By Lydia Warren
Tragic: Eva Ekvall, pictured as she is crowned Miss Venezuela in 2000, has died from breast cancer aged 28
Former Venezuelan beauty queen Eva Ekvall has died from breast cancer aged just 28.
The mother-of-one died on Saturday in a Houston, Texas hospital after a two year struggle with the disease, her family said.
Famous in her teenage years for her beauty, Ms Ekvall went on to become a news anchor, author and one of her home country's greatest cancer charity advocates.
Born to an American father and Jamaican mother, she was working in a clothes store in Caracas when she was spotted by a modelling agency scout.
'To me that was ridiculous,' she told the Guardian earlier this year. '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.'
Aged 17, she was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2000. The following year, she was third runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant in Puerto Rico.
Beauty: Aged 18, Ekvall, second from left, was third runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant in Puerto Rico
Stunning: Ms Ekvall went on to become a model and news anchor for Venevision in her home country
The journalism graduate became a model, actress and television news anchor for Venevision.
She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in February 2010, and underwent eight months of treatment including chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy.
She had noticed a lump in her breast months earlier but thought her body was changing due to her pregnancy.
'I was very angry because I should have known,' she said at the time. 'My aunt had breast cancer twice and my grandmother died from breast cancer. And I just let time go.'
With honest portraits provided by photographer Roberto Mata, she wrote the book Fuera de Foco - translated as Out of Focus - to chronicle her struggle with the disease.
'The pictures were very shocking because nobody had ever seen me that way. Nobody had seen me bald, without make-up,' Ekvall said of the book, which also included emails from her family and friends.
Loss: A fresh-faced Ekvall in April 2010, two months after she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer
'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.'
It is widely credited with raising awareness of the disease in Venezuela.
She knew her book would shock a nation where beauty queens are major celebrities and cosmetic surgery is commonplace.
'It's absurd that there should be a taboo about breast cancer in a country of breast implants, where women have few reservations about showing off their surgically-enhanced breasts,' she told BBC Mundo in March.
Speaking to newspaper El Nacional, she added she had 'needed to send the message of the need for cancer prevention'.
Ms Ekvall went on to become an advocate for a cancer awareness group SenosAyuda.
She is also credited with a reported increase in the number of women going for breast examinations.
But many Venevision viewers were unaware of her illness as she wore a wig and makeup.
'It's painful to look at yourself in the mirror,' she told the Guardian in February this year.
'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.'
Battle: Ms Ekvall, pictured, documented her struggle with the disease in a book Fuera de Foco - or Out of Focus
Loss: Ms Ekvall, pictured with her daughter, thought a lump in her breast was due to her pregnancy
She was married to radio producer John Fabio Bermudez and had a two-year-old daughter, Miranda.
In her book, Ms Ekvall described her joy at having a daughter, writing 'that happiness, although [Miranda] may not know it or understand it, keeps me alive today'.
On Sunday, her husband posted a photograph of the two holding hands on Twitter, writing: 'Always together ... I love you wife.'
In a statement, Ekvall's family said her remains were being cremated in Houston on Monday.
'Sadly, cancer had the last word,' writer Leonardo Padron told Globovision.
Family: Ekvall, left, leaves behind her husband John Fabio Bermudez and their two-year-old daughter Miranda
Loved: On Sunday, Bermudez posted a photo of the two holding hands, writing 'Always together. I love you wife'
She had demonstrated 'extraordinary calm and courage in her fight against cancer', Padron added.
SenosAyuda, a Caracas-based breast cancer awareness group, said in a tribute on its website that the former beauty queen's legacy will help thousands of Venezuelan woman in the future.
'Thank you for so much in so little time,' the tribute said in Spanish, according to Reuters.
As well as her husband and daughter, Ms Ekvall is survived by her parents and her brother.
A service is to be held in Venezuela once her remains are returned to the country.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
'She demonstrated extraordinary calm and courage': Former Miss Venezuela dies of breast cancer aged 28
By Lydia Warren