Texas teen Andrea Sierra Salazar’s princess-themed photo shoot went viral in August 2016. Besides looking beautiful in her flawless makeup, she took the photos without having any hair on her head. Andrea had lost all of her hair after going through chemotherapy for cancer.
“It’s been a really tough process,” Andrea tells Yahoo Beauty. “But I’ve managed to look into the positive things by asking myself, ‘What can I learn from this?’”
Andrea woke up sick one night with a strange bump in her neck area, and her mom, Adriana Salazar, took her to the hospital the next day. Doctors diagnosed the teen with stage II nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“Nobody in my family had ever had any type of sickness,” Andrea shares with Yahoo Beauty. “I was in complete shock that it happened to me.”
Having a strong mother, who works in construction, helped Andrea though the healing process. “We live very close to the [Mexican] border, so there’s a lot of machismo,” Adriana Salazar tells Yahoo Beauty. “I had to be tougher than the toughest of my co-workers to get ahead and prove that I can do any job they can, even better.”
The single mother of three took this strong philosophy with her to Andrea’s chemotherapy treatments. “I needed a plan to bring her spirits up,” says Salazar. So she began to organize events that she knew Andrea would love — from walking in local fashion shows to photo shoots. Salazar wanted to make her daughter forget all of the physical pain she was going through.
“I’ve always loved modeling and acting,” says Andrea. “It makes me feel beautiful, and I’m truly passionate about it.” The princess photo shoot was a vision that came to Andrea after she’d done several photo shoots while wearing a wig.
“I wasn’t ready to be exposed yet, but then one day I felt it in my heart I had to do it without my wig,” says Andrea. “I did it so I can help others going through the same thing, [to] feel beautiful and confident about themselves.”
To bring the vision to life, Salazar reached out to her community, and photographer Gerardo Garmendia answered their call.
“Gerardo and Andrea just understand each other,” says Adriana Salazar. “He cares about her very much, and that care translates to the photos he takes. His photos of her are just breathtaking.”
When it was time for Andrea to go to the prom, they asked Garmendia to take her prom photos. This time around, Andrea had a boyfriend by her side, she had a gorgeous new hairdo, and she was cancer-free.
Both photo shoots have gained Andrea a loyal social media following, and she wants to use her platform to help others. Andrea and her mom have started a support group for teens with cancer, as well as teens whose disease has gone into remission.
“We noticed that there were help groups for children with cancer, for old people with cancer, but there was nothing for young people who are going through it,” says Salazar. “I started finding people Andrea’s age who could relate to what we were through and vice versa.”
The teen group meets every month and has formed a tight bond. The mom-and-daughter duo also do outreach and visit patients with cancer at different hospitals.
“I am one of the very blessed ones [who was] able to survive, but I know many my age who do not,” says Andrea. “I learned to see this as a huge blessing that brought my family together, and now I want to give back and help others, let them know that just like I did, they can do it too. They can beat cancer.”
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