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cancer battle Model Bernadette Hagans says her life began after she had her leg amputated

Miss NI finalist Bernadette on losing her leg and starting her acting career with a role in new BBC drama

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Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Model, charity campaigner and actor Bernadette Hagans says her life began when she had her leg amputated.

The cancer survivor got the grim diagnosis that she had to have the surgery when she was just 22, and decided to seize life.

Since losing her lower right leg in October 2018 she's raised over £500,000 for charity, came third in Miss Northern Ireland, landed a role in a new BBC drama and started a modelling career.

She's worked with Kurt Geiger and Primark and features in the November issue of Elle.

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Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Now 25 and set to star in a new documentary about her incredible response to facing cancer and living with a prosthetic leg, Bernadette says it's hard to believe just three years ago she'd never taken a selfie.

Her first reaction in 2018 on learning that she had synovial sarcoma in her lower leg was to make a video of her reaction in case she didn't survive.

"At that stage I didn't know if I was definitely going to live so I thought I want to try and create an information source for anyone else who is going through this. You never expect it to happen to you," she says.

"I was so shy before. I didn't even have social media.

"I wouldn't be able to take a selfie. I was just in my own wee bubble and it wasn't until I got diagnosed that I thought I need to start living a wee bit.

"I think sometimes it does take you to face dying to say life is so short."

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Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

After having the surgery which saved her life, Bernadette put off chemotherapy because it would leave her too weak to learn how to walk again.

She was back on her feet with her prosthetic limb and discharged from hospital within ten days, and took on her first modelling job while she was still recovering from cancer.

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Looking back at the pictures she took before the amputation, the Belfast woman says it's odd now to see herself with two legs.

"I was talking to my sister-in-law recently about this and she said I look so weird with two legs, that I suit my prosthetic more than I suited having two legs. I feel more me with the prosthetic. Everything happens for a reason."

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Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette Hagans

Bernadette has even become a TikTok sensation, with people across the world creating videos of her alongside pictures of their own prosthetic limbs, praising her openness about life as an amputee.

She changes the colour of her leg monthly at a car wrapping company in Belfast and at the recent Miss Northern Ireland competition Bernadette customised it to match her dress by local designer Eamonn McGill.

The model is also working with artist Terry Bradley on a sculpture of her leg as a piece of art.

"The original plan was to do a replica of my leg and he is going to paint it and turn it into an art piece," she says.

"Because I use wraps a lot of the time to customise my leg, we are going to design a wrap together and it means that if anyone wants one for theirs, they can have a Terry Bradley leg or arm."

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Bernadette Hagans. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

Bernadette Hagans. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

Bernadette Hagans. Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

In another first for Bernadette, she landed her debut acting role in new BBC crime drama Hope Street.

After her initial audition she was called back to try out for a different part and got it.

She was on set filming in May and says it could put her on another new career path, after getting to grips with learning lines and working with other actors.

"When you are in the zone you are reacting to what the other person is saying so your brain picks it up and luckily, I was able to do it. I'm just starting off so it can only get better.

"It was my first time doing anything like that, but everyone made me feel completely comfortable.

"I ended up texting one of the people saying I think I've got the acting bug because I want it so much. I would love to do more things like that. Acting in a BBC drama for your first time is not too bad."

She's also set her sights on the Paralympics after a two-year wait for a blade. The time she set running on her prosthetic foot was enough to attract the attention of Athletics NI and Bernadette hopes her running skills from her school days will get her on the team to run the 100 metres event.

But away from the runway and the spotlight it's the time spent helping other amputees which means the most to the campaigner.

Earlier this year she helped negotiate a £500,000 lottery grant for Clic Sargent's Young Lives vs Cancer and has lost count of her charity total.

For Bernadette the biggest prize at Miss Northern Ireland was winning the Beauty With a Purpose category in recognition of her fundraising efforts.

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Bernadette Hagans (C) BBCNI  - Photographer: Khara Prngle

Bernadette Hagans (C) BBCNI - Photographer: Khara Prngle

Bernadette Hagans (C) BBCNI - Photographer: Khara Prngle

"I never really think about it. I hadn't really spoken about it until Miss NI. It's not one of those things I tell people about."

She regularly visits schools to help young people who are facing the same life-changing surgery as herself, and the new documentary follows her friendship with an 11-year-old Fermanagh boy who underwent an amputation due to cancer last year.

When he went back to school the other children didn't know how to react, so Bernadette paid a visit to talk the kids through her experience and help them understand his.

"He said, 'I really want to go into school because Bernadette made me proud.'

"By the end of it everyone was happy to ask him anything. Then they couldn't wait to help him design his next leg.

"Through Covid I was doing Zoom calls with kids going through cancer, but I never really speak about those things."

The model now has three monthly check-ups and says she's grateful for her new life after cancer.

The feedback from people around the world bolsters the strength she's found to cope with her illness and surgery and Bernadette is determined to show that anything is possible.

"I want to try and show that you can do everything, sometimes you just have to do it a bit different.

"I'm getting to do so many different things and finally getting a chance to live," she says.

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