Woman becomes a model after rare form of cancer led to urgent leg amputation
In 2017, the 22-year-old Bernadette Hagans from Belfast started to feel pain in her leg. Seeing as she noticed the pain soon after she'd moved to a top floor apartment, she didn't think much of it - but eventually noticed a bump growing, and the pain only got worse.
After a number of doctors appointments over the following months, with ultrasounds, x-rays, MRI scans and a biopsy, she was told that she had a rare form of cancer. Nine months after her initial appointment, she was told she had an aggressive form of cancer called synovial sarcoma.
The tumour was tangled in her blood vessels and nerves, meaning she would need an urgent amputation.
But, as she explained to Metro, Bernadette chose to take the news with a sense of humour.
"I remember making a joke saying that they just wanted another customer for a prosthetic but everyone was trying to be serious. I didn’t cry and was still being normal so I was kept behind around an extra hour because they didn’t think I understood.
I did though and in my mind, I was already lucky to have my leg for 22 years. There are children that have cancer so I didn’t see the point in getting upset about what was happening to me."
She soon visited her parents, where she shared the news with them. They panicked and were in denial about what was happening, at which point Bernadette realised that if she made jokes, no one would be as upset. "I figured that if I’m making everyone laugh about it then they’re not crying," she said.
She had her right leg amputated in October last year, and came to terms with it before it happened. "I realised that I was still going to be me, this is who I am. I’m still me even with part of my leg missing," she said. "I’ve always tried to remain positive because I believe that it’s not what’s happened to me, but how I overcome it."
Thanks to support from her social worker, Bernadette managed to recover from the six-hour operation, staying in hospital for eight days before heading out into the world and getting used to her prosthetic leg. Within a few days, she was even driving again.
But it was only after she got used to her new leg that she had the idea to get into modelling, after seeing a post on Instagram by Zebedee Management - an agency that specialises in models with disabilities. She got in touch, and soon got a reply asking for some more photos.
"At first I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting it, I wasn’t going to do it because I didn’t see myself as a model," she said. "I spoke to my parents and they thought I should, and I realised it was an amazing opportunity."
Once she signed on, she believes that her work can help to make some changes to the fashion and beauty industries:
"I started to think about children with amputations that maybe feel like they aren’t as good as someone else, or that they don’t look good. I realised that doing this would show that your life doesn’t stop because of an amputation and you can still feel good about yourself.
"If I can model with an amputation, then it shows that anything is possible for someone else with the same thing. I’m so excited to be given the opportunity to create a change. I’m willing to give anything a try and can’t wait to see what the future holds."
Bernadette has been told that there's still a chance she may need chemotherapy in the future, but for now she is cancer-free and living her life to the fullest.