Woman becomes a model after rare cancer led to urgent leg amputation

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Woman becomes a model after rare cancer led to urgent leg amputation

(Picture: Dan Clarke/ @theDanClarke/ Bernadette Hagans)

When Bernadette Hagans started experiencing pain in her leg, she thought it was just because she had to climb so many steps to her new top floor flat.

She had no idea that the pain was actually a cancerous growth in her leg.

A year later she was diagnosed with a rare cancer of soft tissue, called synovial sarcoma, and she was told she would need an urgent leg amputation to save her life.

But after learning to walk again with a prosthetic limb, Bernadette has embraced her life as an amputee and has recently been signed by modelling agency Zebedee management.

Now cancer free, Bernadette hopes that she can help to change the fashion and beauty industry and show that it is ok to be different.

She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘After my amputation, it felt amazing to be signed with Zebedee. I love everything that they stand for, they’re giving people a chance, no matter what makes them different.

‘Being different doesn’t make you wrong, it makes you more unique. I love that I’m being given the chance to work with some incredible people that are creating a change in the industry.’

Back in 2017, Bernadette, 22, from Belfast, noticed the pain after moving house. She initially thought nothing of it but as the pain got worse, she started to worry.

She says: ‘I started having pain in my calf at first. I was moving to a top floor apartment at the time and put it down to the stairs.

Model who had a sudden amputation after developing rare cancer Picture: Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette before her amputation (Picture: Bernadette Hagans)

‘Over time the pain was getting worse and was waking me from my sleep. It was a stabbing type of pain, but gradually started to radiate down my leg.

‘I started to feel a bump, it was the sort of bump you’d get if you hurt yourself with a bruise on top, but there was no bruise. This got bigger quite quickly. It got to the stage that I was constantly having pain in my leg, finding it hard to walk because short distances made my leg feel dead.’

Bernadette visited her GP around December of that year. He felt it was unusual so asked for a second opinion.

The second doctor said it was lipoma – a benign tumour made of fat tissue.

In the months that followed, the pain continued getting worse and Bernadette kept going back to the doctor.

By May, she was struggling to stand on her leg and was sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, for an ultrasound.

When the ultrasound showed that something was wrong, she was sent for an X-Ray and then an MRI so they could see what exactly was in her leg.

The scans showed that there was a tumour in her leg. She was asked to come in for a biopsy.

Model who had a sudden amputation after developing rare cancer Picture: Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette in hospital (Picture: Bernadette Hagans)

Bernadette says: ‘I went to my appointments during my break at work and didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want them to worry.

‘I drove to my biopsy, but was unable to walk after. It was at this stage that I rang my parents and asked them to come get me.

‘They asked where I was and I said hospital, they asked why, and I told them I had a tumour. I didn’t tell them the time of my appointment for my results so I went to this alone too. People say I’m strong headed but I just didn’t want anyone to worry.’

At the appointment on 20 August 2018, Bernadette was told she had a rare and aggressive form of cancer called synovial sarcoma.

The tumour was tangled around her nerves and blood vessels. Bernadette was told she would need an urgent amputation to save her life.

Model who had a sudden amputation after developing rare cancer Picture: Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette waking up after surgery (Picture: Bernadette Hagans)

She explains: ‘I remember making a joke saying that they just wanted another customer for a prosthetic but everyone was trying to be serious.

‘I remember my doctor saying it was probably the best someone has ever taken the news of having an aggressive form of cancer.

‘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.

‘When I left that appointment, I had texts and missed calls from my parents asking if I had my results or when they were, or what was happening. I text back saying “all good” as I didn’t want them panicking.

‘When I saw my parents, we were joking and normal, then I passed them the card that said I had cancer and they panicked straight away. They were saying it was a mistake, I was okay, I didn’t need surgery, it wasn’t really happening.

‘They were in denial and that’s when I realised that I didn’t want anyone feeling upset, so I made jokes and I’ve carried on doing that. I figured that if I’m making everyone laugh about it then they’re not crying. ‘

Bernadette had the operation to amputate her right leg on 30 October last year.

She explains: ‘I was fine with the idea of amputation. Straight away I knew to be grateful that I had both legs for 22 years, some people are born without.

Model who had a sudden amputation after developing rare cancer Picture: Bernadette Hagans

After learning to walk again (Picture: Bernadette Hagans)

‘I knew that my life was going to change completely, so I tried to live as normally as I could up until my amputation. Then 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.

‘I’ve always tried to remain positive because I believe that it’s not what’s happened to me, but how I overcome it. I’m so lucky to have continued support from my nurse and my social worker, Laurena.

‘Laurena has gone above and beyond in trying to help me live as normally as I can.’

The operation took around six hours and Bernadette remained in hospital for eight days after the operation.

She worked hard with occupational therapists to learn how to do things without her leg.

In the months that followed, she returned to hospital every week to learn to walk again with a prosthetic leg.

Bernadette has now become a model (Picture: Brian Rolfe)

She explains: ‘I learned everything I needed to know fast with my OT’s. I even drove an automatic car with a left accelerator a few days after my surgery.

‘I’m regularly at the RDS in Musgrave Park Hospital, where I learned to walk.

‘The staff here are so amazing and I enjoyed learning to walk with them. I’m going to be going back here for the rest of my life as my leg changes.

‘The staff here really encourage amputees to try their best and I’m so grateful for everything they have done for me.’

Model who had a sudden amputation after developing rare cancer Picture: Dan Clarke/@theDanClarke

Bernadette has now been signed to a modelling agency (Picture: Dan Clarke/ @theDanClarke )

Initially, Bernadette was told she would need chemotherapy following her surgery but when the margins from her surgery came back clear, she and her team decided to put learning to walk again first.

There is still a possibility that she might need chemotherapy but for now she is cancer free.

Following her recovery, Bernadette has found that her new way of life has led to opportunities.

After spotting a post on Instagram by Zebedee Management, an agency specilaising in models with disabilities, Bernadette messaged them just to say she loved what they were doing.

But after speaking to one of the founders Zoe Proctor, they asked Bernadette if she would like to send some pictures of herself.

Model who had a sudden amputation after developing rare cancer Picture: Dan Clarke/@theDanClarke

She wants to challenge the fashion industry to use a diverse range of models (Picture: Dan Clarke/ @theDanClarke )

She explains: ‘I spoke with Zoe and she asked me to send her clear photos of me.

‘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.

‘I spoke to my parents and they thought I should, and I realised it was an amazing opportunity.

‘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.’

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