(Photo Credit: Epic Media Photography)

Baltimore native Jearlean M. Taylor exudes grace and charm. A woman who loves high fashion and beauty, Taylor will be the first to tell you that at one point in life, her inward existence and her outward appearance were incompatible. According to her, she suffered with “low self-esteem, shame, insecurity and complex and chronic medical complications.”

At three-years-old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of vaginal cancer. She shares, “Rhabdomysarcoma or RMS is a childhood cancer that starts in any organ that contains skeletal muscle cells, those most commonly tumors are found in head, neck, bladder, and vagina. My chemotherapy and radiation treatments began at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, New York. Because of this rare type of cancer, my childhood included several reconstructive surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, which [kept] me miles away from home. I was cancer-free a year after my diagnosis, but left with permanent ostomy (colostomy and urostomy), which aids my bladder and bowel functions, which cause me to wear two ostomy bags.”

While others appeared to be living a normal life, Taylor says she “struggled with self-pity, unhappiness, depression, low self-esteem, and even suicidal thoughts. I found it hard, embarrassing and painful to be considered different.” The ostomy bags are worn on each side of her stomach and attached to the abdomen at the navel area. The openings were made surgically so she could discharge body wastes into the pouches.

What a difference faith in God has made for Taylor over the years.

The Christmas Eve-born inspiration continues, “There are few definitions of winner; one that wins admiration, successful through praiseworthy ability and hard work. I believe we all have a winner in us. We have the ability to make a difference, to change lives, be role model, and be all that we can be.  I am bless to have my desires, passions, and dreams come true. I have been a fashion model for over 17 years, yes with two ostomy bags. To see the outer appearance no one could ever tell I live with these adversities. Now considered one of top fashion models in my state. Just last week was featured on my city largest digital billboard.”

Read more of Taylor she has to say.

What do you remember most about your teenage/formative years?
During my teenage years, I was trying to figure out what my future was going to be. How would I cope with life and the cards I been dealt. I was still dealing with self-esteem issues. I remember trying to fit in and keeping my medical situation a secret. I had great group of friends. We enjoyed hanging out, dancing, having long conversations about our life, and of course boys. I enjoyed my teenage years, but still dealt with loving me. I am thankful my parents taught and showed me to love the person God created me to be in spite of my sicknesses.

When you look in the mirror, who do you see?
I still see some insecurities, but being a cancer survivor taught me to love the person looking back at me – survivor, overcomer, teaching others to be best person they can be. When I look in the mirror, I see a reflection of a beautiful woman, not perfect, and I don’t want to be. However, I look beyond my reflection and see inner beauty no matter my flaws and scars.

Are you married?
I was married for 14 years. I am now divorced.

What is dating like for you?
With dating, I can’t say I have a problem with men wanting to date me. I can be a bit picky with dating. I am an old fashioned type of woman. I believe in courting, men opening doors, getting to know each other, and good conversation. I take my time. I am not one to date this person and that person. I believe in courtship, friendship and relationship. If I have to be single for little longer, it’s okay. I am a special kind of woman and you have to be a special kind of man to be with me.

What do you do for fun?
I love to travel. It is exciting visiting and exploring places I never been before. I love to spend time with friends and family. I am a person who loves laughter and family brings that, especially with our game nights. I am still very much happy being in front of the camera, doing photoshoots. It brings out my personalities and creativity. It is always a fun time hanging with my childhood friends. Now as adults, we do girls night out every month and summer vacation trips. It’s good to have those friends that bring joy and laughter to your life.

Who do you trust and depend on?
I trust and depend on God. I don’t take anything away from my family. I know they have my back. I know God is what my life needs and want. For He knows the plans He has for me, to bring hope and a good future.

Did you have any expectations for how growing older would be for you?
My expectation for growing older was being the best person I could be in spite of my medical situation. I often wondered while becoming an adult would my life have meaning and would I make a difference. What I thought was a burden (cancer) turned out to be an overflow of blessings in my life. As I matured, I was able to see beyond my sickness and stop being afraid of what people may think. My story is making a difference and I won’t stop telling it. The obstacles we overcome is to help others with their struggles. I am telling my story with a purpose and for a purpose. My prayer is to inspire others to love who they are in spite of unforeseen situations.

What things are most important for you? Why?
One important thing right now in my life is making a difference through my story. For a very long time I was ashamed of what was not my fault (cancer and ostomy bags) or anyone else. I learned life happened. Through my journey, I discovered I am not defined by my circumstances. It is important for me to inspire, encourage and empower others. I hope my story pushes others to come out of their comfort zone when sharing their story. Everybody has a story to tell. The cycle is each one reach one with our stories of hope.

If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be? Why?
If I could change one thing in this world it is the violence in the inner city neighborhoods. I grew up in a lower to middle class neighborhood. When I go back home now, I see boarded homes, young boys on the corner, hear police sirens, and evidence of violence. Where is the help? They are taking away recreation centers and several youth development groups. Are community leaders taking a stand? The effort is there, but we need more. Our kids need to know they are more than the streets. They are kings and queens and capable of being great leaders.

If you could change one thing about yoursel,f what would it be? Why?
I don’t what to change anything about me. I don’t even want to change having ostomy bags. It has made me who I am today. I have endured a lot in my life. Who I was before and who I am now is a woman of strength.

What do you look forward to  now?
I am doing well. I feel good. My health is great. And, God is showering blessings beyond all I could have imagined. I will continue to travel, share my story with cancer survivors, mentor up-and-coming fashion models, and giving encouragement to those suffering with low self-esteem. I am still promoting my book Pretty Girl Blues (www.prettygirlblues.com). In addition, at age 50 years old, I still love gracing the runways. I am imagining greater. I see it.

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Yvette Caslin

I'm a writer, image architect & significance marketer. Love photojournalism, creative expression & originality.