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Fighting cancer with hope

Written By Nicholas Steer

One woman’s story is set to change the lives of other mothers facing the trauma of a cancer diagnosis

An Bakkes was only 34 years old when she was first diagnosed with Level 4 metastatic cancer. She was also pregnant with her first child, a boy. The shock of the diagnosis was one that her doctor couldn’t bear to give her when he first found out.

“My doctor postponed my appointment until the end of the weekend because he didn’t know how to tell a pregnant woman she has level 4 cancer,” remembers An.

She went through the remaining months of her pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Luca, 27 weeks later at Kingsbury Hospital in Cape Town. It was a huge relief to her and her family that he was born cancer-free.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer I was scared all the time,” said An. “I was anxious and terrified and worried. I’m a control freak and this diagnosis took all of the control out of my hands.”

However, for An, her journey had only just begun. Two years later, just when she found out that she was pregnant with her second child, her cancer resurfaced.

“It was as if I was watching my own movie, again,” she said. “I can still remember the absolute shock I felt. How I sat and waited for blood test results while the rest of the world carried on as normal. Living with cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Because An was pregnant when she received both her diagnoses, she could not receive any cancer treatment while she carried both Luca and Emma to term. So, while she was pregnant, the cancer was removed through a series of skin scrapes and surgical operations at Cancercare’s Constantiaberg unit. Throughout her second pregnancy and the arduous cancer treatments she received, An’s husband Tiaan and her friends provided her with incredible support. They were there through every moment and every part of the ordeal, and they shared her joy when baby Emma was born, also cancer-free.

“The same nursing sister had supported me through Luca’s birth and she was there for me again with Emma,” adds An. “We were all so happy to hear the news that both my children weren’t touched by my cancer.”

From cancer, a miracle

Throughout both her cancer ordeals, An battled with anxiety and fear. Understandable emotions considering what she was going through and the terrible timing of each diagnosis. But instead of enduring her anxiety, she decided to develop a model that would help other people to live with their fear.

“During my second cancer diagnosis I did my MPhil in Business Coaching and used anxiety as the theme for my thesis,” explains An. “I had survived cancer twice and learned so much through this journey that it was important for me to share my learnings with other people who could benefit from it.”

An wrote a book entitled Embracing Anxiety: Coming back with hope, and it details her cancer story and provides others with tools and insights to help them overcome their own fears. Every chapter is designed to provide practical examples that help readers to face their fears and anxieties in their daily lives.

On 07 April 2018, An will be celebrating her seventh year cancer free. When Emma was three months old, the last cancer was removed from her body and she has remained clear ever since.

An’s story is the very definition of hope. She overcame huge obstacles to be where she is today, and she is incredibly grateful.

“Cancer is not a death sentence,” she says. “You must find hope in every situation and be grateful for everything you have. My research has shown that people who live a life of gratitude and grace have a 75% chance of healing completely.”

Today An is grateful for her two healthy children, a new life, a fresh understanding of cancer and its impact on other people’s lives, her wonderful husband and family, and her ability to use her story to help others overcome their fears.

“I remember holding Emma in my hands, looking at her and wondering how I was going to overcome this second round of cancer, when Luca came running into the ward,” remembers An. “He wasn’t supposed to be there! But in he ran, with joy all over his face and I knew in that moment that he also brought hope. My healthy two-year old son brought me the hope I needed to keep going.”