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ally reeves The Globe and Mail

This is part of a series that looks at extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at health@globeandmail.com.

I didn't want to look at myself after the surgery. I'd catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window in the hospital. But I was so scared, I didn't want to face it. I knew my face was swollen up like a big balloon, I was always drooling, I couldn't close my mouth. It was constantly open. Pretty disgusting.

I think it took me at least 21/2 weeks to look in the mirror. I did it step by step, like really slowly. I asked my boyfriend to cover up my mirror in the washroom with a towel and I started peeking at it. A little bit, a little bit.

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I became more curious with what was happening with my face rather than just feeling disgust, you know, or being scared of it. When I finally removed the towel, I started analyzing myself, what was happening, what they did. Doctors told me about it before, but it's tough to really picture it until you see it yourself.

I understood that the swelling was temporary. I knew it would take a long time to get to the point of how it should look. That took at least a good six months, I'd say.

Now, I'm used it. I don't really remember how I looked before, to be honest. In pictures, I do, of course. But for example, I've never had a short haircut. I've always had long hair, so already I have a completely different look just because of my hair after chemo. With the jaw? I think it looks the same, but I don't know.

You become so adapted. Like I now only have two teeth on the bottom, but I'm so used to that already, even the idea of getting teeth implants is kind of terrifying a little bit.

But it's actually quite exciting. You sort of learn about yourself more, I guess. Right now, for example, when I smile, because I don't have teeth on the bottom, my lip would disappear inside my mouth. So I have to control my lip and I have to learn to control it. If I want to take a picture and have both lips in the picture then I'd have to remember how to smile. Just little things such as that.

I did a photo shoot recently (with Toronto photographer Manolo Ceron) and it felt like a spa day for me. I just wanted to remember how it felt to be myself as I was before. It felt so great. It felt like nothing had ever happened. Working, doing what I love to do; those things made me super happy. I didn't even think about how the pictures were going to turn out.

I was really surprised when I saw the pictures. Before when I used to model, I was super picky and I think I didn't love myself as much as I do now, or maybe I didn't appreciate myself as much before. So all I would think of is, "Oh, my nose is too big. I don't like this angle, I don't like my hair," you know? But this time, I was really in love with them. Everything was just amazing. Even all the scars. Everything. In one picture, you can really see how my jaw looks a little bit disfigured. But I did not mind. I loved everything about it.

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Elizaveta Bulokhova, 25, is a model who lives in Toronto. She had 95 per cent of her jaw removed due to osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone.

Read more stories in this series here.

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