Former Miss Venezuela 2000 and 4th run-up at Miss Universe 2001, Eva Ekvall recently battling and now a breast cancer survivor
Eva Ekvall recovering from Breast Cancer
Former Miss Venezuela 2000 and 4th run-up at Miss Universe 2001, Eva Ekvall recently battling and now a breast cancer survivor.
Venezuela is a country obsessed by glamour few women here go without makeup, yet the Eva Ekvall who features in a new book of photographs looks, in her own words, "not pretty at all".
Eva launch her own book entitled Fuera de Foco (Out of Focus), chronicles her experience battle with breast cancer, a gruelling eight-month regime of chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy. It has broken taboos about female beauty and moved breasts from the realm of aesthetics to that of health and disease.
"The pictures were very shocking because nobody had ever seen me that way. Nobody had seen me bald, without makeup," said Ekvall, now recovered and sporting gamine-style short hair. "So I knew they would be shocking."
The beauty queen has become an outspoken advocate for a cancer awareness group, SenosAyuda, and is credited with a reported surge in women seeking breast examinations.
She was diagnosed with advanced cancer last February and completed treatment in October. She had noticed a lump in her breast months earlier but attributed it to her pregnancy. "I was very angry [when diagnosed] because I should have known. My aunt had breast cancer twice and my grandmother died from breast cancer. And I just let time go."
After her pageant years, Eva Ekvall became an established TV news anchor, said Venezuelan women rushed to get cosmetic surgery but needed encouragement to get mammograms.
"There's a huge taboo around breast cancer. But in this country people get their boobs done every day so I don't understand how breast cancer can be a problem when everybody's showing their breasts."
Her blunt and in some places breezy description of the disease, mastectomy and reconstructive surgery has made the book a bestseller in just two months and attracted a media spotlight.
"When I got sick and knew my breasts were sick it's like I didn't want them any more. I wasn't fond of them. I was angry at them. So getting rid of them, even though it was horrible because I had all these scars, meant I felt better.
"Getting a mastectomy is not what I'd planned for my life, it's not what I wanted to happen. But I'm lucky enough to have had reconstruction."
Unlike the character played by Laura Linney in the US TV series The Big C, Ekvall told friends and family about the diagnosis and continued as normal fronting Venevision's daily news bulletin.
Most viewers, however, remained unaware because the former model wore a wig and makeup. "It's painful to look at yourself in the mirror. Your face gets swollen. You lose every single hair in your body – your eyebrows, your eyelashes. You become some weird animal or something, you don't recognise yourself. That was scary. Especially because my job has to do with my looks. I had to look decent and not appear sick."
She accepted a suggestion from a prominent Venezuelan photographer, Roberto Mata, to chronicle the treatment and life at home with her newborn daughter and husband. "In the beginning I wasn't sure if I looked good or not. Then I realised that wasn't the point. I wasn't supposed to look good, I had cancer."
As a teenager Ekvall never considered herself beautiful. The daughter of an American father and Jamaican mother, she was working in a Caracas clothes store when spotted and courted by a modelling agency scout.
"To me that was ridiculous. I thought I was overweight. I just couldn't be a model. But one day I got fired so I took a cab and went to the modelling agency. Once they saw me … they said they had the next Miss Venezuela right there."
Ekvall, a journalism graduate, wrote the book's text, tinged with dark humour, based on emails to friends and family and memories prompted by the photographs. She thought it would "end the story". Instead it started a new chapter and avalanches of interviews, tweets and commentary.
Even so, Ekvall's conviction that things happen for a reason has been shaken. "Now I do think that some things just happen out of nowhere." The disease has gone but may return, she said. "That's the fear you live with for the rest of your life after you get cancer. But I made sure I told my story."
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