'Cancer doesn’t stop me from being a princess'

By Litaletu Zidepa
16 August 2016

"I realised that I had no reason to be ashamed of the way I looked. I should be proud.”

Andrea had always been a beauty.

The 17-year-old had been modelling part time since her early teens, and absolutely loved it -- but a shock diagnosis threatened to change all that.

One of my favorite photoshoots #Princesslife

A photo posted by Andrea Sierra (@andrea_sierra12) on

In February, doctors discovered a lump in Andrea Sierra Salazar’s neck. It turned out to be stage two nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma, which affects the lymphocytes a blood cell that protects the immune system against infections. “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.” As if over night, the Texas teen's life was turned upside down.

She had to drop out of school, and started chemo to combat the disease. Because the treatment, Andrea started losing her hair. She took to trying different wigs, but it remained her biggest insecurity. “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.”

With so much beyond her control, Andrea’s mother Adriana Salazar decided to tackle something she could help with -- her daughter's self esteem.

So Adrianna went door to door to different photo agencies, sharing her daughter’s story. One photographer, Gerardo Germendia, was touched by the teen's resilience.

He offered to shoot Andrea -- and the result was breathtaking.

Their photoshoot features a radiant Andrea, draped in a baby blue diamond-encrusted dress. “[At first] I didn’t feel confident enough to do a version without a wig, but then I realised that I had no reason to be ashamed of the way I looked," Andrea revealed. "I should be proud.”

After her shoot, the 17-year-old shared the images online with the caption, “Cancer doesn’t stop me from being a princess”.

Photographer Gerardo said capturing Andrea was an unforgettable experience.

“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.” The photos have since gone viral, with over 200 000 Twitter users favouriting the tweet, and almost 100 retweeting it. Andrea was stunned -- but she's grateful to be able to share the lesson she's learned. “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.”

“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.”

Sources: Buzzfeed.com, TeenVogue.com, Instagram, Twitter

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