When Andrea Sierra Salazar was diagnosed with stage 2 nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma in February of this year, life was flipped completely upside down for the 17-year-old Texan.
Not only was she forced to miss a significant amount of school in order to make multiple visits to the hospital, but the chemotherapy treatments resulted in both physical and emotional changes that took a toll on Andrea’s self-image.
“Before chemotherapy I had always been a confident person,” she told BuzzFeed News, “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 mom, Adriana, suggested that the teen use her spare time to do more modeling, which had always been one of her favorite pastimes.
When Adriana reached out and shared Andrea’s story with various modelling agencies, photographer Gerardo Garmendia was especially receptive to the idea of doing a photoshoot with Andrea — a photoshoot which quickly captured the attention of eyes all around the world.
In the photos, Andrea chose to not wear a wig or a hat, but to simply go au natural. The results were truthful, poignant and stunning. Andrea share snapshots of the photoshoot on Twitter with the caption “Cancer doesn’t stop me from being a princess.”
“I didn’t feel confident enough to do a version without a wig,” Andrea told BuzzFeed. “But then I realized 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.”
In the photos, Andrea is as photogenic and captivating as any professional fashion model. And her assessment was correct — she does look like a princess.
Photographer Gerardo Garmendia noted that working with Andrea was a gift unlike any other.
“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 says that the photoshoot wasn’t just about reaffirming her own confidence, but rather encouraging other young women and girls going through chemotherapy that they also have power and beauty.
“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.”