A woman from Belfast who had her leg amputated to stop a rare cancer from spreading has been unveiled as one of the faces of a major fashion brand.
Bernadette Hagans, 24, lost her right leg above the knee in October 2018 after being diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, an aggressive cancer of soft tissue.
She had to cope with being told that removing her leg was the only option to save her life.
But the young woman overcame the challenge of learning to walk again using a prosthetic limb and then signed with agency Zebedee Management, which specialises in models with disabilities.
Bernadette went on to model for Primark and is now a part of footwear and accessories retailer, Kurt Geiger’s People Empowered Campaign.
Bernadette Hagans, 24, from Belfast, who had her leg amputated to stop a rare cancer from spreading has been unveiled as one of the faces of a major fashion brand. She lost her right leg above the knee in October 2018 after being diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, an aggressive cancer of soft tissue
Bernadette went on to model for Primark and is now a part of footwear and accessories retailer Kurt Geiger’s People Empowered Campaign. Pictured: The model unveiled the new role on her Instagram page last week
The model, who is also an ambassador for children and young people’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent, unveiled the new role on her Instagram page last week.
Speaking in an interview on Kurt Geiger’s website, Bernadette said: ‘It’s great when people like me get shown, because it doesn’t happen too often.
‘I think it can show that different can look good, and that you can make the most of whatever sets you apart from the crowd.’
Bernadette also demonstrated how her positive mindset allowed her to overcome the challenge of dealing with cancer and losing her limb.
‘Everyone was always saying they thought it was going to hit me at some stage, but I just felt really lucky,’ she explained.
Bernadette began experiencing symptoms of her cancer in August 2017. It wasn’t until a year later did tests confirm that it was synovial sarcoma. Pictured: The model before she lost her leg
‘I thought, okay, they’re amputating my leg, but I’ve had my leg for 22 years. Some people are born without. I got to experience life with two legs and now I get to experience it with one.
‘And yes, I got cancer, but I was being given a chance to live. Some people just get told they’re terminal.’
The Northern Irish woman also proudly described how she became inventive with making her new leg look more stylish.
She enlisted the help of a car wrapping firm to regularly change the look of her prosthetic limb.
Incredible photos show her posing with the leg in various different colours.
‘I said to them: “If you can wrap a car, do you want to have a go at wrapping a prosthetic leg?”,’ she explained to the fashion retailer. ‘They said: “That sounds amazing! Come in, we want to try it.” I’ve been changing the colour constantly ever since”.
‘Now there are people going into my hospital saying: “That girl with the coloured leg – how do we get a leg like that?”
‘They’ve put them in touch with the same company and they’ve started wrapping legs for other people.’
The model, who is also an ambassador for children and young people’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent, said in an interview on Kurt Geiger’s website that ‘it’s great when people like me get shown.’ Pictured: The model poses with her leg in a funky orange colour
Bernadette enlisted the help of a car wrapping firm to regularly change the look of her prosthetic limb
Bernadette began experiencing symptoms of her cancer in August 2017.
She first felt a painful twinge in her right leg and then discovered a pea-sized lump in the back of her leg which began to grow and become more painful.
It wasn’t until a year later did tests confirm that it was synovial sarcoma and that the lump had wrapped around her nerves and blood vessels.
WHAT IS SYNOVIAL SARCOMA?
A type of soft-tissue sarcoma hat begins in the tissues that connect, support and surround other body structures.
It is a rare cancer that only affects around 1 to 3 people per million.
The disease starts most commonly in the legs or arms, but it can appear in any part of the body.
It spreads to bones and organs, where it becomes incurable, in half of cases.
Symptoms vary based on tumour location, and the following symptoms may arise:
The mass may interfere with bodily functions.
For example, in the head and neck region, it may cause difficulties swallowing and breathing or it may alter the voice.
The mass may be painful, in particular if nerves are involved.
Figures suggest synovial sarcoma strikes just one-in-a-million people.
She was told there was ‘only one option’ to save her life and would have to consider amputating her leg.
‘If it was my leg or my life, then they could take my leg. Good riddance!,’ she said in an interview last year.
She recalled receiving the news and the scary decision she would need to make: ‘I sound crazy, but I’ve always been a positive person – I really wasn’t that upset.
‘There are so many people out there worse off than me – even kids with cancer. I’d already had 22 good years.’
Bernadette thought the pain in her leg was from knocking herself on a box while moving into a new flat, but over the next few months the pain continued to increase, forcing her to seek help from a doctor.
In January 2018 her GP initially said the lump she had found was a ‘harmless’ lipoma – a benign tumour made of fat tissue – but as it continued to worsen she was sent to the hospital for further tests.
By this point Bernadette struggled to stand on her leg and said the pain felt like her ‘bone was going to snap’.
Tests revealed in August 2018 that the lump was a tumour and while ordinarily synovial sarcoma could be cut out, the tumour was tangled and Bernadette had to consider amputation.
‘The only option was to amputate my leg,’ she explained to the Sun.
She recalled how the nurses and doctors who delivered the news all stood in surprise as she ‘smiled and made a joke’.
‘They couldn’t believe that I’d taken it in, they thought I was in shock.’
By October 2018, the day before Halloween, Bernadette underwent a six-hour operation to remove her right leg just below her knee to eradicate the cancer.
Upon waking from the surgery to find a space in her bed where her right foot would be, Bernadette recalled making a joke to her mother about having the ‘perfect Halloween costume’.
Bernadette began experiencing symptoms of her cancer in August 2017. Pictured: The young woman models her leg, which is this time wrapped in yellow
‘She asked me if I was feeling alright, so I said I was more left actually.
‘I couldn’t help it, I’ve always been a joker, it’s just my way of coping. Always look on the lighter side of life.’
A couple of months later scans showed that Bernadette was cancer-free and was fitted with her prosthetic leg and with the help of physiotherapists, within ten days she learned to walk again.
While speaking to Kurt Geiger, Bernadette added that she is now ‘so much more confident’ because of her experience and reminds herself that her leg has allowed her to help so many other people.
Speaking of the fact that disabled people don’t feature in modelling campaigns very often, Bernadette said she was ‘happy’ that there seems to be a ‘little bit of change’.