Growing up with ostomy bags in Baltimore, Maryland, fashion model Jearlean Taylor wasn't sure she would be able to pursue her dreams. Now, she's on a mission to inspire others to embrace what makes them different.
At only 3 years old, Taylor was diagnosed with a rare vaginal cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma, which doctors didn't expect her to survive. After chemotherapy, radiation and several surgeries, Taylor was cancer-free, but left with two permanent ostomy bags — colostomy and urostomy, which aid her bladder and bowel functions — for the rest of her life.
Taylor found it difficult to accept her ostomy bags during her adolescence. She struggled with self-pity, depression and low self-esteem. "I found it hard, embarrassing and painful to be considered 'different,'" Taylor told CBS News. She was teased in school, though she said she "could not blame the kids for what they did not understand."
"I remember that embarrassing moment in middle school when my bag burst on the school bus, the entire bus smelled awful," said Taylor. "That day, I could have ripped those bags off me."
Taylor was discovered by a modeling scout at a local mall. She had never considered modeling before, and was initially worried she could never be successful with her ostomy bags. However, modeling gave her the self confidence to embrace her bags, rather than hide them. "It allowed me to not be afraid of following my passions," Taylor said. "I was able to take the focus off of my bags and concentrate on my talent as a model."
Since then, the 51-year-old has been featured in over 30 magazines, as well as various newspapers, billboards and runway shows. Her goal is to have a positive impact on the ostomy community through her modeling, motivational speaking and personal memoir. "I used to say, 'Why me? Why cancer? Why ostomy bags?' I thank God every day because he is showing me 'why not me?'"
According to the United Ostomy Associations of America, between 725,000 and 1 million Americans are living with an ostomy, and 100,000 ostomy surgeries are performed annually in the U.S.
"My desire is to show others, especially in the ostomy community we can be, do and live," Taylor said. "We don't have to be defined by our circumstances. I encourage others to live your life on purpose ... with a purpose ... for a purpose."