before chemotherapy I had always been a confident person," she said, "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 mum shared her daughter's story and love of modelling with a range of photographers and modelling agencies who were more than happy to have Andrea model for them.
And one photographer, Gerardo Garmendia, captured a perfect moment that people fell in love and were inspired by with all over the world.
Andrea didn't always have the confidence to model without a wig. "[At first] I didn't feel confident enough to do a version without a wig," she said, "but then I realised that I had no reason to be ashamed of the way I looked, I should be proud.
"It's not only about my outside beauty, it's about the inside. That's what really inspired the photoshoot without the wig."
Last week she shared photographs from the shoot with the caption "Cancer doesn't stop me from being a princess". The photos have been shared almost 100,000 times on social media.
Garmendia, who also works in the marketing department for a local hospital, told BuzzFeed News Andrea came up with the theme of "a princess without a wig".
"She was open and not ashamed or embarrassed to share that part of herself," the photographer said. "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."
Andrea never expected her photos to go viral. She had initially wanted to do the photoshoot to inspire young girls with cancer at the hospital where she's being treated who feel insecure about the way they look.
"I see all these little girls, and you can see it in their faces that they lose all confidence in themselves," she said.
"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."
She added: “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 also wants to show people around the world that nothing should stop you following your dreams. "Cancer shouldn't stop you from doing what you love," she said. "I want [people] to know that they're beautiful on the inside, and I want to be an inspiration to them."