The Mighty Logo

How I Became a Top Model With 2 Ostomy Bags

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

At the age of 2.5 years old, I developed a rare form of vaginal cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Doctors thought I would not live to celebrate my third birthday. Since the age of 3 years old, I have had a permanent colostomy and urostomy, which aids my bladder and bowel functions and causes me to wear ostomy bags. I spent all my childhood and most of my adolescent years at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York fighting this disease and all that came after, especially my ostomy bags. My life was a journey of unexpected turns.

One day I was walking in the mall, and a gentlemen came to me with a brochure about taking modeling classes. He asked if I would be interested in attending an open house. It was so memorable to me because this was a person who knew nothing about my medical background, but saw my beauty.

woman modeling pants and shirt
Jearlean modeling.

As I was reading the brochure I said, “There is no way I can do this with an ostomy bag.” I thought about it and I attended the open house. I listened very attentively, but I still wondered, can I do this? Will they understand? Will I be scared? How will I explain my ostomy bags? How will I model with ostomy bags? Well, I stepped out on faith and begin classes to learn how to be a model.

Yes, I was scared in the beginning. I worked hard, paid attention and practiced. The more I attended my modeling classes, the more it became a passion for me. My confidence began to soar, and my skills as a runway model grew beyond my expectations. My instructors were now ready for me to participate in runway shows. Again, how will I explain my ostomy bags?

woman standing in doorway modeling shirt and shorts
Jearlean modeling.

At this point I had to get up the courage to explain everything to my modeling director, including my ostomy bags. To my surprise, he understood and told me my talents were beyond my ostomy bags. He explained I had to look beyond my circumstances and see the inner beauty and confidence. I advanced in class and was on my way to a modeling career. I still had to be cautious of what I was wearing because of my bags. Well, I found my trick to keep those bags tight to my body: a girdle, which keeps them firmly in place.

Since I was doing fashion shows and interacting with designers, I knew I had to explain why I was not able to wear certain garments, such as two-piece bathing suits or any garments revealing my midriff. Well, here was my test. Would they understand?

They did. They loved my runway walk. Not only did I become a top runway model in my state, but a top editorial print model as well.

We cannot predict what life will bring us. But more importantly, we cannot allow situations or circumstances to dictate our future. I am living a full and vibrant life.

woman sitting on chair modeling an outfit
Jearlean modeling.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us the moment you stood up for yourself or your child in regards to disability or disease, or a moment you wish you had? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: February 11, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home