Bernadette Hagans’s career has already featured in some major campaigns thanks to her agency Zebedee Management, which promotes models with disabilities.
The 23-year-old, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, has come a long way from when she was in the middle of her cancer battle last year, Belfast Live reports.
The model first realised something was wrong when she noticed a pain in her right leg, but she brushed it off as a result of moving into a top floor flat and having to climb the stairs every day.
But as the weeks went on and the pain became worse, the 23-year-old knew something wasn’t right.
After numerous trips to the doctor from December 2017, the West Belfast woman was sent for an ultrasound at the Royal Victoria Hospital and was then given an urgent referral for an MRI.
It was then on August 20 last year Bernadette, who had been working as a clerk at Sean Graham bookies in Andersonstown , was told she had synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer which develops in cells around joints and tendons.
And then she was dealt the devastating blow that she would need to have her right leg amputated through the knee to save her life.
But less than one year after her world was turned upside down, the former St Dominic’s Grammar School pupil has been snapped up by London-based agency Zebedee Management.
“It is crazy, I was on Instagram in January and saw a post about someone looking for disabled models and I commented saying this is great and this agency started messaging me when they saw I had had an amputation,” she said.
“They asked me to send some photos and I wasn’t going to do it because I said I’m not a model but realised there is probably more good can come from doing it.
“They asked me to come and meet them because they wanted to represent me, I told them to wait until I could walk again and then when I was discharged they got in touch and mid February I flew to London to meet them and I was signed.
“I have been modelling since, it has been crazy, I had a numerous of photoshoots the day I got signed and I have never modelled before and I have been popping up everywhere since.
“I have been kept busy so it’s been really great.”
Bernadette said she feels lucky to be alive and now wants to help raise funds for three charities close to her heart after her own cancer battle and is hoping the community will back her.
On September 7, she is hosting a formal fundraiser at the Devenish to raise funds for The Boom Foundation, CLIC Sargent and Target Ovarian Cancer.
The night includes a drinks reception, three course meal, presentation showing where the money is going, raffle and a DJ.
Talking about her own journey, Bernadette said she first felt a pain in her leg in August 2017 when she had moved into her new home.
“It started with a pain in my leg but I just thought it was muscle pain because at the time I had moved into an apartment and it was in the top floor so I thought it was because of all the steps,” she said.
“Over time the pain was getting worse and it wasn’t going away and it was getting harder to walk far, it was like the bone in my leg was going to snap and it was waking me from sleep.
“It was around December 2017/January 2018 time I went to the doctor but I wasn’t sent for a scan until May time.”
Bernadette said she knew something wasn’t right and had continued to flag the pain in her leg any time she went to see the doctor.
When she was sent for an ultrasound in May/June 2018, she was red-flagged and sent straight down to get an x-ray and was given an urgent referral for an MRI at Musgrave.
“I was just glad something was happening because I knew the pain wasn’t right, I did feel like my leg was going to snap and I could see it growing, it started to look like I was always tensing my leg around the calf,” said Bernadette, who was also experiencing tiredness, sickness and weight loss.
“I was just glad that someone was listening.”
In June/July time last year she was sent for her MRI but she said she had to wait an extended period for her results and ended up calling around between her GP and hospitals to find out what was happening.
She said: “Then out of the blue I got a call from someone and I was told I had a tumour and there was a chance it could be cancer. That was July time I think.
“They said I was going to get a letter in the post to come in for a biopsy. I went in for it and it was really sore and that was when I started to tell people because I had been trying to keep it quiet before then.
“I drove to my biopsy and couldn’t walk afterwards so couldn’t take my car so I had to call my mum and dad and ask them to come and get me and my car and that’s when I had to tell them everything. I didn’t want them worrying.”
Following the biopsy, Bernadette was told she had synovial sarcoma and was told the tumour was entangled with nerves and blood vessels so doctors had to amputate her leg.
Bernadette said she believes if her cancer had been picked up earlier, she may not have lost her leg.
“I was fine through the whole thing, I was making jokes and they were asking if I understood what they were telling me,” she said.
“I just felt lucky because some people are told their cancer is terminal but I was getting a chance to live, yes they were taking my leg but I have had a leg for 22 years, I am still lucky.
“All through September I was brought in for different scans to see if it was anywhere else in my body and they wanted to double check my leg ahead of my aputation.
“At the beginning of October I had my pre-op and then on October 30 I had my amputation at Musgrave.
“I still feel fine, even around surgery I was making jokes, the day afterwards was Halloween and apparently I had said about adding some blood and scaring people. My mum told me I said this but I don’t remember.”
Bernadette added it was in the months afterwards when she was confined to a wheelchair at home that she struggled due to losing her independence and having to rely on her family for her.
“I was always really independent and loved doing things for myself so when I couldn’t do those things it hit me,” she said.
Doctors said in December they wanted her to undergo four months of chemotherapy as a precaution, but after going through a long list of pros and cons for embarking on the treatment – which included having to freeze her eggs for the future – Bernadette decided there were more cons.
Instead she embarked on rehabilitation at Musgrave in January this year to learn how to walk again with her new prosthetic leg and was discharged in just 10 days.
Now the future is looking bright and Bernadette is looking forward to her fundraiser this September and is calling on the community to get behind her.
“I know cancer affects everyone, be it a person themselves, someone in their family, a friend or even someone they know of,” she said.
“Hopefully the event will show people how it affects everyone so that people in Belfast realise that everyone is there to support each other.”
Tickets are £50 and to find out more you can contact the Devenish or email: [email protected].