Anouska Black is no ordinary 26-year-old.
A mother, model and philanthropist, Anouska has suffered from chronic illness since she was 19 - but won’t be held back.
“Firstly, I am a mummy to a very special and gorgeous little boy called Bailey,” shares Anouska. “He is truly my world and I am very lucky to have him. Due to medical reasons he may be my only little miracle, so I like to spend as much time as I can with him - whether on a family day out or on the sofa watching movies.”
Seven years ago, Anouska was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic illness that affects one in 10 women in the UK and 176 million worldwide.
“At 19, after several trips to A&E, a scan revealed I had a 6cm mass engulfing my ovary and had to have emergency surgery to remove it,” the Magheralin woman explains. “Luckily, the planned oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) did not take place and I only had a partial oophorectomy to save my ovary, and laser surgery. The diagnosis came back as a benign tumour and I was diagnosed with endometriosis.”
In the wake of her diagnosis, Anouska’s life changed dramatically.
“Life suddenly became extremely hard,” she says. “Living with a chronic illness limited my life and plans. Having been given offers from different universities, juggling being a full-time mum, working and living with my condition, university never worked out for me. However, I battled through the physical and mental struggles that came with this.”
As a result of her endometriosis Anouska has suffered from extreme fatigue, a weak immune system, depression, anxiety and physical ailments, but has developed a steely determination to raise awareness about the illness and encourage other women who are living with the same condition.
“There is very little known about it and little awareness or funding for research,” Anouska explains. “Throughout the past six years I have been put through medical menopause, HRT therapy, a tonsillectomy and three laparoscopies - the worst of which was last October, where I had surgery to separate my two ovaries, two tubes, my womb, bladder, two kidneys, bowel in two places and diaphragm.”
In the midst of rigorous tests and medical procedures, Anouska embarked on a very different venture - after stumbling across a Facebook page.
“It was about a month after my surgery in October 2014 I saw on Facebook the Face of NI pageant,” she shares. “After learning more about the pageant, I decided to enter and was delighted to reach the last 14 finalists, and was announced as Miss Congeniality NI at the finals. Although I did not win, the whole journey has been amazing and I have made friends for life.”
The adventure didn’t end there, however, as Anouska was contacted soon afterwards by Gisele Buckingham, the director of the Face of Europe and the World. Gisele persuaded her to enter the Face of UK Photographic heat and, after a lengthy application process, Anouska was crowned Face of UK Photographic 2015 in England, and will head to Paris in November.
“Since then, it has been such a whirlwind,” Anouska says, “and doors have opened for me I never thought possible. Along with my partner Chris, son Bailey and Team Ireland, we travel firstly to Kent and then on to Disneyland for the pageant final.”
The pageant is deeply rooted in its charity efforts, and has worked closely with Headway East Kent, a charity which provides social rehabilitation to adults who have suffered brain injuries.
“Living with such an isolating illness which no one understands means I can empathise with those living with their injury, and I cannot wait to meet them in Kent,” Anouska relates. “With my disease, I may look fine but, underneath, my organs are knitting together with scar tissue and causing me extreme pain.” Anouska takes morphine to control regular episodes of extreme pain which have in the past forced her into a wheelchair during her weekly grocery shop.
“It can make life very difficult but I have modelled part time for the past three years, being published in magazines, photo shoots and promotional modelling. I have been very lucky, meeting some amazing people. Recently I have been involved with a new promotional and modelling agency - Empire Models NI. The support has been phenomenal, I’m excited about the future.”